Friday, April 30, 2021

The Water Bears by Kim Baker - ADVISABLE

The Water Bears by Kim Baker, 262 pages. Wendy Lamb Books (Penguin Random House), 2020. $17

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

13yo Newton survived a vicious bear attack over a year ago, which left him with an injured leg, bad dreams and unwanted attention. When Newton and his friend Ethan find a large wooden bear statue, Ethan makes a wish, and it comes true! Newton thinks it's a coincidence, and even though he has a wish - a big one - he doesn't believe the answer is as simple as wishing on a statue. 

I wasn't sure if there was real magic in this story or not, certainly there were magicians, and a belief by a lot of people that magical things happen, but whether or not the bear really could grant wishes felt ambiguous. Newton's family is the only Latinx family on the island, so I liked the bit of culture and the sprinkling of Spanish. Some elements were strange, like the birthday gift Newt gets when he wanted a bike - an old Taco Truck that hardly anyone minds that a 13yo is driving around. A bit weird, but not too, I think middle school readers will appreciate this story of recovery, of wanting to not be noticed, and of hoping your dreams come true - or in Newt's case, hoping your dreams go away.

Lisa Librarian

Middletown by Sarah Moon - ESSENTIAL

Middletown by Sarah Moon,
narrated by Hope Newhouse. 256 pages. Levine Querido, 2021. $17. 
 
Language: G (0 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: G; Violence: G (one punch) 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS, MS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

13yo Eli and her 17yo sister Anna have been barely keeping it together since their mom loves alcohol more than she loves them. Neither of their dads are in the picture - in fact Anna has no idea who her dad even is. When Mom is forced into court-ordered rehab for 90 days, the girls succeed in hiding it for a while, but when Anna disappears for a few days, Eli gets in trouble at school, which send social services their direction. The girls take Mom’s car and head off to their long-absent aunt, who, though gruff, may be the safest place for the girls to finally get the help they really need. 

Mom’s alcoholism and its consequences definitely takes centerstage here. Eli’s questioning of her own gender identity is a sidenote. She is crushing on her female BFF and her male BFF is out as gay. Dealing with a parent who is an alcoholic is the main focus - plus all of the mistakes the girls make as they try to keep secrets from everyone around them who might be able to help. I have to admit that I have never been involved with the foster system, but I wish there were more books showing kind foster families - I feel like it is an undeserved stigma attached to being fostered, so that a kid’s first instinct is to hide the problems instead of getting the help they need. 

Cindy, Library Teacher, MLS 
This audiobook was provided by libro.fm and The King's English Bookstore

Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall - OPTIONAL

Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall
, 373 pages. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2021. $19

Language: R (217 swears, 34 “f”, +Jamaican swears); Mature Content: PG-13 (weed, alcohol, off-page sex/prostitution); Violence: PG-13 (gang killings/beatings, gore) 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL 

 AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

Frankie is a senior in high school in Jamaica. He’s worked hard his entire life for the chance to go to college in America. He dreams of becoming an engineer and then returning home to improve Jamaica. Frankie is awarded the scholarship to the University of Arizona but his life comes to a screeching halt when his father needs very expensive medicine. After exhausting all options, Frankie turns to his Uncle Joe, the head of a posse, who has a lot of power and money. Frankie is left with the decision to join the posse and possibly save his father or pursue his life-long dream in America. Frankie may be forever at the mercy of his Uncle and the posse in order to save his father’s life. 

Desmond Hall’s riveting novel was tough to put down. I found myself cheering so hard for Frankie who is forced to make a lot of difficult decisions at a young age. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the entire novel. Not a lot ends up going Frankie’s way, but he is very determined and continues to fight for the life he knows he deserves. 

Reviewer: T. McP, SLP 

Like Home by Louisa Onome - OPTIONAL

Like Home by Louisa Onome
, 400 pages. Delacorte Press, 2021. $18

Language: R (168 swears, 35 “f”; Mature Content: PG-13 (vandalism, mention of drugs, underage drinking, and condoms); Violence: PG-13 (gang violence) 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL 

 AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

Chinelo aka Nelo used to have a group of friends who did everything together but that all changed when a kid was killed at the arcade. Nelo’s friends began moving away from Ginger East to “safer” neighborhoods and now it’s just her and her best friend Kate. Kate’s family owns the corner store in Ginger East, but one night a brick gets thrown at the store window. Nelo is determined to find out who vandalized the store so that Kate and her family won’t move away from Ginger East. Nelo and Kate seem to be growing apart during this difficult time. Will this be the end of their friendship or can Nelo find a way to keep Kate’s family from moving away while keeping their friendship intact? 

 Louisa Onomé’s debut, coming-of-age novel was a great read. Nelo’s character is strong and passionate yet not too stubborn or immature. She shows that anyone can make a difference in their community, no matter their age. This book is a pretty quick read even though it is 400 pages, and I found myself not wanting to put it down. I became invested in the story early on and wanted to know what happened to Ginger Store. There is also a great twist at the end that I never saw coming. 

Reviewer: Tara McP., SLP 

Some Kind of Animal by Maria Romasco-Moore - OPTIONAL

Some Kind of Animal by Maria Romasco-Moore
, 376 pages, Delacorte Press (Random House), 2020, $19

Language: R (64 swears 56 "f"); Mature Content: PG 13 (sexual content, drug use); Violence: R (graphic murder, domestic abuse, vicious attacks)

BUYING ADVISORY: HS-OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW 

Jo has a savage twin sister, Lee, who lives in the woods. She visits/runs with her sister at night. No one believes Lee is real. Jo had to stop seeing her sister nightly because she is failing school and being branded as a rebel. Lee gets angry/scared for Jo and attacks one of Jo's friends who is kissing Jo. The town people think Jo did the attacking. She has to decide which world is more livable, society of a small town or the ruffing it in the woods with Lee. 

It sounded like such a good story, but I was disappointed. There was a lot of mature content that added no value to the story. I was frustrated beyond measure with the reasoning of the main characters. There are better ways to spend your time than reading this book. 

Reviewer: Julia Nichols 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Broken Wish (The Mirror #1) by Julie C. Dao - OPTIONAL

Broken Wish (The Mirror #1) by Julie C. Dao
, 311 pages. Hyperion (Disney), 2020. $19. 

