Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Airhead


Cabot, Meg.  Airhead.  NY: Scholastic Point, c2008.  337 pages.  This is the first book in a trilogy.  The other books are Being Nikki, and Runaway.

Emerson Watts goes unwillingly to a superstore opening with her sister and best friend Christopher.  What happens there changes her life completely and she is powerless to change it back.  She becomes one of the "walking dead" people that she and Christopher used to make fun of.  Those "beautiful" ones who spend more time in front of the mirror and making fun of others than they do being real people.  She used to be comfortable in baggy and worn clothes and never was comfortable in make-up.  After the "event" she has to accept a new life to save her parents from certain financial disaster, and a lot of problems come along with that new life, including some unwanted romantic attention, and the lack of attention from her real love interest, Christopher.  While there is a lot of humor in this series, there are also a lot of interesting points made about self-image and making the most of what life hands you.

Recommended for junior high and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap


Everything, Everything

Yoon, Nicola.  Everything, Everything.  NY: Delacorte Press, c2015.  310 pages.  

Madeline has a rare disease.  She is basically allergic to the world.  She hasn't left the house in her memory.  As a baby, she was sick a lot, but after her father and brother were killed in a senseless accident, it was determined that she had SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency).  The only people she sees are her mother (who is a doctor) and her full-time nurse/companion Carla.  On rare occasions her architecture teacher can visit, but only after going through the air filter purification process to be sure he carries no pollen or germs.  Madeline is used to her life and as long as she has books, she has been content.  All that changes when someone new moves in next door and a boy her age, dressed all in black, comes into view.  Madeline suddenly wants more and she is sure of two things.  She is sure she is going to fall in love with him, and equally sure it will be a disaster.  This is a sweet romance novel, but also packed with details of how it might be to live with a rare disease commonly called "bubble baby syndrome."

I would recommend this to high school and above, and particularly to the students looking for novels for Health class.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Taylor, Laini.  Daughter of Smoke & Bone.  NY: Little & Brown, c2011.  418 pages.  Book 1 of the trilogy.  Other books are Days of Blood and Starlight, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

Because I need to read a lot of books as librarian, I don't often read entire series because of lack of time.  This is one series I feel compelled to finish.  Throughout the richly detailed first book, I never quite knew what was coming next.  All the story hints never quite prepared me for the next surprise element to fall into place.

Karou seems like an almost normal 16-year-old, attending school, but living in a tiny apartment in Prague by herself.  Her passion is drawing and she has over 90 sketchbooks, full of detailed drawings of many things, but many of strange looking monsters, part human, part animal.  She has one good friend, Zuzanna, and one discarded boyfriend, Kaz.  That is where "normal' ends.  She was raised in a portal to another world, mystical and mysterious, by one of the monsters of her sketchbook, Brimstone.  Though Brimstone cares for her, he keeps his work secretive and Karou in the dark.  Her errands for him take her around the world through additional portals, collecting teeth, the use for which she does not know.  When mysterious handprints and an equally mysterious and perfect "angel" appear, things change and both love and tragedy enter Karou's life.  While I enjoyed the mythic fantasy aspect of this book, I was forced to take a good look at our own world and the violence that seems ever present.  Karou, whose name means "hope" dreams of a world remade, a world of peace.  I do too.  Recommended for high school.  Review by Mrs. Belknap.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods
Extence, Gavin.  The Universe Versus Alex Woods.  NY: Redhood Books, c2013.  407 pages.

When I began this book, I thought it was going to be in the sci fi category.  It begins with Alex being hit in the head with a meteorite.  Instead, it was an almost humorous story about two very unhumorous subjects, epilepsy and assisted suicide.

Alex developed severe epilepsy following his injury.  Because of that, his overprotective mother tried hard to make sure he was never alone in case of a seizure.  Though Alex did not care much if kids at school made fun of him, one unavoidable incident caused a lot of damage to the property of an older man.  Because of this, Alex's mother made him spend Saturday's helping Mr. Peterson do odd jobs.  Eventually the two became good friends.  When Mr. Peterson became ill, Alex's life was about to change again.

I really like Alex.  He is smart and inquisitive and very pragmatic about how the world works.  He is also a good person to whom doing the "right" thing is very important.  I learned a lot about having epilepsy and did a lot of thinking about how to know what the "right" thing is.

Because  of the seriousness of assisted suicide, I would recommend this book for high school and above.  Junior high students would need to be very grounded to read this book in light of the teachings of the church.  Review by Mrs. Belknap


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Clariel

Nix, Garth.  Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen.  NY: Harper, cc2014.  382 pages.  This is book 4 in the Abhorsen Trilogy, but is really a prequel and takes place 600 years before Sabriel was born.

Clariel wants nothing more than to return to the Great Forest she loves so much and where she feels at home.  When her mother, a goldsmith of the finest sort, is asked to move to the city of Belisaere, they must go.  Clariel can think of nothing else but finding a way to go back.  This brings her nothing but trouble.  As one of the Charter Mages told her, "A passion thwarted will oft go astray."

