Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Chalk this one up as another fascinating look at a historical event that I never knew about.  This one deals with the forced internment and mistreatment of Aleutians after a Japanese attack during World War II.  This was similar to Japanese internment.  The story follows Kiska who is based in a real girl at the time.  Kiska is able to secretly provide food for the community during their years there.  The book tells about the ordeal and what life was like for them.  Due to an attempted rape and some dalliances between soldiers and the women I won't have this in my library but it would work in a high school library. 

Hear the Wolves

When her mother left Sloan got lost in a blizzard and lost part of hearing.  Ever since then she has been scared to be by herself.  She can do many other things but not that.  Then her father and sister decide to leave her alone while they go to a neighboring village to vote. They will only be gone for 2 days - what could go wrong?

Another blizzard is what could go wrong...  Sloan and a handful of other villagers are stuck with little food, less fuel for the fire, one of them is injured, and their are hungry wolves all around.  The group decide that the best thing to do is go to the river and take a boat to the neighboring village but the storm, the injuries (they keep mounting), and the wolves make everything slower and more dangerous.  Who will survive?

Lots of action here for sure.  I felt that in the end it was a bit too violent for my particular audience but for middle schoolers looking for a good adventure story this would fit the bill. 

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

I found this book fascinating.  The truth of history often is in the hands of the people in control, the people who are telling it, the conquerors.  I love how Schomburg set out to find evidence of a rich history that has been too often overlooked.

Littler Women

Although it has been many years I went through a phase where I was obsessed with little women.  I read the book several times, read other books by Louisa May Alcott as well as biographies, and watched several movie versions.  Because of this, Littler Women, which is a modern retelling, appealed to me.  The same familiar characters - Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth, Laurie, and more - and some familiar events with a more modern twist.  This book did not goes as far as the original and left out some of the sadder bits.  I think for fans of the original this is a nostalgic book.  I think I might have a hard time with newer readers because even though it is set in modern times it still has a very old fashioned feel.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Stef Soto, Taco Queen

What a wonderful breath of fresh air!!!

Stef is a second generation Latino whose overprotective parents have a taco trick - Tia Perla.  Stef has a love, hate relationship with Tia Perla.  Yes, it is their livelihood, and she loves the food and how it makes her dad happy.  But it is a bit worn and lately a former friend has been teasing her about it.  But when the local government threatens to enforce new regulations she starts to understand how important Tia Perla is to her family.

I think what I liked most about this book was that the author didn't take the cutesy, easy way out.  At one point a celebrity eats at the taco truck.  I thought the book was going to go a certain way at that point (no spoilers) but it didn't which made it much more authentic and charming actually.  

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Aven and her family have just moved to Arizona to run a worn down attraction called Stagecoach Pass.  The job just fell into place but now Aven has to learn how to get along in her new middle school and make new friends.  That is hard for anyone but since Aven has no arms it is a bit more awkward - especially lunch.  As Aven starts to explore the area she meets Connor who also has trouble fitting in because of his Tourette's and Zion who is self conscious about his weight.  Together they work through their insecurities and help to solve a mystery of the Cavenaughs who own Stagecoach Pass.

I was pleasantly surprised by this.  Aven was a quirky, fun, honest character and addressed her situation with grace, humor, and perseverance.  Tourette's was also addressed well.  The friendship that the 3 formed was well done although I wish Zion had a bigger role.  The mystery was not huge and I wouldn't really classify the book as a mystery but it was satisfying.  Well done.

Friday, August 25, 2017


This book follows the true account of two children who survived the attack on the Athena by a German Uboat early in World War II.  The account was factual and well researched and informative.  For what it was - it was good.  I wish the format had been different - maybe more of a narrative but I did find it interesting.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade

Maverick is having a rough start to sixth grade.  He wants to be a hero like his dad, he wants to fit in, heck - he wants to be taller.  But from day one trouble follows him - namely from the bully Bowen.  Even when he tries to help out other students he messes it up and either gets hurt, gets in trouble, or both.  And then there is his home situation.  With his dad gone his mom has really fallen apart - drinking, losing jobs, and terrible boyfriends.  Can Maverick be the kind of person he wants to be?