Language: PG (3 swears, 0 Fs); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

16yo Elva is a farm girl who sees visions of things that always come true. She doesn’t know why it happens or what it means, but she does know it’s not something she should talk about. She’s grown up with talk of a family curse and wonders if she has something to do with that curse. Then one day, she finds some old letters between her mother and a mysterious woman named Mathilda who seems to have a history with her family. Desperate to find answers, Elva seeks out Mathilda in her hidden cottage in the woods looking for insight into why she’s so different. Mathilda reveals to Elva that she’s a witch and her visions are evidence of her magical powers. Mathilda agrees to teach her how to use her powers, but warns her of the danger of misusing them. When things start to fall apart for Elva, she tries to use her powers to alter the past, with terrible consequences. 

This book was okay overall and I think it’s fine for younger readers. The characters are compelling and the story is interesting. There’s a little bit of romance, some mystery, and an element of danger, all of which make it a good enough book. It’s a little bit predictable and formulaic at times, but I don’t think younger readers would notice or care. What I didn’t like was the moralizing message that felt overly preachy. Elva wants to help Mathilda find acceptance from the wider society and goes on a long diatribe to her family about how important it is for people to be who they are and for everyone to accept each other, no matter what. It’s a good message, but it felt clumsy and contrived. It turned me off to the rest of the story. The ratings are for a few uses of god and some danger and mortal peril. 

 Reviewer: Andrea R 

The Salt in Our Blood by Ava Morgyn - OPTIONAL

The Salt in Our Blood by Ava Morgyn
, 323 pages. Albert Whitman, 2021. $18

Language: PG-13 (19 swears, 1 “f”); Mature Content: PG-13 (references to sexual assault and rape, on page sex- not explicit); Violence: PG-13 (domestic abuse, some mild description) 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

As soon as 17yo Cat walks into the bedroom, she knows her grandmother, Mooney, has died. She knows by the unnatural stillness of her body. After calling for help, Cat knows she must also call her Mom. It’s been four years since Cat has seen her mom and ten years since she dropped Cat off to live with Mooney. Cat doesn’t know what to expect, but hopes her mom is still on her meds. Once her mom arrives, things move quickly. Her mom packs up Cat and the car and they are off to New Orleans where her mom is currently living. Cat is surprised her mom has a steady job, a place to live and a boyfriend, but based on her past experiences, it sounds too good to be true. It doesn’t take long for Cat and her mother to find themselves at odds with one another. Her mom is so happy Cat is there and she just wants to get on with things. Cat, on the other hand, misses Mooney, hardly knows her mom and has so many questions, and she is determined to find answers. Unfortunately her mom isn’t interested in dredging up the past, and the more Cat digs, the more she realizes how much Mooney kept from her. 

The magic is pretty mild in the story, but the author does weave some of the traditional folklore and magic of New Orleans into the story which adds to the mystery and atmosphere but doesn’t overwhelm the story of a mother and a daughter trying to reconnect. Cat’s mom is on her meds and in a seemingly good place, but that changes so quickly and the author handles both the characters and mental illness realistically, as well as, Cat questioning her own mental health and wondering if she is going down the same path as her mom. As the story unfolds, I found myself completely engaged and I always love a satisfying ending. 

Reviewer: RB 

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood - OPTIONAL

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood
, 338 pages. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. $18 

Language: R (13 swears, 16 “f”) + foreign language swears; Mature Content: PG-13; Violence; G 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

As a senior in high school and a Muslim, Danyal is just trying to get through the year, graduate, and keep his mother from marrying him off. He’s already been held back a year and does not want to attend a traditional college so he doesn’t understand why he should even care about school. Danyal spends his spare time dreaming of cooking school and working in a kitchen at a local French restaurant. His passion for cooking is seen by those around him except his parents, especially his dad, a strict Muslim. Each year Aligheri Prep school hosts the “Renaissance Man” competition, a school-wide academic competition. Danyal is unexpectedly chosen to participate in the competition as the History representative. He is determined to prove to everyone that he’s more than just a pretty face, especially to his long-time crush Kaval. Throughout the story Danyal’s mother is trying to set up rishta meetings, where he is introduced to a girl because the parents hope they would hit it off and decide to get married. He doesn’t really agree with an arranged marriage, but that’s what his parents want for him and that’s what his religion expects of him. As Danyal starts to do research for “Renaissance Man” he discovers more about his father’s passions, his disdain for Winston Churchill and the Bengal Famine. Danyal must navigate school, work, friends and even unanticipated feelings for a new girl who helps in ways he didn’t know were possible. 

Masood really does a great job weaving in genuine cultural insight of Muslim culture, religion and present-day culture. I was inspired to find out more about the Bengal Famine and what took place there. The story points out that you can be too drastic one way or the other and balancing life and being happy amid the terrible things that still happen in the world. The characters will make you laugh and cry. It is a fun, easy to read, young adult romantic comedy. 

Reviewer: Jenn J. 

Daughters of Jubilation by Kara Lee Corthron - OPTIONAL

Daughters of Jubilation by Kara Lee Corthron
, 342 pages. Simon and Schuster, 2020. $19

Language: R (100+ swears, 9 Fs); Mature Content: R (on-page sex, attempted sexual assault, racial discrimination and persecution, references to child molestation); Violence: R (beating, on page death.) 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

16yo Evvie is growing up in the 1960s southern United States. She knows she’s different because she has the ‘jubilation,’ what her mother calls their family’s ability to do magic. The older she gets, the harder it is for Evvie to control her magical outbursts and her mom finally decides it’s time for her to be taught by her estranged grandma to control her powers before Evvie gets herself into trouble. Complicating matters is Clay, the boy Evvie has a crush on and who, it turns out, has a crush on her. They fall in love hard and fast and Evvie couldn’t be happier, until a strange and scary white boy keeps showing up. He knows Evvie, but she doesn’t know him, or at least doesn’t think she does. What she does know is that she can’t use her magic against him, even when he threatens her. He wants Evvie for himself and that puts him on a crash course with Clay, and with Evvie’s jubilation. 

I liked this book, for the most part. It’s definitely a girl-power book. The author is a person of color and I appreciated reading a book full of authentic cultural references. The magic didn’t feel out of place and was described in a way that made it seem real. The story was engaging and compelling, and I cared about the characters. The relationship between Evvie and her mom and grandma was tender and authentic. There were some aspects to it that I didn’t like, however. It was very swear-y and had graphic descriptions of sex that make it impossible to have in a school library. Another issue is that the explanation of why they have magic and how it works wasn’t deep enough or as thorough as I would have liked. 

