Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Pixie Pushes On by Tamara Bundy - ESSENTIAL

Pixie Pushes On by Tamara Bundy, 227 pages. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin), 2020. $17            

Content: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS  - ESSENTIAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Pixie is sent to live with her grandparents on a farm and she is not very happy about it. She feels that she is bad luck for everyone, and blames herself for her sister getting polio. She has to learn to do chores on the farm and collecting eggs is the worst - one of the chickens always attacks her. New hope springs up in her heart when her grandpa brings home a baby lamb that he wants Pixie to take care of. He warns her that the lamb is a farm animal, not a pet. She names the lamb Buster, and as he grows he follows her everywhere.          

A delightful story set in the 1940's during World War II. Pixie has spunk, and she is very brave, but she is makes rash judgments. I loved how Pixie matured during the book and how she was able to deal with all her inner struggles. She even makes some unexpected friends. I kept cheering for Pixie during the whole book. Such a good read!

Ellen-Anita, Librarian

A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine - ADVISABLE

A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine, 370 pages, HarperCollins, 2020, $18.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS – ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Loma is traveling across Spain in the late 1400’s with her grandfather, a Jew of some renown.  Loma is intelligent and together with her grandfather, they try shoring up relations between the Jews and Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, who are devout Catholics.  There is intense pressure for Jews to convert to Catholicism, ripping families and traditions apart.  Loma increasingly wants a family of her own, but also feels pressure to help with the greater good in an increasingly dangerous time.

Levine draws upon her own heritage to craft her story. Offering great insight into the lives of Jews during this time period, this book is about family and beliefs, where we call home and what we do when those things are changing or challenged.  Loma is a great character who evolves as she progresses from around age 8 to 16.  I liked that this story is told from a well-to-do Jewish family.  Loma’s traditions and mindset give empathy to her position as a young Jewess whose life is not really her own.

Michelle in the Middle   

Folktales for Fearless Girls by Myriam Sayalero - ADVISABLE

Folktales for Fearless Girls: The Stories We were Never Told by Myriam Sayalero, 212 pages, Philomel Books (Penguin Random House), 2018, $25.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS – ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Sayalero has collected folktales from around the world and all feature stories where the girls and women save the day.  Stories include outwitting a devil, shaping your own destiny own, fighting for a country and outsmarting danger, demonstrating  that girls and women are clever, brave, and strong.  These stories come from China, Russian, Persia, India, Armenia, the UK, Spain, France, Southern Africa, Egypt, and Germany. 

I quite enjoyed this book.  The chapters each have a beautiful title page and there are illustrations scattered throughout.  The stories are short and interesting and cover a wide variety of cultures.  This is a great introduction to diverse cultures as well as showcasing women. 

Michelle in the Middle

Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman - OPTIONAL

Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman, 185 pages. Pajama Press, 2020. $18

Content: G

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW

Louisa is headed from her home in Toronto all the way to Tasmania to spend the summer with her eccentric uncle. All she ants to do is practice her violin to prepare for her audition with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra.  Now she is surround by strange animals, strange people, in strange circumstances. She’s back where her mother grew up, but Louisa doesn’t know if being here will help her connect to her mother. And there is a mystery out in the bush – a final farewell her uncle needs to make to an elusive wild creature before the camp he has lived at for his whole life is demolished in the name of progress.

Louisa’s story is not as poignant as Kadarusman’s Girl of the Southern Sea. It is definitely interesting, especially for those who like reading fiction from around the world.

Cindy, Library Teacher, MLS

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened by Emily Blejwas - ADVISABLE

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened by Emily Blejwas, 210 pages. Crown (Random House), April 2020.  $17.

Content: G

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Life has been a struggle for Justin, 7th grader, his mom and his older brother since his Dad died. People look at him weirdly because they don’t know what to say and his brother is working at the local KFC to help makes ends meet instead of playing his beloved hockey.  The only person who gets Justin is his best friend, Phuc (pronounced “Fo”, thank you), the only Vietnamese kid at their school. Justin would love answers about his Dad’s death – did he see the local trolley or not?  But sometimes you also have to learn that there may be no answers.

LOVE that there is a middle grade boy protagonist who isn’t a gimmick – not a sports book, not a humorous book – the kind of life’s unanswered question book that is usually reserved for girls.

Cindy, Library Teacher, MLS

Beastars by Paru Itagaki - OPTIONAL

Beastars (#1) by Paru Itagaki, 198 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. VIZ Media, 2019. $13.