Though Clariel wants nothing to do with the carefully controlled Charter Magic, she does end up making use of the unpredictable and addictive Free Magic.  She has undiscovered power and once forced to use it, finds it hard to stop, even if it means never returning to the Great Forest.

I don't always feel I need to read every book in a series, but reading the prequel first, I am now anxious to read the first book in this series.

Recommended for 7th and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Thursday, October 22, 2015

34 Pieces of You

Rodrigues, Carmen.  34 Pieces of You.  NY: Simon Pulse, c2012.  323 pages.

Told in the voices of Jake, Sarah and Jessie, we also see glimpses of Ellie in the 34 paper scraps she left behind in a box.  All of the characters, including Ellie have their secrets, and when she dies of a drug overdose,  each of them feels some blame for her death.  None of them are sure if it was accidental or intentional suicide, but they are all afraid it was.  Through the narratives and Ellie's notes, you get a glimpse into the complicated events in her life and the complicated relationships that contribute to her hopelessness.  Her death also impacts the three narrators as they struggle to find a way to move on with their lives.  If you are looking for a book to read for Mrs. Boland's class, this is a complex one involving the obvious depression and suicide, but also drug abuse, self-mutilation, abusive relationships and gender identity.

Recommended for grades 9 and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl


McKenzie, Paige.  The Haunting os Sunshine Girl.  NY: Weinstein Books, c2015.  296 pages.  Book 1

Kat Griffith found a baby, abandoned by someone, and immediately fell in love with her.  Now that baby, who she named Sunshine, is sixteen and they are moving from sunny Texas to gloomy Washington, where it rains a lot.  Not only that, but Sunshine finds their new house creepy and is cold all the time.  When she starts to hear noises and finds things moved, her mother dismisses it as imagination.  Sunshine feels lost until she meets Nolan Foster who shares her interest in both photography and paranormal events, though for different reasons.  It becomes increasingly clear, when her mother's personality begins to change drastically, that they are in danger and Sunshine is the one who has to figure out how to save them.  If you're looking for a Hallowe'en spooky story, this might be a good choice.  You'll shiver along with Sunshine as she learns the truth.

Recommended for grades 7 and up as long as you don't mind scary.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

LoveSick

Coburn, Jake.  LoveSick.  NY: Dutton Books, c2005.  228 pages

Ted thought his drinking was not a problem because he only drank at home, late at night.  But one night he decides to risk driving to get more booze and has an accident that costs him his basketball scholarship, ends his plans for college, and forces him into AA. Ted thinks he has resigned himself to his new life until a wealthy father of a bulimic Manhattan rich girl has a tempting proposition. He has agreed to pay for Ted's college tuition, but there's a catch. Ted has to secretly keep tabs on Erica, his daughter.   At first Ted thinks it's an easy thing, but when he gets to know Erica, he hates himself for deceiving her, and he falls in love with her.   There are many realistic details in this book about both alcoholism and bulimia and the constant struggle to resist the addictions, and keep them secret from everyone else.  You may not identify with these two teens with different problems, but you will come to like them and respect their struggle to overcome things that work against them.

Recommended for grades 9 and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Quick, Matthew.  Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.  NY: Little Brown, c2013.  273 p.  

This book, on the Iowa High School Book Award reading list for 2015-2016 deals with scary subjects in many ways.  Leonard Peacock is virtually an orphan.  He has parents, but his father disappeared and his mother is so involved in her fashion design business in New York, Leonard spends most of his time alone.  When his mother is around, she barely takes time to speak with him and spends her time on the phone.  

In junior high, Leonard had a best friend.  After a certain weekend, everything changed drastically, for the absolute worst.  Now, Leonard's neighbor, Walt, is his only real friend, and Leonard feels that the only other person he really respects and relates to is the teacher of his Holocaust class.  Leonard is slightly obsessed with wondering why Herr Silverman never rolls up his sleeves or wears short-sleeved shirts, but he feels Herr Silverman is honest and cares about each student and tries to make them think.

Leonard's birthday is the event that tips the scale for him, believing that life is not worth living anymore.  This is a chilling look into the life of a basically nice kid who can't deal with all the really bad things that have happened to him.

Recommended for grades 9 and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Interworld

Gaiman, Neile and Michael Reaves.  Interworld.  NY: EOS, c2007.  239 pages.

Although the first book in this series was published in 2007, the final book was published this year.  The Silver Dream  is book 2, and Eternity's Wheel is book 3.

Imagine unintentionally stepping into another dimension in which there are thousands of other earths, each created by a major decision made in the previous world.  Then imagine that everyone in the Altiverse is actually a version of yourself, unique, but still you; maybe a cat-like girl, or a robotic younger boy, or an older man who is the leader?!  Then imagine that there are two alternative factions, one relying on magic and the other on science who are struggling to win control of everyone.  Imagine that you have to leave your family behind because if you "walk" out of the altiverse back to your family, you may leave a trail that your enemies can follow to harm your family.  You will not be bored when reading this many-layered science fiction series.  The many possibilities and variables will keep your brain busy sorting things out.  You will like Joey Harker (in all his various forms) and want to find out how things turn out.