 Reviewer: Andrea R 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Everything I Thought I Knew by Shannon Takaoka - OPTIONAL

Everything I Thought I Knew by Shannon Takaoka
, 308 pages. Candlewick Press, 2020. $18 

Language: R (53 swears, 6 “f”); Mature Content: PG (short make out session); Violence: PG (vivid car crash memories) 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

17yo Chloe is practically perfect--gets good grades, cross-country star, on-track for college, until she lands at the top of the organ donor list due to a surprise heart defect. Now, she is anything but normal as she struggles to adjust to life with a new heart. Along with the new heart, she suddenly has all these memories that aren’t hers and she is pursuing hobbies that she never did before. Is she going crazy or is there another explanation? 

For the most part, the book was an enjoyable read about a teenager who had to adjust to a major setback. Her reactions to her new-health-conscious-helicopter parents and struggling to reconnect with her former peers and friends going on to college while she is left recovering were authentic and real. However, the book took an unexpected turn into magical realism and/or string theory towards the end that left me inexplicably sobbing but also confused? I enjoyed reading about 75% of this book, and the last 25% left me undecided. This book kind of reminded me of the movie Return to Me but with teenagers, surfing, and quantum physics. 

Reviewer: BookswithBeddes 

A Girl in Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel - OPTIONAL

A Girl in Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel
, 310 pages. Alfred A Knopf (Random House), 2019. $18. 

Language: PG (8 swears); Mature Content: PG-13 ( teenage smoking, pregnancy, abortion, not explicit); Violence: PG-13 (domestic violence) 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW 

11yo Allegra is growing up. She’ll be going to secondary school soon and life is getting more complicated. She is trying to make friends and get ready for her confirmation, but sometimes she feels like she is being pulled in three different directions by the people closest to her. Her grandmother, Matilde, has rules and calls her Allegra. Her grandmother, Joy, is carefree and calls her Ally. Her dad calls her Al Pal and she wonders why he doesn’t take care of her like a normal dad. All three of them love her dearly, but they don’t speak to each other unless absolutely necessary. The truth is Allegra has questions about a lot of things, mostly her mom, but no one will talk about her until a neighbor girl gets in trouble and they are forced to face the past. 

While Allegra is young, this isn’t a middle school book. Mostly it will appeal to adults, although more mature, thoughtful students may also like it. The author touches on a variety of different topics, yet it neither seems overwhelming nor distractracting to the reader and they are introduced to show as Allegra gets older and more mature so does her world view. I enjoyed the story quite a bit and loved that there was great closure and a glimpse into Allegra’s future. 
 
Reviewer: RB 

Separate No More by Lawrence Goldstone - OPTIONAL

Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education by Lawrence Goldstone
, 276 pages. NON-FICTION. Scholastic Focus (Scholastic), 2021. $19. 

Language PG (0 swears); Mature Content: PG13 (racial conflict); Violence: R (racial cruelty, suicide, murder) 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW 

The history of legal action regarding the constitutionality of separate but equal facilities and educational opportunity is examined in detail. The motivation and background of key players in the bid to keep or dismantle segregation are provided for greater understanding of legislation leading up to the landmark Supreme Court decision of 1954. The founding of the NAACP is introduced, and their influence on legal work for African Americans is a focal point of the book. 

This is fascinating material, and an important part of American history that should be better understood. It is eye-opening to consider the viewpoint of those on either side of segregation, and this book is a good catalyst for doing so. The presentation of material, however, is such that reading the book requires extreme focus and intent, rendering it more textbook-like than an informational read. The occasional photographs were an enjoyable look into history and created a visual resting spot from the heavy text material. 

Mrs. V Reads 

Facing the Sun by Janice Lynn Mather - OPTIONAL

Facing the Sun by Janice Lynn Mather
, 406 pages. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. $19

Language G (2 swears); Mature Content: PG-13 (nondescript sexual intercourse, extramarital affairs, STDs, menstrual cycles); Violence: PG-13 (a brutal beating) 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

The friendship between four teenaged girls growing up in Nassau is tested and tried through the many difficulties faced by the girls individually, collectively, and by their families. The power of sisterhood and community prevails and proves to be the foundation they all need for success and security. 

This is a book that will appeal to young women because of the very real difficulties each character faces and strives to overcome. The story may be better appreciated, however, by adult women who have already traversed the rocky road of youth and know the power of friends, sisters, and community. It is difficult to keep each character straight, but regardless, the message is consistent and powerful throughout the novel. 

Mrs. V reads 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko - ESSENTIAL

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
, 404 pgs. Amulet Books, 2020. $19. 

Content: G

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

Tarisai has never know what it feels like to be a part of a family because she was raised by a mysterious woman known only as The Lady. When Tarisai is old enough The Lady sends her to Aritsar, the capital, to compete for a spot on the Crown Prince’s Council of Eleven. Being chosen would mean Tarisai would be magically bound to the rest of the council through the Ray. While she wants this more than ever, The Lady has other plans. She expects and wishes for Tarisai to kill the prince after gaining his trust. Is Tarisai strong enough to break the spell The Lady has over her? How far will Tarisai go for love? 

I enjoyed this book. The story was written beautifully and was engaging. 

Julia M., Student 

The Shadow Crosser by J. C. Cervantes - ESSENTIAL

The Shadow Crosser (Storm Runner #3) by J. C. Cervantes
, 426 pages. Hyperion, 2020. $17. 

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

Zane Obispo has spent the last three months tracking down other godborns with the help of demons. When he finds the last two, an unexpected betrayal sends him to SHIHOM(the Shaman Institute of Higher-Order Magic) early. Upon his arrival, Zane learns several of the Mayan gods have gone missing and the only way to find them is to uncover the secret the two new godborns are hiding, find a magical calendar, and travel back in time thirty years. If Zane and his friends fail, history will be changed and the world will be destroyed. 

I loved reading this book. It is the third book in a series and every book has kept me engaged and excited the whole way through. Violence is PG because there are a lot of battles that happen and a lot of fights. 

Julia M., Student https://amzn.to/3uJZBV9

This Town is Not All Right by M. K. Krys - OPTIONAL

This Town is Not All Right by M. K. Krys
, 298 pages. Penguin Workshop, 2020. $18. 