Language: PG (8 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG13

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

When Tem, an alpaca, is found murdered on campus, all carnivores at the high school are under suspicion. Tem’s friend Legoshi, who happens to be a wolf and a loner, is under as much scrutiny as the other meat eaters. And when Legoshi starts to struggle with his bestial instincts, he is as frightened as the herbivores.

Even having read the whole volume, I still feel confused about what was going on and what the point of the story is, which is odd because I was interested in Legoshi’s story while I was reading it. Some of the confusion may be because of the conspicuous cloud of suspicion that hangs over so many of the characters introduced -- even some of the herbivores. While I am still curious about the loose ends, I don’t feel compelled to search out volume 2. The violence rating is for murder and gore.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Monday, March 30, 2020

It’s the End of the World As I Know It by Matthew Landis - ESSENTIAL

It’s the End of the World As I Know It by Matthew Landis, 307 pages. Dial (Penguin), 2020. $19 9780735228016

Content: G

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ESSENTIAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

The world is ending in 19 days, but Dee, 8th grader, is the only one who seems to care.  He is determined to finish and furnish his shelter before the day comes.  But the girl next door, who seems familiar, keeps coming around, involving Dee in her hairbrained schemes. And his friends and his family don’t seem to care about the world ending.  And somewhere in his memory is Her – life changed since She left. Dee’s world will definitely change forever in 19 days – but probably not in the ways he thinks.

I love a book that takes me in unexpected places.  You see this cover and think – post-apocalyptic.  But world-shattering events happen every day, just on an individual basis.  Landis writes an ultimately tender book about a boy who needs help, but isn’t getting it – a boy who will finally see that everyone around him loves him very much.

Cindy, Library Teacher, MLS

Double Foul by Craig Battle - OPTIONAL

Double Foul (Camp Average #2) by Craig Battle, 272 pages. OwlKids, 2020. $17

Content: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Mack and his friends are back at Camp Average (Camp Avalon) for another summer, and things are much better.  There are even girls at Camp this year. Unlike last year, this year the baseball team loses to Camp Killington.  Since Winston was promoted to be the camp director based on the win from last year, he is desperate for a win of any kind.  Mack has been spending his time swimming and playing, but in order to win, Winston needs Mack on that basketball team. Threats to the happiness of all the other campers will do it.  Mack will play along, but he has plans – because there is no way he can let Winston win.

I love a great sports book – a combination of well-written play and human interest is a great draw. This is not that kind of sports book.  It is instead a story of machinations and hijinks – children battling adults (nothing wrong with that per se). Just not satisfying when it is all about manipulation.

Cindy, Library Teacher, MLS

When You Know What I Know by Sonja K. Solter - ESSENTIAL

When You Know What I Know by Sonja K. Solter, 204 pages. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. $17.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ESSENTIAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

When 1yo Tori tells her mom that Uncle Andy molested her, her mom doesn’t believe her at first. It had to be a misunderstanding. Was it? Tori is filled with shame, anger, and confusion. Her whole life has changed in a few minutes. Her every thought is consumed with the “what ifs”, until finally everyone starts believing her.

Solter writes Tori’s story in poem format; I think it was the perfect way to capture the thoughts of a child who has experienced this type of trauma. I read this from the perspective of someone who has family members who’ve experienced abuse and I would feel comfortable with any of them reading this. It does not focus on the abuse so much as it focuses on the feelings and healing from the trauma.

Reviewer: J. Rosskopf

Kent State by Deborah Wiles - OPTIONAL


Kent State by Deborah Wiles, 132 pages. Scholastic Press, 2020.  $18.  

Content: Language: R (13 swears; 2 ‘f’); Mature Content: G; Violence; PG-13  

BUYING ADVISORY: HS – OPTIONAL  

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW  

An anti-war demonstration at Kent State during the first week of May, 1970 escalated, so the National Guard was brought into Kent to restore order.  After four days of tension and little acts of violence, the National Guard opened fire over the campus and killed four students.  This true event and the many people who witnessed or were involved are represented in this historical prose told by Deborah Wiles.  Five different voices discuss the events building up to the morning of the shooting and they share their opinion and perspective.  

I liked the idea of this historical fiction, but there is too much going on with the format and the dramatic arguing among unnamed voices.  It just came across jumbled and confusing.  The author’s notes could have been helpful but there was a lot of opinion and not enough historical set-up. The reader would have to have a lot of prior knowledge about the time period and the Vietnam War to fully understand the conflict. The content includes graphic shootings of innocent students.  