Recommended for 7th grade and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Monday, October 5, 2015

Vanishing Girls

Oliver, Lauren.  Vanishing Girls. NY: Harper, c2015.  357 pages.

From the publisher:  Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara's beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it's too late.

If you are looking for a fiction book for Mrs. Boland's health requirement, this book involves dissociative disorders.  It also involves the use of drugs, alcohol and dangerous decision-making.  I found myself reading long past bed-time to find out what happened next.  All the details are not revealed until the end of the book.

Recommended for high school and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Monday, September 28, 2015

Guys Read Other Worlds

Scieszka, Jon ed. Guys Read Other Worlds.  NY: Walden Pond Press, c2013.  331 pages.

This is a collection of short stories written by some of the most famous young adult writers.  While the stories are meant to appeal to boys, any fan of science fiction (although this book was described as "speculative fiction") will enjoy them.  Some of the authors include Rick Riordan, Neal Shusterman, Kenneth Oppel and even Ray Bradbury.  

From the comic story called Rise of the Roboshoes to the more chilling space travel story called The Dirt on our Shoes, these stories challenge your imagination and make you wonder "what if...."
Recommended for grades 7 and up.  Review by Mrs. Belknap


The Blue Hour

Evans, Elizabeth.  The Blue Hour.  Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, c1994.  347 pages.

From the publisher:  "What is the Blue Hour?  For Penny Powell, it's the time when Father doesn't Know Best. It's the morning after Queen for a Day. It's 1959, the year when she becomes the family barometer, absorbing for later reflection every rise and dip in the homefront weather. When her parents buy a house that matches her father's ambitions--if not his wallet--her mother must reinvent herself to keep up with the Joneses. Later Penny will remember everything about that time, so tightly wound around her father's hard-driving ambition and judgment that it all broke loose and spun out of control."

If you've ever wondered what life was like in the late 50's, this book gives a pretty good glimpse of it.  From clothing styles to attitudes about many things, we see things through the eyes of young Penny.  A couple of themes are males as head-of-the-household, infidelity, and drug use for weight loss.  Another theme is living beyond your means.   If you like historical fiction, this is a good choice.  It is a more recent time period than many, but one which many have never experienced.

Recommended for 8th and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

The Girl With All the Gifts

Carey, M.R.  The Girl With All the Gifts.  NY: Orbit, c2014.  

From the publisher:  "Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her "our little genius."Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh."

In this very disturbing book, we find out that there has been an invasion on earth but not everyone is affected in the same way.  The reader is pretty much forced to have an opinion on the sanctity of life and the ethics of medical research.  While it is very easy to sit back in a comfortable chair and excuse medical researchers on the premise that saving millions of lives at the expense of one is worth it, but when you are mentally dumped onto the operating table, you are forced to re-evaluate.

Because of the gruesome and violent content, this book is recommended for high school and above.
Review by Mrs Belknap


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Scat

Hiaasen, Carl.  Scat.  NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers, c2009.  384 pages.

In typical Carl Hiaasen fashion, this book takes place in Florida where Hiaasen lives, and he keeps his humorous manner of writing.  Nick and Marta are in a biology class taught by Mrs. Bunny Starch.  When they go on a field trip into the swamp, the trip is cut short by the smell of smoke and an emergency evacuation because of a wild fire.  Mrs. Starch goes back to get a lost asthma inhaler and disappears.  Nick and Marta try to figure out what happened to her and find themselves in danger.  They meet up with an unusual character, and find out that their main suspect is not what they expected.

Hiaasen feels strongly about the environment, and Florida has a unique one.  His books often have some environmental issue at stake, so even while you're laughing, you can't escape the moral point.

This book was on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2010-2011.

Recommended for 7th and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

mockingbird

Erskine, Kathryn.  mockingbird.  NY: Puffin Books, c2010.  235 pages.

Winner of the National Book Award.

This moving novel is shared from the head of Caitlyn Smith who has Asperger's Syndrome.  Caitlyn's mother died several years ago and now her brother, who helped her with everything, has been killed.  Caitlyn and her dad are just going through the motions until Caitlyn begins to focus on the word "closure."   She eventually figures out a way to help her father and herself achieve that.

If you've ever wondered what it might be like inside the head of someone who has this frustrating syndrome, this is a good glimpse.  The author includes details of how Caitlyn's thinking process is different from most people and how frustration manifests itself in her behavior. Even with all her difficulties, you will love Caitlyn and cheer for her as she figures things out. Because of how her brother Devon died, this book has a lot of current relevance.

Recommended for grades 7 and up or anyone wanting to read about Asperger's Syndrome.

Review by Mrs. Belknap

Full Ride

Haddix, Margaret Peterson.  Full Ride.  NY: Simon & Schuster, c2013.  343 pages.

Right after I finished reading this book, there was a news item about new regulations changing the FAFSA (financial aid form) rules for financial aid.  It seemed coincidental that Full Ride was all about that stressful time of filling out college applications and hoping for scholarships and financial aid.