Content: G

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

Beacon and Everleigh, 12yo twins, were dragged to Driftwood Harbor by their dad after their brother, Jasper, died. Beacon wants nothing to do with this town and puts on a mask for his family. When strange things start to happen, Beacon gets the feeling things are not right in Driftwood Harbor. He could swear he saw Jane Middleton disappear in the waves during a storm, but she was reported to be in bed all night. And his tomboy sister starts wearing pink dresses. With all these strange things happening, Beacon is determined to figure out what is wrong with this town. 

 This was an interesting read because I could never guess what was going to happen next. It won’t suck students in right away, but readers who persist will enjoy it. 

Julia M., Student 

Violets are Blue by Barbara Dee - ADVISABLE

Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee,
304 pages. Aladdin (Simon and Schuster), (September) 2021. $18 

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

12yo Renada's life is upended when her parents divorce. Her mother is struggling at work, and struggling at home - the divorce has been hard on her and she gets more and more withdrawn and private. Hoping for a fresh start, they move to a new town over the summer, where mom gets a job as a nurse. Rennie wants a fresh start, so changes the spelling of her name to Wren. Making a friend right away, Poppy lets Wren practice special effects makeup on her and encourages Wren to help with the makeup for the school musical "Wicked." But when Wren's mom doesn't show at opening night, Wren begins to realize that her mom's sickness is more than sore knees and long working days. 

Dee tells a complicated story of middle school social structure, dealing with divorce, finding yourself, and the effects on a child living with a parent with an addiction without it feeling like too much was going on. As an adult, I saw the addiction signs right away, but for a younger reader without background knowledge, the story will slowly unveil itself right along with Wren. I really enjoyed it.

Lisa Librarian

The Matchmaker’s Lonely Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen - ADVISABLE

The Matchmaker’s Lonely Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen, 326 pages. Shadow Mountain Publishing, 2021. $16.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Corresponding with lonely hearts that write to The Marriage Gazette is the perfect job for a romantic like Amelie. When she decides to look in from across the street as a client meets her date, Amelie is surprised to recognize the charming Mr. Radcliffe as said client’s date. Michael, a detective, is also watching the date because he is investigating Mr. Radcliffe’s involvement in a possible murder. Amelie and Michael decide to work together for the truth, each convinced they know the real character of Mr. Radcliffe.

Allen’s books are always a joy for me to read because they keep readers engaged on the surface of what is happening while still feeling that something is lurking in the background. As the something creeps closer, readers can’t help the excitement that comes from figuring out the details with the characters involved. I love the dynamic that Michael and Amelie develop through the story, and I love how real the characters became to me, especially Michael -- I knew what he was thinking even during scenes that were from Amelie’s point of view!

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Monday, April 26, 2021

Eye for an Eye by Stephanie Black - ADVISABLE

Eye for an Eye by Stephanie Black, 80 pages. Covenant Communications, 2021. $7.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Mallory finally feels like she’s getting her life back on track at 22yo: she has a job to pay for her freshman year at college while benefiting from cheap rent by living with her sister and brother-in-law. And then they accuse Mallory of using illegal drugs in their home. With everyone pointing fingers, Mallory worries that no one will believe her and that her life will end just as it was beginning.

Black hooks her readers early through her inexplicable way with words and then never lets up on the subtle wrongness that hints of what is lurking in the background. Mallory and the characters around her felt like real people, which made the suspicious activity even more nerve-wracking. Don’t be fooled by its length: this novella still includes all the excitement of a full-length thriller. The mature content rating is for a strong theme of drug use and abuse.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen 

Friday, April 23, 2021

We Are Still Here! by Traci Sorell, and Frane Lessac - ESSENTIAL

We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac
. PICTURE BOOK, NON-FICTION Charlesbridge, 2021. $18. 9781623541927 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL (K-3) - ADVISABLE   
EL, MS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

The Native Nations Community School is having Indigenous Peoples' Day! 12 of the children have prepared presentations on topics including Assimilation, Termination, Indian Child Welfare & Education, Language Revival and Tribal Activism. After each short description, the phrase "We are still here!" is repeated. 

Frané Lessac's illustrations are amazing.  Historically and culturally accurate, set the stage for introductions to these important topics.  Traci Sorell has beautifully explained these issues in a simple and straightforward way. Older students can use the information as a springboard to choose a topic for further research, or as an empathy builder. It can also be used in a classroom as part of a unit on Native Nations. Includes more information on each topic that includes an explanation of the scene in the illustration, a glossary, sources, an author's note, and a time line from 1870 (when the US ended treaty making with the Native Nations) to 2007. This is an important book to add to your library. I am recommending it to my Utah Studies and American History teachers as a resource as well.

Lisa Librarian

Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight by Margaret Muirhead and Adam Gustavson - ESSENTIAL

Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight by Margaret Muirhead, illustrated by Adam Gustavson
PICTURE BOOK, NON-FICTION Charlesbridge, 2021. $18. 9781580898805 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL (K-3) - ADVISABLE, EL, MS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

First seen as a pie tin throwing fad on a college campus in 1920, then in 1937 Fred Morrison threw a popcorn lid to his girlfriend at Thanksgiving, and played with the cool flying disc all over. Soon the popcorn lid dented and wouldn't fly straight, so Fred tried a pie plate then a cake pan. Fred was a pilot in WWII and designed a flying tin with curved edges like a plane's wings. Then when he got home, he marketed it as a flying saucer toy which eventually was noticed by Wham-O, who renamed it Frisbee - the rest is history! 

Oh Boy! The story of the Frisbee - I loved the illustrations so much, very mid 20th century in both style and look. The text was just right and the story well told. Includes an author's note and sources. An awesome non-fiction choice for my middle school.

Lisa Librarian

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Millionaires for the Month by Stacy McAnulty - ADVISABLE

Millionaires for the Month by Stacy McAnulty,
323 pages. Penguin Random House, 2020. $17 

Content: G

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

12yo 7th graders Benji and Felix are not friends, but they have been partnered for the field trip to New York City. Felix follows rules, Benji does not. When the boys find a wallet in the park, Benji spends the $20 inside before giving it to their teacher to return. The wallet belongs to a billionaire who publicly rewards the school with ten thousand dollars worth of technology, but privately wants to teach the boys a lesson about money. A penny doubled everyday for a month is $5,368,709.12 and it's this amount she challenges the boys to spend, in just 30 days. There's lots of rules to follow - they can't tell anybody about the challenge for one, but, if they succeed, they'll each get ten million dollars. But spending that much money is harder than they thought, and it's not just about finding stuff to buy. 