Reviewer, C. Peterson 

The Shape of Friendship by Lilah Sturges - OPTIONAL

The Shape of Friendship (Lumberjanes #2) by Lilah Sturges, 144 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. BOOM! Box, 2019. $15.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

The Lumberjanes are great at finding strange things happening in the woods -- much to the dismay of their camp counselor, Jen. When curiosity leads these campers to a cave, they end up trapped by pookas intent on taking their places at camp. Will the girls get back in time to save Jen and the other campers?

While part of a series, no previous knowledge is necessary for this volume. These girls experience some misadventures while also trying to deal with the bumps in their relationships. Readers get to learn truths about friendship with the characters and laugh a little along the way at the silly scenarios the girls end up in. The message is good, but I don’t feel compelled to search out the rest of the series.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Promised by Leah Garriott - OPTIONAL

Promised by Leah Garriott, 368 pages. Shadow Mountain, 2020. $16.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

After having her heart broken and her reputation stained, Margaret is looking for a marriage of convenience. This would help alleviate the rumors around her family and restore their status while still keeping her heart safe from future harm. But safety is not happiness, and Lord Williams is determined to make Margaret feel the difference.

Margaret’s story is engaging in a way that makes it easy to read just one more page, though I wanted to shake Margaret half the time (and swoon the other half of the time). I enjoyed putting the pieces together that Garriott makes available to the reader and then see my suspicions confirmed regarding various characters. However, while readers can see the growth in Margaret and find satisfaction in her happy ending, I don’t fully support the main characters’ relationship and the mixed messages it can send to readers.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Girl Who Fell Out of the Sky by Victoria Forester - OPTIONAL

The Girl Who Fell Out of the Sky (Girl Who Flew #3) by Victoria Forester, 328 pages. Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan), 2020. $17.

Content: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

When giant beetles erupt from under the earth, Piper is bit and loses her power to fly. Now that she is no longer super, she feels at loose ends.  The others are off trying to figure out this new danger, while Piper is told to stay home and be safe.  But Piper has bigger plans.  And if her friends with powers won’t help, then she will just have to recruit normals – even if it means bringing in two of the Miller brothers – her nosy, hostile neighbors. With a little help from her AnnA, one of the Chosen Ones, they just might have a chance.

At first I had a hard time Piper whine about her changed status. But once the Millers became involved, it became much more exciting. Max, the villain, is as frustrating as ever.  In fact, I can’t believe this is the conclusion of the series, because Max is still out there working to wreak havoc. I only rate it lower because the beginning drags a bit and the series is not as accessible as other fantasy series.

Cindy, Library Teacher, MLS

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Stuart Gibbs - ESSENTIAL

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (funjungle #6) by Stuart Gibbs, 321 pages. Simon & Schuster, 2020. $18.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ESSENTIAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

As if solving mysteries involving live animals isn’t dangerous enough, Teddy’s latest mystery involves a missing dinosaur skull.  The skull was unearthed on the ranch of his friend Sage, but during a violent rainstorm one night the skull disappeared. As a favor to his friend, Teddy gets involved. Not only that, but the Barksdale brothers contact Teddy for help with their (illegal) anaconda has eaten their mother’s cat. Now Teddy has to also track investigate a exotic retile smuggling ring. With his trademark aplomb, Teddy and his extended circle will again need to show local law enforcement  - and the crooks - to take them seriously.

I think the climactic scene in this book is my favorite of any Stuart Gibbs book – and Gibbs is a master at hijinks!  Gibbs fans will have a field day with this.

Cindy, Library Teacher, MLS

Caught! Nabbing History's Most Wanted by Georgia Bragg - ADVISABLE


Caught! Nabbing History’s Most Wanted by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, 216 pages.  NON-FICTION  Crown Books for Young Readers (Penguin), 2019. $19  

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS – ADVISABLE  

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE  

Fourteen different historical figures are compiled in this book because at some point in their illustrious career they were caught by the authorities.  Whether they were guilty or not depends on the person, but their exciting story and outcome are covered as separate chapters.  The following people are included: Joan of Arc, Sir Walter Raleigh, Carvaggio, Blackbeard, John Wilkes Booth, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Mata Hari, Typhoid Mary, Rasputin, Vincenzo Peruggia (he stole the Mono Lisa), Bernard Otto Kuehn (WWII spy) and Al Capone.  