For Becca Jones, the process is not only stressful, it may be dangerous.  Her father is in prison, and she and her mother have been in hiding for the past three years.  Becca's mother is terrified that someone will find out where they live through her online applications.  When a special scholarship opportunity  arises, Becca takes the risk and applies.  Find out what happens in this book by acclaimed writer, Margaret Peterson Haddix.

This book is on the Iowa High School Book Award reading list for 2015-2016.

Recommended for grades 9 and above because interest in college is still far away for junior high.

Review by Mrs. Belknap

Magonia

Headley, Maria Dahvana.  Magonia.  NY: Harper Collins, c2015.  309 pages.

Did you ever wonder about random things that happen with no rational explanation?  Some historical accounts document strange happenings and attribute them to hidden things in the sky like mythical sailors in ships in the clouds who steal crops.  Aza knows nothing of this as she struggles just to breathe.  She has severe asthma-like symptoms that sometimes cause her to land in the hospital.  She takes high powered drugs to help.  That is why, when she sees a ship in the clouds and hears a voice in her head, everyone believes that it is nothing but drug-induced hallucinations.  Everyone but her life-long best friend Jason.  In this complex story, you may find yourself at first saying it's all make-believe, but as you read, a sliver of doubt will worm it's way into your head.  The next time you think you must have imagined something, you may recall Magonia and wonder if there really IS something up there.

Recommended for 7th grade and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Crossover

Alexander, Kwame.  The Crossover.  NY: Houghton Mifflin, c2014.  237 pages.  Newbery Medal winner for 2015.

Josh Bell and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court.  They play almost as one person until Jordan finds a girlfriend.  Josh feels left out and when he takes it out on Jordan during a game, he is suspended for a few days and off the team.  At the same time, he is worried about his dad, a former NBA star player.

Though the book appears to be poetry, it is really more of a tightly worded stream of consciousness.  If you love basketball, you will probably love this book as Josh zooms around the basketball court making his moves and having his head in the game.  It isn't just about basketball though, but also about making good choices, dealing with family situations and just growing up.  Winner of multiple awards, the style and flow are refreshing and the story is powerful.

This book is recommended for grades 7 and up.   Review by Mrs. Belknap

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Boy on the Wooden Box

Leyson, Leon.  The Boy on the Wooden Box : A Memoir by Leon Leyson.  NY: Atheneum, c2013.  225 pages.

From the publisher: Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow. Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, a man named Oskar Schindler, who saved Leon Leyson’s life, and the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory—a list that became world renowned: Schindler’s List.

This, the only memoir published by a former Schindler’s List child, perfectly captures the innocence of a small boy who goes through the unthinkable. Most notable is the lack of rancor, the lack of venom, and the abundance of dignity in Mr. Leyson’s telling. The Boy on the Wooden Boxis a legacy of hope, a memoir unlike anything you’ve ever read.

From Mrs. Belknap:  This touching story adds a new layer of awareness about the hardships endured by Holocaust survivors.  Mr. Leyson and most of his family were among the lucky ones who lived, but lucky is not a word to describe the conditions they lived through.  It is important that we know about stories like this one so it never happens again.

This biography is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.  It is recommended for junior high and above.

Monument 14

Laybourne, Emmy.  Monument 14.  Book 1 of the Monument 14 Trilogy. NY: Feiwel and Friends, c2012.  296 pages.

From the publisher:  Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong.  Six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders, one  tech genius, and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world-as-they-know it apart.

It is not hard to imagine a scenario like the one that occurs in this book.  It seems like the weather has been changing for the worse, and one never knows what the governments (ours and others) are going to come up with that is not good for the average citizen.   How the kids  deal with disaster is the focus of this book.  When I came to the end, I wanted to hurry on to the next book in the series because I had come to like some of the characters a lot.

The two following books in the trilogy are  Sky on Fire and Savage Drift.

This book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.

Recommended for junior high and above.

Sinner

Stiefvater, Maggie.  Sinner.  Book 4 of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series. NY: Scholastic, c2014.  357 pages.

I was well into this book before I realized it was the 4th book in the series.  I have not read the previous three.  Although it might have made a little more sense to read them in order, I still was able to understand what was going on.  I do think I would have connected to the characters a little better with prior knowledge.  

The story is told in alternating chapters, either by Cole St. Clair, a passionate but damaged musician and Isabel, the girl he can't live without.  Isabel is determined not to get too involved again, and doesn't trust Cole, but she is not happy with parts of her life either.  It doesn't help that Cole is also a sometimes-wolf.  Throw in a reality show where unscrupulous Baby North loves to manipulate and ruin the damaged stars in the show and you will see why Isabel and Cole find it so hard to succeed.  

The first three books in this series are Shiver, Linger and Forever.  

Recommended for 9th grade and above.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

See You at Harry's

Knowles, Jo.  See You at Harry's.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, c2012.  310 pages.