I loved this modern retelling of Brewster's Millions. Seeing how that kind of money affects each family differently, and its effect on each boy was wonderful. There's more to the story than just the money - it's also about friendship, and self confidence, and making your parents proud, and doing the right thing. Engaging and exciting from the first few pages, I think my middle schoolers will really like "Millionaires for the Month" 

Lisa Librarian

10 Things I Hate About Pinky by Sandhya Menon - ADVISABLE

10 Things I Hate About Pinky (Dimple and Rishi, #3) by Sandhya Menon, 354 pages. Simon Pulse, 2020. $19. 

Content: Language: PG-13 (39 swears); Mature Content: PG; Violence: G.  

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE  

Pinky doesn’t feel like she fits into her conventional family, which is exacerbated when Pinky’s mom accuses Pinky of setting the barn of their summer home on fire. In response to her mother’s hurtful accusation, Pinky invites her very conventional friend/enemy Samir to spend the summer with her family at their summer home.  Pinky promises Samir that she will get him an internship with her lawyer mom’s firm, if Samir pretends to be Pinky’s “perfect” boyfriend. As the two spend more time together, they become less enemies and way more than friends. 

I like Menon’s books, including this one, because they show high school aged kids navigating family, friends and expectations.  Pinky is not easy to like because she is looking to be offended at every turn, but her character does grow throughout. Samir is lovable from the beginning. There were a few moments that I was beyond annoyed with Pinky, (one in which she recommends that Samir and his mother get therapy-ha the irony!- the entire book is about Pinky and her mother’s inability to communicate), but I do think that teens will relate to Pinky’s struggle to be accepted by her family, and deep down, accepted by herself.  

Reviewer, C. Peterson 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Worst-Case Collin by Rebecca Caprara - ADVISABLE

Worst-Case Collin
by Rebecca Caprara
, 256 pages. Charlesbridge, September 2021. $18 

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ADVISABLE

 AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

12yo Collin has struggled since his mother died in an accident two years ago. Now he plans for the worst-case scenario. What if there's an avalanche? What if there's a fire? He keeps his lists in an orange notebook so he can be prepared for the worst. But what he couldn't prepare for is what was happening at home. His father has started hoarding things and the house is quickly filling up. He's stopped taking care of himself and Collin, and Collin is too embarrassed to ask anyone for help. 

Hoarding isn't a topic you see much in middle grade, and Worst-Case Collin is a great read about how it affects the child of a hoarder. Written as a novel in verse, it reads quickly but is full of emotion and tough topics. His friends were unaware of Collin's home situation (he expertly managed to keep them outside or go to their houses), but Liam's mom was a great example of a caring parent, suspecting that something was wrong but not forcing Collin, just providing a safe place and what support she could. I wasn't particularly impressed with the poetry, and I have hard time selling books in verse to my middle school patrons, but the topic was engaging, and Collin is a great character, so I will be buying Worst-Case Collin. 

Lisa Librarian

Monday, April 19, 2021

Before I Saw You by Emily Houghton - OPTIONAL


Before I Saw You
by Emily Houghton
, 400 pages. Gallery Books, 2021. $17.

Language: R (221 swears, 42 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW

Alice, at 31yo, has been in control of her life and successful career for years now and doesn’t need anyone else -- until she nearly dies in a fire and finds herself in the hospital. After being in a car wreck, 28yo Alfie is on his way to recovery, bringing joy to the hospital ward that has become his temporary home even while he still struggles emotionally. Both Alice and Alfie have to make the tough decision to ignore their broken pieces or start the process of picking themselves back up.

Houghton skillfully addresses the emotional scarring that cannot be taken care of in a hospital as easily as our physical wounds -- scarring that might even be overlooked by those around us. Emotional health is just as important as physical health, and I love that Houghton illustrates different coping skills and encourages readers to build -- and be -- support systems for those around us, be they friends, family, or strangers you help through kindness. Story-wise, though, I feel that the ending was a let down. Alice and Alfie’s story was built up with compelling anticipation, and then I got to the last page and still looked for more because it felt incomplete. The mature content rating is for mentions of sex. 

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales - HIGH

Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales, 304 pages. Wednesday Books (St. Martin’s Press), 2021. $19.

Language: R (168 swears, 67 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Darcy, a junior, is the only person who knows the secret behind locker 89 because she’s the mastermind. Students drop off letters with relationship issues and the fee, and Darcy responds with advice guaranteed to help -- or your money back. Well, Darcy was the only one who knew before Brougham caught her and demanded her help for his silence.

Darcy’s story is a lot of fun to read for both the fictional drama and misunderstandings as well as for the non-fiction relationship theories and advice she gives throughout the book. While the drama can be over-the-top and the misunderstandings can be a bit obvious to the readers, Darcy’s experiences of making mistakes and trying to fix them feel completely relatable. I’m already making adjustments to my to-read list so that I can reread Perfect on Paper. The mature content is for mention of sex, underage drinking, alcohol abuse, and drug use.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes - ESSENTIAL

Black Brother, Black Brother
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
, 239 pages. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. $17 

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

12yo Donte is attending a premier private school in Boston with his 9th grade brother Trey. The brothers are biracial, with Trey looking more like his white father, and Donte more like his mother's family. Trey never gets in trouble, Donte does all the time - and it's unwarranted. When a teacher blames Donte for throwing a pencil in class (he didn't) and Donte is given detention, things escalate and Donte is arrested and charged with delinquency. One particular student, Alan, is the star of the fencing team, but bullies Donte. Donte wants to learn to fence, and maybe dethrone the king of the school at his own game. 

Rhodes writes for middle readers so well. I loved the sports element, and learning about fencing, Alexander Dumas, and racism even on the Olympic level. Donte's parents were supportive and involved - his mother is an attorney and represented Donte in court. How tragic for two brothers to have such different life experiences simply because of the color of their skin. An exciting and fast read with a great message. 

Lisa Librarian

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Isabelle and Alexander by Rebecca Anderson - OPTIONAL

Isabelle and Alexander by Rebecca Anderson, 368 pages. Shadow Mountain, 2021. $16.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW

Isabelle is excited for the good match her parents have made, but nervous about marrying Alexander since he is still practically a stranger. Despite her reservations, Isabelle goes into her marriage hopeful and chooses to nourish that hope despite the disappointments and hardships that abound. Will this new life ever fill with the happiness she imagines?