I enjoyed reading the summaries of well-known criminals and at the end of every chapter there are interesting statistics that read like a Genius World Record fact page.  I was shocked and wowed by a lot of the stories that I didn’t know.  The illustrations are cartoonish and add to the story, but sometimes the snarky tone of the narrator was off-putting.  The content does include a beheading, shooting, burned at the stake and killing horses. Mata Hari’s story has abuse and refers to her being molested and that biography felt more hostile than the others.   

Reviewer, C. Peterson

The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty - OPTIONAL


The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty, 362 pages.  Random House, 2019.  $17.  

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

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS – OPTIONAL  

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE  

Eleanor is a middle schooler whose grandfather is a survivalist and she has been run through drills her whole life, just in case.  When Eleanor reads of an asteroid that is headed towards earth and will crash into the planet in April, Eleanor begins to take her grandfather’s skills seriously.  Eleanor shares her concerns with her best friend, Mac, and together they start a survivalist club at school.  But when Eleanor’s father hears of her obsession and fears, he tries to stop her club and forbids Eleanor from talking to her grandfather about the end of the world.  

I loved McAnulty’s book, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, so I was super excited about this book.  I enjoyed the beginning of the book and the premise of Eleanor’s middle school drama, but by the end I was frustrated with Eleanor’s inability to listen to those who loved her over the rantings of a scientist online.  The ending was hard to read because Eleanor couldn’t get out of her own way and it became too predictable.  

Reviewer, C. Peterson

Fence by C. S. Pacat - OPTIONAL

Fence (Volume 1) by C. S. Pacat, 112 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. BOOM! Box, 2019. $10.

Language: PG (2 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW

Fencing is in Nicholas’s blood. Nicholas does all he can to learn and become as good as his father, but his first tournament still doesn’t go as well as he wanted it to. Now there’s more at stake then his pride: if Nicholas doesn’t get on the fencing team -- a team that will only accept three members -- he’ll lose his scholarship.

Everyone likes a good underdog story, and I’m sure that the following volumes will deliver that through Nicholas -- I’m definitely rooting for him -- but I don’t feel like Pacat brings anything new to the typical underdog story. Sob-story background: check. Cocky rival: check. High stakes: check. Seeing all of the familiar tropes without a compelling reason to invest myself in Nicholas’s story makes me feel like reading the series is unnecessary because I know what the ending looks like.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold - OPTIONAL

The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett, 197 pages.  Bloomsbury, 2018.  $18.  

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS – OPTIONAL  

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE  

Ember is a middle schooler and her best friend, Ness, is the only friend she feels like really understands her.  One day, Ness dies unexpectantly and Ember can’t accept the loss.  Ember follows a bunch of weird clues that lead her to the underworld, where Ember tries persistently to lure Ness back to the living.  But the rules that govern the underworld must have a balance and Ember keeps ignoring all of the warning signs.  

The Afterwards has a mystic realism feel similar to a Neil Gaiman novel.  I loved Harrold’s book, The Imaginary, but was disappointed in this read.  Ember’s insistence on breaking the rules and ignoring all the warning signs is what perpetuated the plot and it was frustrating to follow.  I enjoyed the illustrations and felt like the use of black and white or color in the pictures added to the world building.  Creative idea but didn’t love Ember and her unbelievable naivete.  

Reviewer, C. Peterson.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Legend of the Fire Princess by Gigi D.G. and Paulina Ganucheau - OPTIONAL

Legend of the Fire Princess (She-Ra Graphic Novel #1) by Gigi D.G. and Paulina Ganucheau, 128 pages, GRAPHIC NOVEL, Graphic (Scholastic), 2020, $13.  9781338538953

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS – OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Two opposing forces are looking for the Spirit Ember, a runestone that is supposed to have devastating power.  Glimmer hopes to use the Spirit Ember to give the Rebellion an edge to win the war against the Horde, but the Horde is looking for it too.  Adora (aka She-Ra) is learning to use her powers, so which side will find the runestone first? 

Even though this says it is book one, I felt like I was missing a huge backstory.  If you aren’t familiar with the She-Ra universe, the beginning will be confusing for you.  There is only one male, who sports a bare midriff, and a couple of instances of same-sex attraction.  There wasn’t a lot new here and the storyline didn’t advance very far.  But if you’re a She-Ra fan, dive in!