I do enjoy Sonnenblick's books - especially the voice of the characters.  This was not my favorite one but I do think the intended audience will enjoy it and I did like the way it ended.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood's Revenge

Max (Maxine) lives with her grandfather "Topper" who is a police chief in town.  Max is in a wheelchair due to a car accident when she was younger.  She doesn't live with her mom because - well, doesn't seem like mom can deal with it.  Things are good until there are mysterious lights in Thornwood Manor, there are damaging messages on social media about her grandfather, the mayor, businesses in town, and then there are fires being set.  But who is behind all of it and why?  Can Max and her friend Lavender figure it out before her grandfather loses his job and she is sent to live with her mom.

I normally have really enjoyed this author's work but this one fell flat for me.  On the one hand I can appreciate the character of Max but she seemed young to me overall until she was "pissed" at the end.  I also felt that the book dragged until the last bit.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Van Gogh Deception

When a boy is found at the National Gallery in D.C with no memory of who he is or how he got there the police bring him in, set him up in a temporary foster home, and start looking for his parents.  But others are looking for the boy as well.  This boy is placed with a foster mom and her daughter, Camille.  The next day they decide to go back to the museum to see if it will jog any memories and soon things start coming back piece by piece - his name which is Art, his backpack, his knowledge of artwork, and what happened to his father.  As his memories return Art becomes more dangerous to those who are trying to find him.  Can Art and Camille stay one step ahead and prevent a major art scandal?

This was a fun action, adventure, mystery!!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Forest World

Edver's mother, a cryptozoologist originally from Cuba decides to send him to Cuba to visit his father for the summer.  What she has never told him is that he has a sister - Luza.  The book, told in alternating voices through poetry, is mainly about Edver and Luza learning about each other.  There is also a lot about Cuban culture and the forest and a mysterious poacher that Edver and Luza unknowingly attracted to the island and now feel they need to capture.

There were parts I liked and the poetry itself was well done but overall the story was just kind of meh.  I wish there had been more - especially about the dad.


This is the second book in Jason Reynolds Track series.  In this book we follow Patina who is a friend of Ghost's from the first book.  Patina is being raised by her aunt (Momly) and her uncle who are white.  Her father died and her mother has had both legs amputated due to diabetes and can no longer care for Patina and her sister Maddy.  The book takes place in the course of a week as Patina adjusts to her new school, new team, and some events in her family life.

I did not find this one as strong as Ghost but readers will enjoy the continuation of the series.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Room of Shadows

Wow, this was something.  My daughter is a big Edgar Allan Poe fan - earrings, t-shirts, a clay puppet she made...  So from that perspective I enjoyed this creepy Dr. Jekyll and Hyde tale of Poe (who was buried alive) and David who unknowingly released Poe.  I loved the allusions to Poe's work but I don't know about the audience.  The book as a whole read younger to me - David and Libby didn't seem to be 8th graders - until they kissed I guess - but the Poe characteristics make me hesitant to give the book to my younger students.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Trail

I love hiking and my dream is to someday do some of the Appalachian Trail.  That is what drew me to this book.  It tells the story of Toby who feels he needs to hike from near his home in Vermont to Katahdin to finish a list he created with his best friend.  A friend who died.  So Toby (12) leaves home to walk the trail.  Along the way he encounters moose, bear, skunks, almost dies of hypothermia, loses his pack to a drunk but ultimately manages to survive on his own and saves a dog.

Now I will say the book was quite adventurous but...  highly unrealistic.  First - he's 12.  I question whether he would have gotten that far alone without anyone noticing, stopping him.  Then he really faced almost every imaginable thing that could happen on the trail (nope, didn't meet a porcupine) - to the point of being too unbelievable.  I did like his growth and determination and kids won't mind the unlikelihood of his adventures.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bean Stalker

This was clever and funny.  Take well known fairytales, mix them together with puns and homonyms, add in zombies and vampires and you have a funny, slightly scary book of tales.  I liked it.