You'll need your kleenex ready for this book.  Fern isn't dreading middle school until her father comes up with a zany idea for a tv commercial to advertise their restaurant with the whole family in it.   It gets worse when he decides to put their faces on the side of the company van.  Fern dreads the teasing at school that will result, and she is not wrong.  To make things worse, her older brother, Holden, is having problems that spill into her life, and she can't decide how she feels about sharing her best friend, Random, with another girl who joins their group.  Everything soon pales in comparison to a tragic event that threatens to tear her family apart.  Grief and guilt can be very difficult things to overcome, and moving on takes time and support from friends and loved ones.  You will find it easy to cry with Fern as she struggles to deal with things.

This book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.  Recommended for junior high and above.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Navigating Early

Vanderpool, Clare.  Navigating Early.  NY: Dell Yearling, c2013.  296 pages.

Jackie Baker finds himself traveling from Kansas to Maine after the death of his mother and his father's return from World War II.  He will be attending the Morton Hill Academy for Boys.  Though he gets along with the other boys, he frequently encounters a strange boy named Early Auden.  Early is pretty much allowed to come and go as he pleases, and he quietly goes about his odd activities (like his obsession with the number Pi) without much notice.  Jackie finds him interesting and when Early helps him with his rowing skills, they become good friends.  On a disappointing weekend when Jackie's father backs out of a visit, Jackie agrees to go on a quest with Early.  This quest turns out to be both believable and mystical, following the adventures of Pi and looking for the great bear on the Appalachian trail.   

It is hard to convey the charm of this book in a short description.  As you come to know Jackie and Early, you get a glimpse into the lives of boys who know loss and see the world in a different way.  It is also an adventure in "connecting the dots," where things that are seemingly unrelated, turn out to fit into a bigger picture.  Jackie's mother said to him once "You have to look for the things that connect us all.  Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide."  I think your heart will collide with theirs as you read this book filled with unpredictable twists and turns.

This book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.  Recommended for junior high.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

Lee, Harper.  Go Set a Watchman.  NY: HarperCollins, c2015.  278 pages.

I had a conversation about this book at a garage sale this morning.  The woman I was talking to said her friend had not liked the book because she said that Atticus had turned into a racist.  I was a little shocked that anyone who had finished the book would come away with that impression.

In this sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird written 55 years later, Scout is 26 years old and living in New York.  She returns home for a two week visit and within days is ready to leave and never return.  I didn't find Jean Louise (Scout) lovable in this book.  While she aged in years, she was still naive and childish in some ways and it diminished her character.  It was not until she finally faced up to some truths that she found painful, that she was able to move beyond the Scout of the past and become her true self.  The quotation from the Bible is key to this novel.  "Every man's watchman, is his conscience."

Because Scout is older in this novel, I think junior high students will have a harder time relating to Scout and the more adult things occurring in the book, but senior high level students should enjoy reading it after they have completed To Kill a Mockingbird.   Review by Mrs. Belknap

Thursday, August 6, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird

Lee, Harper.  To Kill a Mockingbird.  NY: Grand Central Publishing, c1960. 376 pages.

Probably everyone in the world has read this book but me.  I was at the book store to spend a birthday gift card and picked up the new novel by Harper Lee and found that it continued the story of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird.  I decided I should start at the beginning.

While I find that reading about real disturbing events is not fun because of the collective guilt I feel,  I couldn't put this book down.  If there is a soul alive that couldn't love Scout and Jem and Atticus, I don't know who it could be.  The mysterious Boo Radley, the odious Bob Ewell, lively Miss Maudie, loyal Calpurnia, all of these characters come alive in the story of a southern lawyer raising two children alone.  Scout is precocious and a tomboy and Jem is in the transition from boy to man.  When Atticus chooses to defend black Tom Robinson, things in Maycomb, Alabama change for the Finch children. They are puzzled and disturbed by the events and their former innocence is lost.  Aside from being a good story line, the writing of course, won a Pulitzer Prize.  I can't agree more.  I loved the book, and I am loving the sequel, which was published 55 years later.

Recommended (and often required reading in school) for junior high and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap


Crow

Wright, Barbara.  Crow.  NY: Dell Yearling, c2012.  291 pages.  

From the publisher: "The summer of 1898 is filled with ups and downs for 11-year-old Moses. He's growing apart from his best friend, his superstitious Boo-Nanny butts heads constantly with his pragmatic, educated father, and his mother is reeling from the discovery of a family secret. Yet there are good times, too. He's teaching his grandmother how to read. For the first time she's sharing stories about her life as a slave. And his father and his friends are finally getting the respect and positions of power they've earned in the Wilmington, North Carolina, community. But not everyone is happy with the political changes at play and some will do anything, including a violent plot against the government, to maintain the status quo.  One generation away from slavery, a thriving African American community—enfranchised and emancipated—suddenly and violently loses its freedom in turn of the century North Carolina when a group of local politicians stages the only successful coup d'etat in US history."

This was one of several books I read this year about the problems of discrimination in the US.  I can't say that I like reading about the darker side of white treatment of blacks, but I recognize that it is important for me to confront the shame that I feel over what happened in the past and is still a struggle today.  It is important to understand and do my best to make sure it is not repeated, at least by myself.  This book looks at a specific incident called the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 where at least 14 blacks were killed, led by over 500 whites. All the forward strides made by the thriving black community were destroyed and fear took it's place.