Michelle in the Middle
https://amzn.to/33EktRf

The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles by Haiko Hornig and Marius Pawlitza - OPTIONAL

The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles (A House Divided #1), by Haiko Hornig and Marius Pawlitza, 96 pages, GRAPHIC NOVEL, Graphic Universe (Lerner), 2020, $10 (pb).  9781541586925

Content G\

BUYING ADVISORY: MS – OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Henrietta Achilles, possibly in her mid teens, has been living as an orphan when she is brought to the village of Malrenard.  There she finds out that as the only living relative of a deceased wizard, she had inherited his bizarre house, which is reputed to have a treasure hidden inside.  As she enters her new home, she discovers it is truly bizarre and over run with soldiers and bandits fighting one another over finding the treasure and even pastries, and yes, monsters. 

I liked the artwork and the premise, but I had to read the back of the book to get the storyline down.  There was so much going on so fast, that it didn’t give me much time to process.  At only 96 pages, all I got out of it was that Henrietta is going to stay and figure out the house.  Good luck to her with so many other bodies in it. Maybe it’s all a ploy to help readers feel as confused as Henrietta.  

Michelle in the Middle 

Waste of Space by Gina Damico - OPTIONAL

Waste of Space by Gina Damico, 396 pages. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. $18.

Language: R (181 swears, 2 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG13

BUYING ADVISORY: HS – OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

When Chazz Young arranges a new TV show called “Waste of Space,” the whole world is captivated by a new reality show sending teenagers into space. But Chazz did not reveal the truth to his viewers -- only what he wanted them to see. Now we get the full story from what went on behind the scenes, thanks to this intern-turned-whistleblower.

Damico tells this story unconventionally, through a series of phone calls and video transcripts. The format is difficult to navigate because of the steep learning curve required of readers, though I eventually got used to it. This style allows readers to get all the information from several different points of view, and this complemented the premise well. While Damico wrote a story that is hard to pull away from, I also had a hard time continuing to read through the confusion and chaos that goes on. Waste of Space is well-written; it’s just not my cup of tea. The mature content rating is for innuendo, underage substance abuse, nudity, and implied sex. The violence rating is for threats and gun usage.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Dark Sky Rising by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. - ADVISABLE

Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 240 pages.  NON-FICTION. Focus (Scholastic), 2019.  $20.  

Content: Language: PG (3 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG-13. 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS – ADVISABLE  

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE   

After the Civil War, the white South decided to keep their ideologies although they had lost the war.  Directly after the war, African Americans were excited to live freely, and they quickly involved themselves in their communities through leadership and counsels.  In response, the racist Southerners enacted laws of segregation and exemption that suppressed the African Americans’ freedom. The strength, courage and hope of those who led are highlighted throughout this book.  

For all of the Civil War books out there, this is unique and highlights the perspective of African Americans and the Reconstruction time period.  The chronology of events is covered in short summaries and runs from the end of slavery through Reconstruction and on to the Jim Crow time period.  This would be great to use in a history class, even if used in parts, for that often- rushed teaching of Reconstruction.  I love reading a new perspective and Gates does an amazing job pulling the reader in and celebrating African Americans fight for freedom.   The content includes mentioning lynching’s, rape, beatings and murders.  

Reviewer, C. Peterson.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Fun Fun Fun World (#1) by Yehudi Mercado - ADVISABLE

Fun Fun Fun World (#1) by Yehudi Mercado, 184 pages, GRAPHIC NOVEL, Oni Press, 2020, $13.  9781941302781

Content G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS – ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Minky is an alien life form, captain of the Devastorm 5, who hasn’t been successful at conquering any planets, but has set his sight on Earth.  Eager to avoid the Scourge Realm should he fail, he and his crew land in a defunct theme park.  Javi, a young and resourceful human, who sees in the aliens a chance to use their technology to get the theme park working and save his dad’s job there, takes advantage of the dim aliens. It turns out that churros may be the best intergalactic currency of all!  But the park is hiding secrets and other aliens may want in on the conquering. 

There is a lot of humor here, and if you’ve ever been to an amusement park, you’ll relate to Fun Fun Fun World.  Nice color and easy to read graphics make this easy to follow.  If you want a fun fast read that doesn’t eat up too many brain cells, grab a churro and hang on for the ride. 