Things That Surprise You

I read a lot of books....  This wasn't bad and for 4th or 5th graders (girls most likely if we're honest) this will be okay.  For me, too many tropes and not enough freshness.  I did like the older sister and how the book dealt some with her eating disorder.

I read an ARC from NetGalley and found 2 big editing issues that I hope are resolved by the final printing.  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Beast and Crown

I just don't think fantasy is my thing anymore - especially what I consider more high fantasy with creatures, made up setting, etc.  I did like this at first but as it went along and especially as I realized it wasn't really going to end I really lost interest.

Ji is a boot boy and he is so sick of being a servant, especially when is means you can be sold like his friend Sally's brother or mistreated.  Ji has been slowly stealing trinkets off the boots he's cleaning in order to buy Chib back but all that is thrown away when he and his friends are forced to serve Brace who is going to be in the Diadem Rite that chooses the next king or queen.  Unfortunately for them the rite is not pleasant.  Can Ji and his friends save Chib and avoid being killed?

Like I said, I enjoyed this at first but it got kind of long and I knew there would be a sequel.  I did like when Ji found out what he had been turned into.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts

Oh, Avi - you truly are a masterful writer and no doubt this was well researched and probably quite accurate but it just didn't do anything for me.  And the ending - having to wait for another book - makes me sad.

The book started with Oliver Cromwell Pitts waking up to a flooding house and a father who has disappeared.  His father did leave a note but the note got wet and Oliver can barely read any of it.  He only knows his father went to London because of his sister who is there.  How long will his father be gone and what is Oliver to do in the meantime.  Well, he ends up in a home for orphans briefly, steals money from a sunken ship, is kidnapped by highwayman and forced to help with a robbery but he finally makes his way to London where he eventually finds his father and sister.  But then they are all caught and arrested for various crimes.  Eventually Oliver and his sister Charity are found guilty and are sent to America and the plan is that there father - who was able to buy his way out of his guilty verdict - will join them in America.  But Oliver and Charity get separated and...  That's where it ends - grr. 

So for a historical fiction it was well researched and probably accurate.  I just didn't find it super engaging - to be fair I did listen to it in very choppy increments though.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Trackers Canyon

This was unexpected.  At first I wan't sure I wanted to finish it because of the swearing - it will not go in my library.  But, the adventure, mystery, and suspense hooked me.

Tristan's dad disappeared in the Lower Canyon months ago.  His mom is a wreck, his uncle is trying (and failing) to run their business, and Tristan wished he knew why his father went to the canyon alone and what happened.  After months of not canyoneering he not only meets a tracker who befriends him but also gets invited to go on a trip for free.  But the guide, Brigit, is a bit odd - she runs hot and cold but maybe that's because she is only 19 and is in charge of her brother after her mom died only a few months earlier.

But wait...  turns out Brigit believes her mom and Tristan's dad were in the canyon together and now she wants revenge.

This is really like candy - not overly deep but a good adventure and I can see the appeal.


This book was so good - so much yes!!!

This book follows the lives of 3 refugees.  Josef and his family are trying to escape Germany right before WWII, Isabel is escaping Cuba in 1994 with her family, and Mahmoud and his family are escaping Syria in 2015.  All of them face hardships, danger, death, and are misunderstood.

This book was powerful especially in light of how Gratz was able to weave the stories together.  Some might find the intersections of stories forced but I found it beautiful and touching.  Loved this!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Song From Somewhere Else

First off, let me say that I read this as an eBook so the illustrations were not as good as they probably are in the physical version - they probably add to the experience for sure.

