Monday, May 2, 2016


Billinglsey, Franny.  Chime.  NY: Penguin Speak, c2011 361 pages
National Book Award Finalist

Moving, creepy, and intense are words used to describe this book.  I found it to be a layered book, each layer being removed, though not necessarily in order. Briony Larkin uses the same technique as “The House That Jack Built”, as she finds meaning by writing things down, each sentence repeating the ones before and adding something new until she reaches a conclusion.
Her conclusion has long been that she is a witch, she has done evil things (bringing the wave upon her stepmother, causing Rose to fall out of the swing and become damaged).  Whenever something nice appears to be happening, Briony reminds herself that she is not normal and she has done evil things. 

The book takes place in England, near a place called Swampsea, on the coast, somewhere around the turn of the century.  Parts of it are earthy, mystical, and hard to determine if they are real or metaphors for real events.  For example Boggy Mun, the watery Old One who can rise out of the sea in a wave that can destroy and harm.

Along with the unveiling of Briony’s secrets and the evil she thinks she has done, the story makes us think about guilt, forgiveness, jealousy, self-doubt, mercy and love.  While it took a while for me to get into the story, I really liked it later on and liked the ending, which while maybe to pat for some, suited me fine.  “How can something as fragile as a word, build a whole world?”

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

Throne of Glass

Maas, Sarah J.  Throne of Glass.  USA: Bloomsbury, c2012.  416 pages.

Celaena Sardothian has been barely surviving as a prisoner at the salt mines at Endovier. When Prince Dorian offers her a chance to win her way out, she has no other choice except to die in the mines.  Celaena was taken in as a youth and trained to be an assassin when her parents were killed in the ongoing clash with the ambitious King.  What Prince Dorian offers her is a chance to compete in tests to determine who will be the King’s champion.  At first all she can think about is a way to escape but since she is guarded at all times, she begins to think of other things, including the mysterious death of some of the other contestants.  

This is the first book in a series.  Other books are Crown of Midnight (#2), Heir of Fire (#3) Queen of Shadows (#4) and Empire of Storms (#5)

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

Not If I See You First

Lindstrom, EricNot if I See You First.  NY: Little Brown, c2015. 

Parker Grant is blind.  How she came to be that way is part of the bad stuff in her life.  Another bad thing is that her dad recently died, leaving Parker at the mercy of her Aunt Celia.  Parker is an amazing girl, and she is definitely feisty and self-reliant, maybe a little too much.  When the horrible thing her former boyfriend did comes back into the light, Parker has some hard choices to make.  And she needs friends to help her make them.  Can such an independent person let others help her?  I think you’ll find Parker refreshing.  Even while you’re grieving over the things that have happened to her, you will be cheering for her “don’t pity me” attitude.  If you like running, you have something in common with Parker.

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

Far Far Away

McNeal, Tom.  Far Far Away.  NY: Random House/Ember, c2013.  369 pages.  A National Book Award Finalist.  

Booklist gave this book a starred review and described it as "A masterful story of outcasts, the power of faith, and the triumph of good over evil."

Jeremy Johnson Johnson is a quiet, practical boy, worried about his father who is dysfunctional due to the disappearance of Jeremy's mother.  About to lose their home and business for lack of payments on the loan, Jeremy is trying as hard as he can to earn money.

When a copper-haired girl (Ginger) takes a bite of a Prince Cake (rumored to cause the biter to fall in love with the first person they meet) and sees Jeremy, a chain of events begins, and the events are not all good.  Jeremy has long been able to hear the voice of Jacob Grimm (yes the fairy tale guy) who is trying to complete a mysterious task in order to "pass over."  Jeremy (and Jacob by default) get involved in the disappearance of kids from the town of Never Better where Jeremy lives. The solution to that mystery is completed only after Jeremy and Ginger face grave danger.

Part mystery, part romance, part fairy tale, this is a shivery good read.

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

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking

Dionne, Erin.  Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking.  NY: Puffin Books, c2013.  248 pages.  Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2016-2017.

