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 31 years old, 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, 28-year-old 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 their screams. Zach begged his mom not to take the case to defend the school shooter but 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 24 years old, 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 (Henry Holt and Company), 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 a junior, 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, 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

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Merci Suarez Can't Dance (Merci Suarez #2) by Meg Medina - ADVISABLE

Merci Suarez Can't Dance (Merci Suarez #2)
by Meg Medina
372 pages. Candlewick Press, 2021. $18. 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

13yo Merci is back for her 7th grade year at Seaward Pines. She and Edna have a truce, but things are not any better between them. For her community service project, she has been assigned to run the school store during lunch with Wilson who is great at math. Between the two of them - Merci has some great business sense, they turn the failing store into a success, but when selling tickets to the dance becomes part of the store responsibilities, Merci has to play nice with Edna, who has also started hanging around with Merci's friends. 

So funny - I love Medina's writing, she really knows the mind of the 7th grader and the kind of drama that goes on in their lives. Merci has a lot going on, besides her feud with Edna, she has friend trouble, she thinks she might like Wilson, and her Aunt is dating one of her dad's employees - yuck! I'll recommend this as a pair - readers will want to go right from Merci Suarez Changes Gears to Merci Suarez Can't Dance.

Lisa Librarian

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen - NO

The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen, 304 pages. Second Story Press, 2020. $14 

Language PG13; Mature Content: PG; Violence: G. 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - NOT RECOMMENDED 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW 

High School senior Alison Green wants to be valedictorian. It is her primary focus. Hoping to ingratiate herself with a teacher on the selection committee, Alison agrees to be the producer of the school Shakespeare Play. With no theater experience, Alison convinces her sister and friends to help her navigate the difficult task of putting on a show. Alison is also a lesbian who came out to her family, but not to her friends or schoolmates. However, when her best friend's crush asks Alison out for a date, she accepts, intending to turn the date into a meeting for him and her friend, but it backfires. Now the boy is mad at her and so is her best friend. When Alison's crush Charlotte lands the lead in the school musical, Alison thinks that maybe staying in the closet isn't helping her find happiness. 

I was so excited to read The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life because I am a Drama Teacher. I just can't get past handing over the production side of a school play to an inexperienced student with zero adult support. Of course it made for some funny situations, but the effect on the actors, the audience and school was unnecessary and irresponsible. I also didn't like the stereotypical representation of the theater and stage crew kids. Although the characters are high school, it reads more like a middle school farce. I really liked the other storyline. Alison deciding to be out and comfortable with her sexuality; it was interesting, timely and sweet. Too bad it was overshadowed by chaotic rehearsals, a self centered director and a community theater bent on shutting down the high school production. The theater community isn't like that. Having a hard time recommending this.

Lisa Librarian

Monday, April 5, 2021

It's Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run by Matt Doeden - ADVISABLE

It's Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run
by Matt Doeden
, 64 pages. NON-FICTION Millbrook (Lerner), 2021. $35. 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

The history of, and skill behind major league home runs. From the great Babe Ruth through the home run kings of today, we learn about their statistics, the race to the top and how home runs have changed the game of baseball. Short sections put together perfectly to keep the middle school reader engaged. Great captioned photographs, side bars with more information - like the home run derby, why Coors Field has the best home run chances and who hits this biggest blasts. 

 The history of Babe Ruth's records, who broke them and the fans' reactions was compelling. I'm not a sports person and I found it engaging and exciting. Also includes the stats and short bios for the 25 top home run hitters, a bunch of home run records a glossary and source notes.

Lisa Librarian

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Reaching for the Moon by Katherine G. Johnson - ADVISABLE

Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson
by Katherine G. Johnson,
256 pages. AUTOBIOGRAPHY Antheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon and Schuster), 2019. $18

Content: G. 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

Many of us are familiar with Katherine Johnson and her contribution to the space program, but her story is so much more than getting an American man on the moon. Growing up during the Great Depression, her parents made sure their children got the best education possible, and Kathrine excelled despite the restrictions of Jim Crow laws. A talented mathematician, Katherine also spoke french, taught school, was a wife and mother, and played an essential role on the team that sent astronauts to the moon. 

I loved getting all the background on her life. She was a math whiz at 4 years old! Throughout the autobiography Katherine tells an honest account of the affect of racism on her life and other African American people, as well as the inside scoop on working at NASA and some parts of "Hidden Figures" that was represented differently in the movie. Well written and perfect for a middle school reader. Lots of photographs as well. 

Lisa Librarian

Saturday, April 3, 2021

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat - ADVISABLE

A Wish in the Dark
by Christina Soontornvat, 
375 pages. Candlewick Press, 2020. $18

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

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE 

Pong was born in a prison while his mother was incarcerated. In Chattana, the children of the prisoners are prisoners themselves until they are 13, when they are released. Pong, not yet 13, seizes an opportunity and escapes. But the outside world isn't as welcoming or easy as he expected. Nok is the warden's daughter. Pong's escape brought shame on her family, and now she will stop at nothing to recapture him. 

 Magical realism sets "A Wish in the Dark" apart. Soontornvat slowly introduces the magical elements, building a world as bright as the light sources created by the Governor. Each child in the story has their own power - Nok is a skilled fighter, Pong has heightened sensitivity, and Somkit knows and builds machines. Not just an adventure story, Soontornvat also addresses social inequity, privilege, and what fair means. 

Lisa Librarian

Friday, April 2, 2021

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée - ADVISABLE

A Good Kind of Trouble
by Lisa Moore Ramée
, 384 pages. Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins), 2019. $17 Language: PG (2 swears 0 'f'); Mature Content: PG; Violence: G. 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

12yo Shayla is just starting junior high.  She's always been a good kid, and avoids trouble. Her older sister is part of the Black Lives Matter movement, but although Shayla is black, isn't really interested in getting involved. They live in West Los Angeles where a police officer is on trial for shooting a black man. When the verdict comes back "not guilty" Shayla feels like it's time for her to take a stand. She wears a black arm band to school and brings some for her friends and teammates. When the principal announces that arm bands are against dress code, Shayla must weigh getting in trouble against standing up for something she really believes in.

Oh, such a great read for middle school, there's a bunch of friend drama, boy drama, lunch room, sports  and even a dance to advance the story. Shayla is a great character, trying new things, questioning old ideas and discovering who she is.  I also liked the discussions of racism and protesting that weren't necessarily political.

Lisa Librarian