Frank is bullied pretty badly, especially during the summer with her best friends gone.  One day as she is putting up posters about her missing cat, Nick, a very large boy who is also teased, helps her out.  She ends up going to his house where she hears strange music.  In time she learns that the music comes from another world where Nick's mom, a troll-like woman is from.  But there are other creatures who would like access to the portal in Nick's basement and unfortunately Frank reveals the secret.

Friday, August 11, 2017

In the Shadow of the Sun

How timely is this??

Mia and her brother Simon have gone with their dad to North Korea of all places. Their dad works for a relief organization so has been to North Korea before and Mia is actually adopted from South Korea - so why not?? But Simon is not happy - teenage boy angst and anger and Mia is just confused, especially when she sees her dad leave his hotel room late at night. But then things really take a turn for the worse when Mia mysteriously gets a phone that has photos on it of prison camps run by the North Koreans and then their father is arrested. Mia and Simon don't really know what to do - being caught with the pictures would probably mean more trouble for their dad but turning over the pictures just hides the evidence. So Simon and Mia run...

Can Mia and Simon get to the border safely and will their dad be ok? The book sheds light on North Korean culture and issues and is also a fast paced adventure.

Stealing Our Way Home

Life has not been the same since their mother died.  Their dad is floundering, Pippa isn't talking, and Jack feels guilty about it all.  It gets worse though when Jack finds out that his father has lost his business, can't pay the bills, and is about to lose their house.  In order to find money their dad decides to rob a bank and asks Jack to help.  What is Jack supposed to do?  He promised his mother that he would help keep the family together.  But by stealing?  Then Pippa finds out as well, but she can't communicate what she knows.  Is stealing the answer or is there another way to stay together?

This was quite good and could be a good discussion starter.  Lots of wisdom especially at the end.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Secret Grave

Hannah loves the old house they've moved into and call Nightshade.  It was actually a house her grandparents lived in for a year long ago.  She even decides to "haunt" the house for fun.  But then weird things start happening - noises in the attic, things missing, and Cady, a girl who lives in the woods and comes and goes mysteriously.  Cady isn't very nice to Hannah, but since Hannah's best friends are gone for the summer Hannah hangs out with her anyway.  But when Hannah discovers a cemetery out in the woods and Cady insists on having a midnight swim Hannah starts to worry about who Cady really is.

This book really reminded me of Wait Til Helen Comes (which I love) - especially the climax in the lake.  That's not necessarily a bad thing - my students will love it.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Bone Thief

It's hard being normal when you live in a magical town like Quiver Hollows.  Grimsly has friends who bend spoons, use telepathy, and even levitate but he can't do anything.  Then all of a sudden the magic in the town starts disappearing and Grimsly discovers that he is the Keeper and he is supposed to be in charge of keeping the bones of all the magical creatures in Quiver Hollows.  But someone has stolen the bones and now Grimsly has to find them.  In doing so he uncovers his own history and a terrible curse.  Can Grimsly save the home he loves?

So I liked this at first but then it got a bit weird for me - when some of the bones ended up being human and when people were eating the ground up bone powder (just animals).  It also annoyed me that Grimsly felt so guilty about failing as the Keeper when no one had ever even told him he was.  

Monday, August 7, 2017

In Darkling Wood

Alice’s brother needs a new heart and when one becomes available Alice is sent to stay with a grandmother she doesn’t even know.  When she gets there she hears of her grandmother’s plans to cut down the Darkling Wood all around her house.  At first Alice agrees with the decision but she soon meets friends, including an elusive one named Flo, who are against the decision.  In fact, Flo says, if the wood is torn down the fairies will do terrible things.  Flo says that Alice needs to believe in the fairies to help them stop the wood from being destroyed.  Alice struggles with this but as time passes and her brother gets worse and every plan to tear down the woods in thwarted she begins to think maybe fairies are real after all.  Can she save the woods and also find out what happened between her father and her grandmother long ago?