Can doing things wrong turn out right?  Moxie (aka Margaret Mildred Fleece) has always been pretty good about following rules but a mysterious red-headed stranger changes all that.  The stranger seems to think that Moxie can get her information about some missing items that may be related to an unsolved art theft at a Boston museum.  Moxie is worried that her grandfather's gangster connections are catching up with him and he is in an Alzheimer's care center with only a few rare days when his memory still functions.  The stranger has threatened to hurt Moxie, her family and even her friends if she doesn't get "the goods."

Moxie finally got an important summer privilege (a pass for the T) from her over-protective Mom but she has to break the attached rules almost right away in order to track down clues to the whereabouts of the stolen objects.  She and her friend, Ollie, travel all over Boston in search of the locations her grandfather worked at, hoping the objects will be there.

Her friend Ollie is obsessed with Geo-caching and that plays a role in solving the mystery.

A good mystery, filled with humor and close calls.  Recommended for junior high and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Guitar Notes

Amato, Mary.  Guitar Notes.  Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda LAB, c2012. 273 pages plus song lyrics and chording notes and link to web recordings.
Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2016-2017.

Have you ever felt pressured by parents and friends to the point of panic attacks?  Do you love music?  Have you ever felt your parents did not understand you?  This might be the book for you.  Lyla Marks is a cellist of the highest quality but is beginning to have panic attacks at the thought of performing and trying out for the many things her father has lined up for her. Her playing is technically perfect, but Tripp Broody thinks that it doesn't reflect her heart.  Tripp, on the other hand, doesn't care about too much of anything since his father died suddenly, except "thrumming' on his guitar. When his mom takes the guitar away in an attempt to get Tripp to study harder and make friends,  he signs up for a band practice room every other day.  Lyla has the same room on the alternate days.   What started as a snippy note about leaving trash behind in the practice room expands into an unusual friendship with some very unexpected consequences.

The book not only contains the lyrics and guitar chord notations, but a QR code will lead you to the website where you can listen to the songs.

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Six of Crows

Bardugo, Leigh.  Six of Crows.  NY: Henry Holt, c2015.  480 pages.

If you go into the darkest corners of a place known as Ketterdam, you will find the six curious people who are thrown together in a quest to steal a scientist from a heavily guarded fortress.  These are not six heroes, they are a mixture of orphans, thieves, and thugs who all want the big reward offered, each for reasons of their own.  I have to say that this book has the most annoying cliffhanger at the end of all time.  The next book in the series can't be published fast enough for me to find out what happens next.

Although this all takes place in a fantasy world, the issue of a drug that would change the balance of power in the world is not so far fetched.  It seems like drug lords are always in the news today and new drugs show up at an alarming rate.  One review I read compared the "theft" to a medieval Ocean's Eleven, with the elaborate plans and hair-raising close calls.  At any rate, you will be on the edge of your seat as events unfold and as you come to know the characters, you will be hoping for them to succeed despite their shady past.

If you don't mind the violence, this is recommended for junior high and above.
Review by Mrs. Belkanp

Goodbye Stranger

Stead, Rebecca.  Goodbye Stranger. NY: Wendy Lamb Books, c2015.  287 pages.

Bridget, now called Bridge, should have died when she skated into an intersection and collided with a car.  A nurse told her she must have some special reason to still be alive.  Bridge wants to know what that reason is.  Her best friends Emily and Tab are beginning to change.  Can their friendship survive?  She begins to spend time with Sherm.  Are they only friends?  In this layered story, told in alternate voices, (one of them a mystery person) Bridge learns more about herself, about friendship, life, and a little about romance too.

Review by Mrs. Belknap, recommended for junior high and above.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Fish in a Tree

Hunt, Lynda Mullaly.  Fish in a Tree.  NY: Nancy Paulsen Books, c2015.  266 pages.