This book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.  It is recommended for junior high and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Butter



Lange, Erin Jade.  Butter.  NY: Bloomsbury, c2012.  294 pages.

Another book on the Iowa High School Book Award list this year is titled Skinny.  These two books deal with excessive obesity in very different ways, but a lot of the feelings and issues of being overweight are much the same.  In Skinny, a girl named Ever decides to have gastric bypass surgery.  In Butter, the main character who got his nickname after an awful bullying incident, decides to eat himself to death live on the internet.  Butter is pretty smart, good in school, and he is an excellent saxophone player, but he keeps to himself for the most part.  The only social contact he has at the beginning of the book is a girl from his school that he is involved with online.  He knows who she is, but she thinks he is normal looking and just mysterious about showing his picture.  When he breaks a chair at an assembly, Butter decides to create a website announcing his plan to eat himself to death.  This causes an unexpected consequence and Butter no longer is sure of himself.  This book is a good read for anyone who has been on either side of the weight issue or who has been bullied in some way.  Obesity is only the visible outer sign of deeper issues that have to be resolved.  

This book in on the Iowa High School Book Award list for 2015-2016.  Recommended for high school and above.  Junior High students could benefit from reading this book as long as they have a clear understanding that Butter's idea is a BAD one!  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Counting By 7s

Sloan, Holly Goldberg.  Counting By 7s.  NY: Puffin Books, c2013.  378 pages.

From the publisher:  "Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read."

I think this was my favorite book of the summer.  Sometimes when I'm feeling sorry for myself, I just need to read about someone dealing with a big tragedy to make my problems seem trivial.  Willow is a character you will never forget.  She is smarter than smart, a little quirky, and tougher than a 12-year-old should have to be.  If you liked Out of My Mind or Wonder you will like this even better.  

This book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.  Recommended for junior high and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Okay For Now

Schmidt, Gary D.  Okay For Now.  Boston, MA: Clarion Books, c2011.  360 pages.

From the publisher:  "Okay For Now explores a seemingly improbable alliance between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam."

Told in the voice of Doug, the main character, you will find him to be likeable, practical, and talented in non-typical ways.  He makes some unusual friends around his new neighborhood and begins a quest to replace some things that are missing, discovering a special mentor and talent in the process.  While his home life is sometimes painful, Doug makes the best of things, and you will be glad for him when the book ends.

This book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.  Recommended for junior high and above.   Review by Mrs. Belknap

As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth


Perkins, Lynne Rae.  As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth.  NY: Greenwillow Books, c2010.  352 pages.

In this funny odyssey, Ry heads off to an archaeology camp in Montana while his parents are off on a trip to the Caribbean.  When the train stops unexpectedly and he can't get any bars on his cell phone, he gets off the train and climbs to the top of a hill only to see the train leaving without him.  This begins a humorous and kooky set of events separately affecting himself, his parents and his grandfather who is staying at his house while the parents are gone.  Even the dogs get caught up in the zany adventure.  Along the way, Ry meets up with an unusual fellow named Del who helps him, but on the way back to Wisconsin, things get way more complicated.  You'll love this zany adventure and it's hard to guess what the next twist or turn will be so you will be compelled to read to the end and will not be disappointed.

Recommended for junior high and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

The Scorpio Races

Stiefvater, Maggie.  The Scorpio Races.  NY: Scholastic, c2011.  404 pages.

From the publisher:  "It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
 "

This book takes place in what might be current times, but the island where Puck and Sean live is very different than the mainland.  The water horses are what sets them apart from the rest of the world.  They live in the sea and they are both magnificent and frightening.  Anyone who loves horses should find this a good read, but if you just like fast-paced, thrilling stories, you will like it as well.  Puck is a character I came to love.  She is the kind of spunky and determined girl who goes for what she wants.  Sean is very quiet, but once you get to know him, you'll like him too.

This book is on the Iowa High School Book Award reading list for 2015-2016.  I would recommend it for junior high and above, with a warning about violent scenes for more sensitive readers.    Review by Mrs. Belknap

The Eye of Minds

Dashner, James.  The Eye of Minds.  NY: Delacorte Press, c2013.  310 pages.  Book 1 in the Mortality Doctrine series.

An avid gamer on the Virtual Net, Michael has two virtual friends that he hangs out with.  The book takes place in a hyper-advanced world where anyone with enough money can experience wild excitement, even the experience of dying without fear because they will be able to wake up in the real world unscathed.  When they begin to hear about a mysterious player who is holding gamers hostage in the virtual world, they are curious, but it is not until the government contacts Michael and issues veiled threats that he agrees to use his hacking skills to help them find the dangerous gamer.  When his friends decide to help him, the biggest danger they face is that the renegade gamer may catch them first and essentially make them brain-dead, unable to wake up in the real world.   Other books in this series are Gunner Skale, Rule of Thoughts, and Game of Lives (not published yet).