This was a clever book.  Throughout the book we get snippets of letters from a girl to her brother in WWI.  It isn’t until the end of the book that everything comes together.  There are also some great historical bits about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and fairies.  A good read.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Crossing Ebenezer Creek

Heartbreaking!!  I think if I had realized this was based on an actual event I wouldn't have been so surprised and saddened by the ending - it is still sad but I would have been more prepared for the reality of it.

The book follows Mariah, her brother Zeke, and other former slaves who follow Sherman's troops as they travel through the south.  The book focuses primarily on Mariah and Caleb's blossoming love and Mariah's struggle especially with her new freedom and anger and resentment over her lives in slavery.

As I was reading the book I felt that it really focused on the evils of slavery - and there were many - as seen through Mariah's eyes.  But the story just sort of went from one revelation to the next along the journey with very little else to carry it.  The ending was tragic and I am glad that I learned about this event in history though.

Armstrong & Charlie

Integration is coming to the schools in a California neighborhood in the late 60s.  Some of Charlie's classmates are switching to private schools or just others schools to avoid it but Charlie's parents want him to stay.  Armstrong has been chosen to be one of the students that is bused across town.  Right off the bat the two boys have conflict - arm wrestling competition, stolen Ho Ho's and revenge of the hot sauce, and a clash of cultures but over time the two boys come to an understanding and a friendship that sticks togethers.

This was a really nice look at not only the issues surrounding integration at the time but also the friendship just between the two boys.  There were a few instances of language and a few situations that make this better suited for students older than my 5th graders but a good read. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Williams Wenton and the Impossible Puzzle

For the last 8 years, ever since the car accident that paralyzed his dad and his grandfather's disappearance, William and his family have been living in hiding in Norway.  Even though William loves solving puzzles his dad does everything he can to keep him away from them.  But when an "impossible puzzle" is displayed at a nearby museum William can't stop himself.  Then when he actually solves it things get really interesting.  Who is after him and where is his grandfather.  Together William and his new friend try to figure things out.

Good action, good adventure.  I found a few editing errors but overall it was a fun ride.

Friday, August 4, 2017

This is quite the adventure - steam punk, mystery, and more.  In the past the Morningstarr twins were responsible for the development of most of New York City as well as fantastical inventions.  Then they disappeared, leaving a mystery and a treasure.

Now, about 150 years later, the cipher has still never been solved and there are people who think change needs to happen.  One change is the purchase and eviction of residents from a famous Morningstarr building.  Twins Tess and Theo and their friend Jamie live in the building and hope to solve the cipher in order to save their home.  But the process and results are not what they expected.

I loved the book for the most part.  I felt it got bogged down a little at times - too much filler between clues and the ending - arg.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Supernormal Sleuthing...

Stephen's dad has just moved him from Chicago to New York so that his dad can take over his grandma's job as head cook at a hotel.  The problem - it's not an ordinary hotel.  The guests at this hotel are supernormal (not monsters) - vampires, fae, ghouls, Bigfoot, and so on.  Not that Stephen knew any of this.  And that's not the biggest surprise - nope, turns out his mother was a fae and so that makes him half fae.  When his dad's cookbook, his legacy, is stolen it is up to Stephen and his new friends to figure out who stole it.

I had hoped for a bit more mystery, more sleuthing and this just wasn't enough.  There was action, humor, and I did like the ending but overall it wasn't my favorite.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mars One

It's 2027 and after years of preparation Tristan and his family as well as 30+ other people are about to leave for Mars.  It is what they have trained for and they are ready.  Sure there are things making it hard - Tristan's girlfriend Isabelle being one and protests by a fanatic group being another but it's time. The trip starts of with bad news when they find out the Chinese secretly sent a ship before them and then to make matters worse, the Chinese ship seems damaged in some way and the colonists never made it to the surface.  Besides that, for the most part everything goes great, even boring almost until unthinkable, unimaginable malfunctions happen.  Tristan, his friends, and some others soon realize that the incidents could only be sabotage.  But who would do such a thing?  Will Mars One ever make it to Mars and what will they find when they get there?

Action packed and very enjoyable!