Anderson has written a different kind of love story in that it seems somewhat backwards. Isabelle and Alexander are married by chapter two and slowly get to know each other and hope for love as the book, and their marriage, progresses. I did not like Alexander for at least two-thirds of the book because his changes of emotion from one scene to the next hurt Isabelle. However, one day, without warning, I picked up the book looking forward to reading about the couple; I guess Alexander charmed me as he charmed Isabelle. In the end, I enjoyed the read, though I don’t think it is anything spectacular.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson - OPTIONAL

The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson, 352 pages. Delacorte Press (Random House), 2020. $19.

Language: R (269 swears, 124 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG13

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

May should have been in the room during the shooting that killed her twin brother, but, instead, she hid in the band closet and listened to the screams. Zach begged his mom not to take the case to defend the school shooter, but she became a social pariah anyway. What else is there when all May and Zach can feel is anger?

Tragedies aren’t just for Shakespeare, and real life can be as scary as a Stephen King novel. Lawson puts readers into the aftermath of a school shooting, highlighting the hate and confusion that occurs after disaster strikes. As readers follow the lives of May, Zach, their families, their friends, and their peers at school, we discover together the healing power of forgiveness -- the importance of forgiving others and forgiving ourselves -- even if the road is long and arduous. The mature content rating is for illegal activity, underage drinking, and mention of drugs; the violence rating is for blood, gun use, and murder.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Friday, April 16, 2021

Until Vienna by Heather B. Moore - OPTIONAL

Until Vienna by Heather B. Moore, 176 pages. Covenant Communications, 2021. $13.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

At 24yo, Gigi is making her way out of the market of eligible young ladies, and that’s okay with her; Gigi is happy with her work at the dressmaker’s and is pleased about her younger sister’s upcoming wedding. When her elderly aunt declares that Gigi will accompany her on an art tour across the continent, Gigi is reluctant but happy to go. Little does she know that her aunt has more in mind than simply looking at beautiful artwork.

I found Gigi’s adventures across Europe and her journey with love enjoyable to read for three-quarters of the book. Then the big conflict came to try the relationship Gigi was building, and it was lame. I felt that Gigi and her love interest acted out of character in order for there to be conflict, and I was disappointed by the forced misunderstanding. Their unsatisfactory challenge made their triumph and eventual happy ending less sweet.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky - HIGH

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky, 352 pages. Macmillan Children’s Publishing, 2021. $19.

Language: R (92 swears, 21 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG13

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Being in a new school is hard as an 11th grader but Rachel’s mostly been able to fly under the radar -- until the night she laughs at the popular girl’s humiliation at a party and is blamed for the prank pulled on her. Now Rachel is on a mission to figure out what really happened at the party. The deeper she goes, the more Rachel has to give up of herself to stay there.

What a thrill! Moldavsky has written a masterpiece. Throughout Rachel’s story, Moldavsky feeds readers just enough to stay patient until the connecting link for all the seemingly-random pieces falls into place with a near-audible mic drop. If I could choose to forget having read this book, I would do so in a heartbeat in order to read it for the first time again. It was scary fun. The mature content rating is for underage drinking, mention of drugs, innuendo, groping, and mention of sex. The violence rating is for blood and murder.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Treacherous Legacy by Kathi Oram Peterson - OPTIONAL

Treacherous Legacy by Kathi Oram Peterson, 251 pages. Covenant Communications, 2021. $17.

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

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

When 35-year-old Anna sees her uncle, her last living relative, die in front of her, he uses his last breath to tell her to run. Anna’s uncle had continued her father’s work to prove that their ancestors were not Nazi sympathizers, and now Anna feels the same duty to finish what they started. Following the teachings of her father, Anna starts down the right path, but digging into family secrets is dangerous for Anna’s heart as well as her life.

Anna runs from people trying to kill her and is forced to trust strangers in order to reach her goals; she gets misled and discovers things about her loved ones that are hard to believe; and, yet, through it all, she barely scrapes by -- as should heroes who are on a quest for justice. While all these elements made the story as outlandish as it was entertaining, the climax felt less involved and victorious than I hoped. Peterson has written a compelling journey with a quick ending as she ties up all the loose ends. My favorite part was the author’s note where Peterson explains which WWII details from Anna’s story are true.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus - ESSENTIAL

A Place to Hang the Moon
by Kate Albus
, 309 pages. Holiday House, 2021. $18.

Content: G. 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

12yo William, 11yo Edmund, and 9yo Anna are orphans - their parents died years ago and they recently lost their grandmother. Their solicitor is concerned that families wanting to adopt them may be looking more at their trust fund than at the children, so, when Mr. Engersoll suggests the children be sent to the country with other evacuee children out of London, and give them the opportunity to see some families for themselves, they take the chance. All three are good readers, and value it, so they make an instant connection with the village librarian - but she appears to be an outsider herself - some of the village leadership feels Mrs. Muller is "unsuitable" to billet the children, so they are placed with a family, and then another, they find themselves needing a miracle. 

What a delightful read! Oh the children were great - I expected them to be entitled and difficult, but just the opposite. So many books referenced and quoted - librarians will love "A Place to Hang the Moon", and will also love recommending it. A nice WWII historical fiction, a great companion read for those who loved Bradley's "The War that Saved my Life."

Lisa Librarian

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Turnover by Mike Lupica - ADVISABLE

 The Turnover by Mike Lupica, 243 pages. Simon & Schuster, 2020. $18

Content G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

7th grader Lucas Winston loves basketball. There is nothing he loves more except maybe his mother and grandfather. Lucas’ grandfather is a basketball genius who shares Lucas’ love for basketball and coached Lucas and his team mates to victory the previous year. Lucas is hoping for a repeat, but when he is given an assignment to write about an important person in his life, Lucas discovers a past secret that could threaten to tear the relationship with his grandfather apart. 

Anyone who loves basketball will probably like this book. Lupica always delivers on court action. There is nice tension as Lucas begins to unravel his grandfather’s past. I thought the reaction to the secret seemed a bit extreme considering how many decades had expired. The ending is not a surprise, but is satisfying nevertheless. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

The Twin by Natasha Preston - NO

The Twin by Natasha Preston, 384 pgs. Delacorte Press (Random House), 2020. $12. Language: PG-13 (32 swears, 0 ‘f’); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG-13 (Off page killing).