Michelle in the Middle

The Body under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn - ADVISABLE

The Body under the Piano (Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen) by Marthe Jocelyn, 325 pages, Tundra Books (Penguin Random House), 2020, $16.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS – ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Inspired by the imagined life of author Agatha Christie as a child, twelve-year old Aggie Morton is an aspiring writer in a small coastal England town in 1902.  Aggie is lined up for dance lesson and is the first through the door only to discover, gasp, a dead body under the piano.  Aggie and her new friend, Hector Perot, use their detective skills in an unlikely adventure to try and figure out who in their small community could do such a dastardly deed.

Filled with great characters, this book is a well-written mystery, especially if you like Agatha Christie.  There are illustrations at the front of the book of each of the major players and it makes for a fun reference guide as readers try and figure out the murderer along with Aggie and Hector.  I loved the writing style, which captures the nuance and mores of the era.  I hope Aggie and Hector have more grand adventures!

Michelle in the Middle

Lucky Caller by Emma Mills - HIGH

Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, 323 pages. Henry Holt (Macmillan), 2020. $18.

Language: R (59 swears, 19 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Nina’s dad might be a radio host, but that doesn’t mean she’s getting an easy A in her radio broadcasting class. Ending up in a group with a radio host who can’t talk on the air and a boy she has some history with doesn’t make things easier. Problems are building up on and off the air, and no one seems to have any solutions -- least of all Nina.

Not a lot happens over the course of this book, and, yet, somehow, everything happens. With a series of just-realistic-enough, impossible events, everything works out in the end and the reader gets to enjoy the ride. Usually, I’m not a fan of books that don’t seem to have a point in the first few chapters, but, even though I didn’t know where the story was going, Mills made me care about where it had come from. I needed to know about Nina and the boy she has history with. However, the reason I will be recommending this book to all my friends is because it is the funniest thing I’ve read in the past year -- as in full on laughing out loud several times over the course of reading it. And I’m definitely going to steal some of this dialogue and use it in real life. The mature content rating is for innuendo.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Not Your Idol by Aoi Makino - ADVISABLE

Not Your Idol (#1) by Aoi Makino, 166 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. VIZ Media, 2020. $10.

Language: PG (10 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG13

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

High schooler Nina Kamiyama chooses to wear the male uniform at the school and doesn’t talk to anyone. With groping becoming a hot topic in the city, Kamiyama starts to get more flack for her decision to not wear skirts. Hikaru tries to befriend and help her, but, the closer he gets, the more nervous Kamiyama becomes.

While the whole story is shrouded in the mystery of who the antagonist is and how he’ll show up again, I was hooked by the first, quickly revealed mystery of what happened to Karen Amamiya. All of the little mysteries and reveals that are going on with the big mystery looming over the reader makes Kamiyama’s story difficult to put down. I love the ending of this volume and how it makes the overarching theme of courage clear to readers: courage to communicate when you’ve been wronged, courage to face your fears, courage to change your mind, courage to trust. I hope volume 2 becomes available soon. The mature content rating is for mentions of pornography and rape, groping, and sexual harassment. The violence rating is for stalking and knife violence.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Thursday, March 26, 2020

A Cloud of Outrageous Blue by Vesper Stamper - OPTIONAL


A Cloud of Outrageous Blue by Vesper Stamper, 320 pgs. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2020. $20.

Language: PG (22 swears, no “f”); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG-13 (lashings as punishment, flagellant behavior, a hanging, and an intentional drowning).

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS—OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL—AVERAGE

After a series of tragedies, Edyth has lost everything and finds herself sent to live at a priory. As she settles into her new life, outside the walls things are rapidly deteriorating. The Great Plague is spreading across England and as the threat moves closer, Edyth must come to terms with what destiny has in store for her.

Edyth’s plight is one of so many different plots, subplots, and vague threads that the reader will be left confused as to what the overall story is even supposed to be. Her father was murdered, her mother died in childbirth, and other family crises occur with hardly any explanation or exploration. Edyth’s character is repeatedly described with physical flaws, however, it never seems as though there was any character development purpose to her being unattractive. She also has what the reader would infer is synesthesia, but again, why would the author have her experience this condition unless it would somehow add to the overall story? At one point the Black Plague enters the narrative and the plot then veers into fantasy and religious fatalism. Because there are so many stops and starts of so many different story-lines, the reader will be left unsatisfied and baffled as to the author’s motives.