This book is on the Iowa High School Book Award reading list for 2015-2016.  It is recommended for junior high and above although there is quite a bit of violence, so younger readers should be aware.  Review by Mrs. Belknap


Code of Silence

Shoemaker, Tim.  Code of Silence.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, c2013.  346 pages.  Book 1 of Code of Silence series.

From the publisher:  "Telling the Truth Could Get Them Killed. Remaining Silent Could Be Worse.  When Cooper, Hiro, and Gordy witness a robbery that leaves a man in a coma, they find themselves tangled in a web of mystery and deceit that threatens their lives. After being seen by the criminals---who may also be cops---Cooper makes everyone promise never to reveal what they have seen. Telling the truth could kill them. Remaining silent means an innocent man takes the fall and a friend never receives justice. Is there ever a time to lie? And what happens when the truth is dangerous? The three friends, trapped in a code of silence, must face the consequences of choosing right or wrong when both options have their price."

If I had been thinking about it when I began reading this book, I would have said the boys would never read it because of it's Christian message, thinking it might be preachy.  It was far from it, but the message was still clear.  Caught up in a situation that gets worse each day, the three boys struggle to figure out what to do.  There is lots of action and suspense and I think boys WILL like it and eager to read the two following novels,  Back Before Dark and Below the Surface.

This book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

AngelMonster

Bennett, Veronica.  AngelMonster.  Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, c2005.  234 pages.

From the publisher:  "Veronica Bennett's lush reimagining of the life of Mary Shelley — on the eve of her authorship of the classic gothic novel Frankenstein — is a gripping story of love and obsession.

In the spring of 1814, poet Percy Shelley enters the life of young Mary 
Godwin like an angel of deliverance. Seduced by his radical and romantic 
ideas, she flees with him and her stepsister to Europe, where they forge a hardscrabble life while mingling with other free-spirited artists and poets. Frowned on by family and society, persecuted by gossip, and plagued by jealousy, Mary becomes haunted by freakish imaginings and hideous visions. As tragedy strikes, not once but time and again, Mary begins to realize that her dreams have become nightmares, and her angel . . . a monster. Now the time has finally come for the young woman who would become Mary Shelley to set her monster free."

I found this to be a very interesting book, and had never thought much about the background surrounding the author of Frankenstein.  When I fact-checked details, I found that the book of fiction followed her real life pretty closely.  With so many dark things happening to her, it is not surprising that she was able to give life to the monster of her famous book.

Recommended for grades 10 and above.  Review by publisher and Mrs. Belknap

The Eleventh Plague

Hirsch, Jeff.  The Eleventh Plague.  NY: Scholastic, c2011.  278 pages.

Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn, his father and grandfather are among the few who survived the influenza strain that killed 2/3 of the population after the country was ravaged by war.  Things go from bad to worse as Stephen has to take charge and try to find help for his father.  He ends up in a place called Settler's Landing, where for a while he thinks things will work out, but events happen that cause a different outcome.  Like many dystopian novels, this book makes it clear that having courage and having the fierce drive to look for better alternatives is what makes the difference between those who survive and those who don't.  

This book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.  Recommended for junior high and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Skinny

Cooner, Donna.  Skinny.  NY: Scholastic Point, c2012.  260 pages.

Ever Davies is 15 and she weighs 302 pounds.  While her mother was alive, she was slightly overweight, but after her mother died, she began a slow climb into obesity.  She has a two voices.  One is a beautiful singing voice, which she hides from most everyone.  The other is a vicious voice that tells her what everyone thinks about her, how fat she is, how ugly, how boring.  She lives with her dad and his second wife and her two daughters.  Ever doesn't feel close to anyone but her dad, thinking that everyone, even he, is repulsed by her fatness.  Her only real friend is a boy named Rat who she's known for a long time, even at the long-ago time that Jackson kissed her.  It is partly the memory of that kiss that spurs Ever to finally have gastric bypass surgery which changes her life forever, in more ways than one, and brings her nasty voice along with it.  As Ever struggles to deal with weight loss, new people come into her life, and she must make some hard choices about who she wants to become and which people are her real friends and support.   If you've ever struggled with a negative voice in your head like Ever's, you will empathize with her and cheer for her to succeed.  This book is written by a woman who had gastric bypass surgery herself and speaks from experience.

Skinny is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.  It is recommended for junior high and above.   Review by Mrs. Belknap

The Selection

Cass, Kiera.  The Selection.  NY: HarperTeen, c2012.  327 pages.

Sixteen-year-old America Singer lives in the nation of Illea which was formed after the war that destroyed the United States.  Illea is divided into a caste system where changing levels is nearly impossible until Prince Maxson needs to find a wife.  That is when "The Selection" is begun and one eligible girl from each province will join others at the palace to live and spend time with the prince.  America, who has a secret love from a lower caste, only agrees to fill out the paperwork because she is sure she won't be selected.  When she is chosen, the opportunity to help her family is too great to refuse.  While life at the palace is luxurious, America is sure she will not suit the prince and does not want to.  There is danger, as several groups of rebels stage attacks during her stay there.  This book is often light-hearted and not as grim as other books in the dystopian category like Hunger Games but it is still interesting to imagine a life without the things we take for granted in our lives today.  You will like both America and the Prince and I think you will enjoy this lively romance.  It is the first in a series of five books.  