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - NO

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Twins Ivy and Iris have been living apart for years since after their parents’ divorce, each parent got custody of one of the twins. After the tragic death of their mother, Iris has returned to live with Ivy and their father. Both twins are devastated, but especially Iris. Now Ivy must find a way to bring Iris into her life sharing her school and friends with a sister she barely knows. Things seem to be going well until it seems that instead of sharing, Iris is more interested in taking over the Ivy’s life. Ivy may be paranoid or she may be in danger.

From the first page the direction of the plot is evident to even the most naïve of readers. A book that would better serve as a script for a cable network Saturday afternoon movie, this story is not worthy of the time it takes to read it. The characters are two dimensional and the ominous tone that is attempted is tired. The ending leaves the story unfinished in what is more than likely supposed to be a shocking cliff hanger, but will leave the reader angry for pushing through to the conclusion.

Reviewer: AEB

Ignite the Sun by Hanna C. Howard - ADVISIBLE

Ignite the Sun by Hanna C. Howard, 352 pgs. Blink, 2020. $19. Language: PG (5 swears, 0 ‘f’); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG-13 (child in peril, on page killings in battle, corpses placed on display).

BUYING ADVISORY—MS, HS - ADVISIBLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL—HIGH

Siria Nightingale lives in a land of perpetual darkness. She longs to experience the sun, but only knows about its light and warmth from stories of the old days. On her sixteenth birthday, as she prepares to be presented to the queen, Siria discovers something about herself that will put her on a drastically different path. Now instead of serving the queen who brought the darkness, she will join the rebels who are fighting to return the light.

A fast-paced read full of adventure, romance, and magic. The characters in this story are well written and appealing. The plot is original and has few holes enabling the reader to become immersed in an exciting battle of good vs evil. The only slight drawbacks are the magical setting that would benefit from a bit more background as the reader is thrust into the story quite abruptly and a plot where the energy is more stable instead of veering dizzingly at times between calm narrative and frantic action. 

Reviewer: Ali Bridge

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire by Michael O. Tunnell - ESSENTIAL

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire by Michael O. Tunnell
, 134 pages. Charlesbridge, 2020. $20

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

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS – ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

8yo Mae Yanagi and her classmates are prisoners in the Topaz Camp in Utah during World War II. She and her classmates kept an illustrated classroom diary. The diary, coupled with insightful research, illuminates what resilient people can do when faced with the unthinkable. Topaz was located in a harsh, square mile of Utah desert, holding upwards of 8,000 people. 

Loaded with pictures and photos of the original class diary, this is an inviting and captivating read. Information is presented in accessible themed chapters. This is a beautiful rendering of a dignified people unfairly placed in a terrible situation. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Crocodile Rescue (Wild Survival) by Melissa Cristina Marquez - OPTIONAL

Crocodile Rescue (Wild Survival) by Melissa Cristina Marquez,
240 pages. Scholastic, 2020. $8. 

Content G; Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS – OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

12yo Adrianna Villalobos gets to travel the globe with her older brother, Feye, and their parents, for the nature show her parents host. Adrianna is excited to finally be old enough to be on the show as they journey to Cuba in search of an injured crocodile. After Feye is injured in an accident partially caused by Adrianna, her parents want her behind the scenes, but Adrianna is intent on proving that she has a place in the show and with her adventurous family. 

Adrianna’s adventure is an easy read and the pacing is fast. I liked the use of Spanish terms and the glossary at the back insured that readers could understand them. Anytime an animal was mentioned in the book there was an informational insert with a line drawing so kids who like animals can pick up some quick facts. The plot is superficial though and easy to predict. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

Logan Likes Mary Anne (The Baby-Sitters Club) by Gale Galligan - HIGH

Logan Likes Mary Anne (The Baby-Sitters Club) by Gale Galligan
, based on the novel by Ann M. Martin, 170 pages, GRAPHIC NOVEL Scholastic, 2020. $13. 

Content G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

Mary Anne isn’t sure what to expect from her 8th grade year, but she is glad to get back with the Baby-sitters Club. When the group becomes overwhelmed with jobs, Mary Anne gets sent on a job with Logan, a dreamy boy who just moved to Stoneybrook, as a test run. Logan and Mary Anne seem to hit it off, but Mary Anne feels awkward and uncertain around Logan, and life for Mary Anne suddenly seems complicated. 

 Fans of the Baby-sitters Club books will devour this one, no questions asked. Mary Anne’s character is sweetly awkward and relatable. The art is colorful and bright and helps tell the story, so pull up some cake and celebrate Mary Anne’s angst and birthday with her. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Skywatchers by Carrie Arcos - ESSENTIAL

Skywatchers by Carrie Arcos
, 356 pages. Philomel Books (Penguin), 2020. $19. 

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

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

The Skywatchers Club was formed to keep the skies safe from Soviet intruders. High schoolers Teddy, John, Caroline, Eleanor, Bunny, Frank, and Oscar volunteer to help and take a shift watching the skies. Most days are boring with only the occasional passenger plane flying by, if they do at all. But one day they see a strange green light and a mysterious object lands in the forest. When Teddy, John, Caroline, and Bunny go to investigate they disappear. 

 This story is inspired by true events pulls teens into a world full of UFO’s and aliens where they will have to save each other and possibly the world. I really liked this book. It was fun to read, especially because it was inspired by true events. Mature Content is PG because the story takes place in 1952 during the Cold War, so there is a lot of talk about McCarthyism, the Red Scare, the USSR, etc. 

Julia M., Student 

Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair by Ann Bausum - ESSENTIAL

Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge by Ann Bausum
, 144 pages. National Geographic. 2021. $20. 

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

In 1944, some of Hitler’s generals, believing that Hitler was endangering his own people and alarmed at the atrocities being committed, resolved to kill him. Code named Valkyrie, a bomb went off in the Wolf’s Lair, but did not kill Hitler. Enraged, Hitler rounded up not only the conspirators but their families as well. Within weeks, the Gestapo had taken as many as 200 relatives from their home, separating adults and children. 

 Though I had heard about Valkyrie, I had no idea that Hitler’s revenge was so intense he wanted entire families wiped out including giving young children new names and identities. Bausum delivers a well-researched book on a little-known topic. Pictures and primary source documents make this an informative and gripping read. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

37 Days at Sea: Aboard the M.S. St. Louis, 1939 by Barbara Krasner - ADVISABLE

 37 Days at Sea: Aboard the M.S. St. Louis, 1939 by Barbara Krasner, 160 pages. Kar-Ben publishing (Lerner). 2021. $18. 

Content G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

12yo Ruthie Arons is a young Jewish refugee on the M.S. St. Luis, bound for Cuba to escape Nazi Germany. Ruthie discovers a Nazi on board and worries about her father, especially when the ship is not allowed to dock in Havana. 