Reviewer: AEB

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia - OPTIONAL

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia, 482 pages, Disney Hyperion, 2019, $18.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS – OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

7th grader, Tristan Strong has gone to his grandparent’s farm to recover from losing his best friend, Eddie.  His first night there he is attacked by a strange ten inch doll-like creature named Gum Baby, that makes off with Eddie’s journal of African and American African stories.  Tristan follows and inadvertently rips a hole into the world of Alke, where the old stories and their Gods exist.  The hole in the sky causes life-threatening problems for Alke’s residents.   To top it off, a haint has followed him.  Tristan must save Alke’s world before the destruction spills over into his own. 

I really wanted to like this story more because there is a dearth of good African heritage mythology brought into modern times.  This book suffer from its strength though: too much action.  There is so much going on that I’m not sure Tristan even had a chance to use the bathroom (not that we need to know that, but you get the idea).  Because of that, there isn’t much character development or tension build up. So at 482 pages, the book felt superficial and long.  This book also left me wishing for a pronunciation guide for the African names and a short note about what was actual mythology.   
Michelle in the Middle

The Savage Beard of She Dwarf by Kyle Latino - OPTIONAL

The Savage Beard of She Dwarf by Kyle Latino, 156 pages, GRAPHIC NOVEL, Roaring Book Press, 2020, $20. 9781620107386

Language: PG (4 swears); Mature Content G; Violence: PG

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS – OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

She Dwarf may be the only dwarf left in existence.  She sets off for the lost dwarven city of Dammerung to find others of her kind.  Dammerung is off the grid and there are forces that don’t want it found. She Dwarf pairs up with an unlikely helper, and they face hazard after hazard as they journey to find out what happened to the dwarves.  

Though age is never mentioned, She Dwarf is a beer drinker and has a full beard.  The battles are violent in a graphic novel sort of way:  there is hammer time to some Shork crotches, monsters losing eyes and teeth, and an elf impaled on a dragon horn.  The art is fun and colorful.  She Dwarf is a tough cookie, and not above ripping off someone’s beard or taking on dragons.  Sometimes the story seemed to skip plot points.  For example, I’m still not sure why Hack Battler’s beard turned white, but if you love Legends of Zelda, you’ll probably like this fantasy webcomic turned book. 

Michelle in the Middle

Thief of Cahraman by Lucy Tempest - OPTIONAL

Thief of Cahraman by Lucy Tempest, 322 pages. Folkshore Press, 2018. $12.

Language: PG (8 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

After years of wandering, Adelaide is enthralled by the idea of settling down in Aubenaire, where she has finally managed to make friends. Not too long after entertaining that thought, however, Adelaide finds herself in the land of fairy -- kidnapped by a witch. If Ada doesn’t comply with the witch’s demands, she will never be able to return to the life she was just beginning to believe was possible.

In this gender-swapped retelling of Aladdin, I loved finding all the details that evoke memories of the familiar story while still getting a unique spin-off. However, I was disappointed by how slow the story moved, especially in the beginning. I had a hard time engaging with the story until Adelaide gets to the palace, but even that progress on her quest became repetitive. Two sequels follow this book, and I can’t imagine how the loose ends can fill that many pages.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu - OPTIONAL

The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu, 341 pages.  Roaring Brook Press, 2019.  $18.  

Content: Language: R (125 swears; 48 “f”); Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG-13.  

BUYING ADVISORY: HS – OPTIONAL  

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE  

As a 16yo, Elena Finney longs for freedom from her oppressive alcoholic mother, Caridad.  Elena takes every chance she can get to escape her chores and celebrate her summer with friends and a new older boyfriend, using the excuse of babysitting for a wealthy family.  Caridad, also has her own story woven throughout, of a life in Cuba that is interrupted by Castro. Elena’s older brother, Joaquin, just graduated from high school and is granted more freedom because he is a boy.  Joaquin works at a restaurant and falls in love with a spunky girl named, Amy.  The more Joaquin interacts with others, the more he realizes that his family is suffering from mental illness and he can’t always sacrifice his well-being to take care of them.  

This complex and dark story concentrates on the themes of family, coming-of-age and finding the strength to be ourselves.  I wish there would have been more history in Caridad’s story and Caridad is hard to like.  As different plot twists are revealed, the perspective changes and the oppression of Caridad makes the reader feel oppressed as well.  I found that I couldn’t put the book down, even though I didn’t really like any of the characters or their decisions, it was such a weird and winding read.  The content includes a lot of talk of sex (all off-page), drug use and underage drinking, crass comments, verbal and physical abuse and alcoholism.  