This book is on the reading list for the Iowa High School Book Award for 2015-2016.  It is recommended for grades 9 and above.

Review by Mrs. Belknap

The Moon and More


Dessen, Sarah.  The Moon and More.  NY: Viking, c2013.  435 pages.

Emaline begins the summer following graduation with a perfect long-time boyfriend and expectations of a normal summer filled with work at  the family owned Colby Realty, where they rent beach houses to a variety of clients.  Emaline has a pretty carefree life whenever she can forget about her elusive "father."  When she hits a bump in her romantic life,  a client from New York brings new excitement  and her mom is worried that Emaline is going to repeat a mistake from the past.  If you like light romance with surprise endings, you will enjoy this book.  There are also enjoyable elements of beach life, art, and film production as well as dealing with the various trials of growing up and preparing for college.

This book  is on the Iowa High School Book Award reading list for 2015-2016.  Recommended for grades 9 and above.

Review by Mrs. Belknap

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library

 Grabenstein, Chris.  Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library.  NY: Random House, c2013. 

This fun mystery romp takes place in the new library in Kyle Keeley's town.  The town has been without a library for 12 years, and the new library was financed by a local boy who made good as a game creator, first in board games, and then in computer games.  He decides to hold a contest and the writers of the 12 winning essays get to spend the first night in the new library.

Kyle is somewhat of a clown, loves to play all kinds of games, and does not really work up to his potential in school, a trait he comes to regret when he finds out what the essay he didn't write might have won for him.  Mr. Lemoncello is one of his heroes, the creator of the games he loves to play.  Kyle decides to submit an essay late, and it pays off when he gets selected to be one of the 12 lucky students.  You  might like this book based only on the mystery aspect of it which is fun, but if you love books and have read a lot, you might find yourself using the checklist provided in the back of the book to figure out how many of the books mentioned are ones you have read, and trying to solve the mystery on your own.

Kyle is just a nice kid, full of mischief, but someone you'd like for a friend.  Someone you could count on.

This book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016.  It is recommended for junior high.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief

Van Draanen, Wendelin.  Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief.  NY: Dell Yearling, c1998.

After noticing the popularity of The Running Dream by this author, I found that she had written a series of mystery books starring a 7th grade girl named Sammy Keyes.  This is the first book in the series but they continue on until the final book published in September of 2014 titled Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye.

Sammy is spunky, lively, curious and thoughtful, though she does have the habit of leaping into adventures before she thinks.  Sammy's life is not like a normal junior high kid.  She lives with her grandmother, and that in itself is part of her story.  To combat boredom, she begins using her Grandmother's binoculars to look around the neighborhood (let's not use the word SPY), and something she sees begins her first adventure.  Sammy and her best friend Marissa get involved in solving the mystery and even though observant Sammy tries to get help from the police, the officer thinks she's just a snot-nosed kid looking for attention.  If you like mysteries, you'll like these books, and you will laugh at Sammy's funny observations and scrapes.

Recommended for junior high.   Review by Mrs. Belknap

The Lost Sisterhood

Fortier, Anne.  The Lost Sisterhood.  NY: Ballantine, c2014.

In this book we follow Diana Morgan as she becomes involved in a mysterious trip to an archaeological site in Northern Africa.  She went against advice from her colleagues and her common sense, but was so intrigued by the promise that her favorite topic was involved, the Amazons, that she left common sense behind.  That decision took her on a lengthy and dangerous journey throughout the Mediterranean.  

The story is told in alternating chapters,  first from Diana's perspective and then from the perspective of Myrina, the first Amazon Queen.  Myrina's story begins with the tragic loss of her mother and the Greek pirate raid that took her sister and other members of the Moon Goddess temple into captivity.  Determined to get them back, Myrina faces incredible odds and an adventure she could never have dreamed of.

Throughout both stories, the reader is drawn into the real and mythical history of the Mediterranean civilizations including Greece and Troy.  While the story is fiction, there are many factual references that will make you want to have a reference nearby for digging further into the fascinating story.

While intended for adults, this is a good read for high school as well, and the sexual content is largely hinted at rather than graphic and only near the end of the story.  Recommended for grade 11 and above.

Review by Mrs. Belknap

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Smith, Jennifer E.  The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. NY: Little Brown, c2012.

Hadley Sullivan is pretty hard on her dad, who went to England for a term to take an incredible career opportunity and never came back.  On her way to the wedding of her dad and the woman who caused the split-up of her parents, she meets an interesting boy who is waiting for the same plane as Hadley.  Hadley's constant bitterness over what happened with her dad is contrasted by the warm feelings she gets while spending time with Oliver.  Though I sympathized with Hadley, I just wanted to tell her to get over herself and think about someone else, which is exactly what she does.  If you like to read books with happy endings, don't miss this one.  I was a little sorry to see so little of Hadley's mom who was a really great person.  Recommended for grades 7 and up. 
Review by Mrs. Belknap