Though Ruthie is fictional, the story is based on actual events. Written in free verse, this is a fast read, though the verse doesn’t seem like actual poetry. Tough this is a nice introduction into the plight of the St. Luis, it doesn’t say anything new or go into much depth. The timeline at the back is a nice touch. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

The Dragon Path by Ethan Young - HIGH

 The Dragon Path by Ethan Young, 202 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. Scholastic. 2021. $13. 

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

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

Prince Sing, heir to the Wong Clan is on a journey to seek the Old Land and a better life. Taking a short cut through dangerous lands ruled by the Dragon Tribe, Prince Sing becomes separated from his family. The young prince discovers a traitor and family secrets that could either destroy or save him and his clan. 

 Magic mixes with steampunk to bring the Wong Clan to Old Land. It’s refreshing to find themes of family and honor. Though the novel ends satisfactorily, there is room for a sequel. If so, I’m in. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Houdini and Me by Dan Gutman - HIGH

 Houdini and Me by Dan Gutman, 212 pages. Holiday House, 2021. $17. 

Content G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

11yo Harry Mancini lives in the same house that Harry Houdini lived in. Harry knows tons of information about Houdini and his amazing escapes. Incredibly, young Harry finds himself getting texts from Houdini himself. At first Harry is flattered, but when Houdini comes up with a plan to swap places and send Harry back to 1921, things take a sinister turn that could cost Harry his life. 

 Gutman weaves actual photos and facts about Houdini into his book. This is a fun way to learn information about the man behind the legend. Harry is a likable character with a good friend, and even though Houdini tells him that everyone wants to escape from something, it’s nice to discover that happiness can be close to home. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

Careful What You Wish Fur by Vera Strange - HIGH

Careful What You Wish Fur (Disney Chills) by Vera Strange
, 247 pages. Disney Press (Buena Vista Books, Inc.), 2021. $7. 

Content G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

13yo Delia loves fashion. She is obsessed with taking the perfect selfie every day for the PicPerfect app so her ranking will stay high. Unfortunately for Delia, her hardworking single mom has finagled an opening in an upscale school where Delia is no longer top dog. As she struggles to fit in, she discovers a fur coat seemingly abandoned outside of House DeVil, that transforms her. Literally. Suddenly her skin is flawless and her selfies amazing. All is grand until the owner decides she wants her coat back. 

 These books are growing on me. Once you pick up the book you will want to finish it, which isn’t hard. These books are fast reads and don’t have to be read in any order. Delia is a fairly self-centered teenager, but getting hearts on social media comes at a high price for her. Lesson learned in the Twilight Zone. Also, you should not a fur coat off a mannequin. Ever. Kick back and enjoy a romp with the darker side of Disney. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Kinder Poison by Natalie Mae - HIGH

The Kinder Poison by Natalie Mae
, 406 pages. Razorbill (Penguin Random House), 2020. $19. 

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

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

Zahru is a teenager itching to see the world outside of her small village. Fortunately for her, the ailing ruler has decreed a Crossing, a death-defying race across the desert to see which of his three heirs will rule. This is a rare event and the heirs will need a strong magical escort to help them. Even though Zahru’s magic of communicating with animals is considered weak, she manages to sneak into the palace so she can watch the festivities and sample fine food. Unfortunately for her, she ends up being selected as the human sacrifice the winning heir kills to gain the powerful magic that will win them the throne. 

 A fresh and engaging plot, Zahru’s experience is well written, combining danger and adventure. The characters all have their own issues and we get to know them better during the Crossing. Violence is not graphic or over the top. Zahru discovers the best (and worst) in people she meets. The book resolves enough to be satisfying, but leaves enough key loose ends that you will want to check out the sequel, The Cruelest Mercy sooner rather than later. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

Race to the Moon (Escape This Book!) by Bill Doyle and Sarah Sax - OPTIONAL

Race to the Moon (Escape This Book!) by Bill Doyle, illustrated by Sarah Sax
. 186 pages. Random House, 2020. $11. 

Content G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS (GIFT)- OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

With this book on space, the reader has three chances to join NASA’s space program and help the Apollo mission reach the moon, either as the mission commander, the moon buggy driver, or the flight director. Think escape room meets book. 

The book is loaded with interactive activities for the reader to do with the book, like cut up its pages and drawing in it, so getting a copy for a library may be dodgy. Readers could read it without vandalizing the book, but it may just be too tempting to follow the directions. Fun and immersive for readers interested in space, it will definitely hold your attention, but it may also be a one and one book as well. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Greek Mythology: The Handbook by Liv Albert and Sara Richard - ESSENTIAL

Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook
by Liv Albert, illustrated by Sara Richard
. 240 pages. Adams Media (Simon & Schuster), 2021. $17. 9781507215494 

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

BUYING ADVISORY:– MS, HS - ESSENTIAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH 

Greek Mythology gets a fantastic new update. Smartly illustrated and designed, it is a great size to pack around. I thought I knew everything about the Greek pantheon, but I found new facts and got pulled in by format. Each deity or hero is divided into “What’s his/her deal?” “The Story You Need to Know,” and “Now You Know.” Sometimes just the illustrations would pull me into a section. Easy to find facts and great, succinct writing, this is my new go-to for Greek Mythology. More than a mere reference book, this is a marvelous read. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

Even More Fantastic Failures by Luke Reynolds - ADVISABLE

Even More Fantastic Failures: True Stories of People Who Changed the World by Falling Down First by Luke Reynolds
, 288 pages. Aladdin (Simon & Schuster). 2020. $13. 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

More fantastic failures details how people who changed the world, from celebrities to teen advocates, succeeded in spite of setbacks to follow their dreams and overcome obstacles. Individuals vary from Joan of Arc to Barack Obama with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Jamaican Women’s National Soccer Team. Segments are short and readable vignettes with even more examples in sidebars. 

 The format and cover didn’t do much for me initially. I admit it took me awhile to finally pick it up. I was pleasantly surprised by the readability, though I thought the beginning of each story pointing out how easy it must have been for each person and then refuting that belief unnecessary. There is also a fair bit of editorializing to go along with each entry. But these stories remind us that people are more than the successful images we see on social media and that it’s ok to fail because we don’t know where failure will lead us. 

Michelle in the Middle