Reviewer, C. Peterson.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim - ESSENTIAL

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim 306 pages. Kokila, Penguin Random House, 2020. $17.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

Yumi Chung is about to start middle school, but her parents are not rich, so unless she can score high on the placement test, she won't be able to attend Winston Prep on scholarship. Yumi is enrolled in a morning test-prep class to get that high test score, but, Yumi doesn't want to go to a prestigious college. Yumi wants to be a stand up comic! So, when a case of mistaken identity lands her in an afternoon comedy summer camp, taught by her favorite stand up vlogger Jasmine Jasper, Yumi jumps at the chance to follow her dream.

I loved so many things about Jessica Kim's story. It's hilarious - the kids who love Patterson's "I funny" will find a similar read - but this is less corny jokes and more how to be a comic. Yumi's parents own a Korean Barbecue, so we see Yumi helping out with the restaurant, lots of Korean dishes and Korean culture. She keeps a comedy notebook which is deloightful - on lined paper in kid-writing, Yumi's notes are great. All in all, a marvelous read that I'm looking forward to recommending!

Lisa Librarian 

Scullion: A Dishwasher’s Guide to Mistaken Identity by Jarad Greene - HIGH

Scullion: A Dishwasher’s Guide to Mistaken Identity by Jarad Greene, 162 pages, GRAPHIC NOVEL, Oni Press, 2020, $20. 9781620107539

Content G

BUYING ADVISORY: MS – ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

In medieval Timberwood, the royal prince and princess are about to be married. The scrolls (tabuloids) are filled with the wedding of the century.  But then the bride, Riqa, is missing.  Riqa is a great warrior and two local scullions (dishwashers in the royal castle) named Darlis and Mae, are both avid readers of her books, “The Fair Maiden’s Guide” volumes one and two, where they learn handy warrior tips.  Darlis gets mistaken for Riqa and is kidnapped by troll siblings to be held for ransom.  Mae tries to help Darlis, and together they have to combat capitalistic trolls to free themselves.

A modern medieval read filled with humor and wit, this book is a lot of fun.  Darlis and Mae are great characters and the art is bright and colorful.  A fast, fun read.

Michelle in the Middle

My Video Game Ate My Homework by Dustin Hansen - HIGH

My Video Game Ate My Homework by Dustin Hansen, 160 pages, GRAPHIC NOVEL, DC Comics, 2020, $10. 9781401293260

Content G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS – ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Dewey Jenkins is 13yo and he has a serious problem.  If he doesn’t pass his science class, he’s looking at summer school.  Because he’s dyslexic and reading is difficult, he figures building a science fair volcano will be his ticket to success. 
Besides, first prize is to try out a new virtual reality console.  Dewey’s best friend Ferg manages to get a sneak peak at the console and breaks it, so he brings it over for Dewey to fix.  The game portal opens up and sucks in the volcano.  Dewey, his twin sister, Beatrice, and friends Ferg and Katherine, enter the portal to salvage the volcano.

Fun read with cool graphics.  I liked the game symbols that popped up with names and skills and levels loading.  The characters are likable.  If you are a gamer, this book will feel familiar and immersive and reads as fast as playing a game. 

Michelle in the Middle

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga - ADVISABLE

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga 352 pages. Balzer + Bray 2019 $17.00

Language: G; Mature Content: PG (talk of menstruation); Violence: PG.

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Jude has lived her whole life in Syria, but as political unrest makes things more dangerous for her family, Jude and her mom - who is expecting - leave Jude's father and brother behind and travel to Cincinnati to stay with Jude's mother's brother and his American wife and daughter.  Jude is excited to be in America - she speaks English (a little) and likes American movies (a lot). Jude makes friends at school, Miles and Layla - and there are some great kids in her ELL class, she even auditions for the school musical, but there's always the underlying issue of the problems she left behind at home in Syria.

I really liked the story - Jude is a great character with a lot going for her - she's resilient, and she has courage.  Her ELL class looks like a great experience - how helpful those classes must be. I liked seeing how Jude responded to the racism she came up against, at school as well as in her community. However, I feel shortchanged when I read a book in free verse. If the author hasn't utilized poetic structure in the writing, it just feels like a quick read - like I'm missing something that more words could have filled in. I would have loved to know more about Jude's life in Syria, her relationship with her father, how her cousin's feelings toward her evolved.  Sigh. All in all, this is a good book, both for building empathy and for seeing yourself in a diverse book. I will certainly recommend this.

Lisa Librarian