Written in the same gentle and loving way as One For the Murphys, Fish in a Tree is about a 6th grade girl who has kept her dyslexia a secret, one that plagues her and causes her to hate and fear school.  With a father in the military and a brother who finds his dreams thwarted by dyslexia as well, Ally has a lot to deal with.  When she earns the respect and friendship of Keisha and Albert, and gets Mr. Daniels for a teacher, things begin to look up.    There is plenty of bullying, both verbal and physical.  You will cringe, especially if you have ever been guilty of saying something hurtful just to impress the "in crowd."

Ally is a great character and though some readers will be put off because she is only a 6th grader, I’m pretty sure they will recognize the traumatic things that occur at school a lot more frequently than we’d like to admit, even by teachers who miss important clues in behavior.  Celebrate differences.  A quote in the book inspired the title: "... if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid."

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Westerfeld, Scott.  Zeroes.  NY: Simon Pulse, c2015.  546 pages.

Not superheroes, but zeroes.  Six teens all born in the year 2000 have superpowers.  When they eventually meet,  they form a group and try to learn more about their capabilities.  Their powersnare not your typical ones.  There is no flying or lifting cars.  Their powers are much more subtle and often have unexpected and sometimes disastrous consequences.  This is the first book in a brand new series.

Bellwether, Scam, Mob, Anonymous, Flicker, and Crash are the six teens.  At the beginning, Mob is the only one who is not in the group.  Her dad robs a bank where Scam is depositing money stolen from a drug cartel.  Scam offended everyone in the group a year ago when his superpower of saying whatever would get Scam what he was wishing for, said things that couldn’t be taken back.

Even so, everyone comes to his rescue and Mob eventually joins their group.  The action is fast-paced and takes interesting twists and turns. 

Recommended for junior high and above. 

Review by Mrs. Belknap 

The Wee Free Men

Pratchett, Terry.  The Wee Free Men.  NY: Harper Tempest Books, c2003.  375 pages.  First book in the five book sub-series of Discworld featuring Tiffany Aching.  Other titles are A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight and The Shepherd's Crown (final book published in 2015, finished shortly before he died in March of 2015.)

The Discworld novels (there are 41) take place on a fanstasy world with many similarities to planet Earth, but with magical influence and it's own system of physics.  It consists of a large disc resting on the backs of four huge elephants which are in turn standing on the back of an enormous turtle, as it slowly swims through space.  Many of the novels are standalone stories with the similarity of taking place on Discworld.  The Tiffany Aching novels are geared toward young adults and feature an unlikely heroine by the name of Tiffany Aching.  Tiffany begins as a shepherdess and cheese maker, at which she is very good.  When "someone" steals her little brother, Wentworth, Tiffany decides the practical thing to do is go and get him back, because even if she thinks Wentworth is a pest, no one is going to take anything that is hers.  She becomes aware of tiny blue men with red hair called the Nac Mac Feegle.  They drink and fight and steal, but they also adore Tiffany and together they join in a quest to get Wentworth back.

The Discworld novels have had great popularity, selling over 80 million copies.  If you love fantasy and you love series books, you should give these a try and Tiffany Aching is a good place to start.

Quotes I liked:
"She opened her eyes and then, somewhere inside, opened her eyes again.  She heard the grass growing, and the sound of worms below the turf.  She could feel the thousands of little lives around her, smell all the scents on the breeze, and see all the shades of the night.  The wheels of stars and years, of space and time, locked into place.  She knew exactly where she was, and what she was." (p342)

""The thing about witchcraft," said Mistress Weatherwax, "is that it's not like school at all.  First you get the test, and then afterward you spend years findin' out how you passed it.  It's a bit like life in that respect." ...."I see you opened your eyes," she said." (361)

When You Reach Me

Stead, Rebecca.  When You Reach Me.  NY: Wendy Lamb Books, c2009.  197 pages.  Winner of the Newbery Award for 2010.

If you are a fan of A Wrinkle in Time, you will love this book.  Miranda is in 6th grade and she is looking back at a tragedy, trying to make sense of it all.  She thinks things started to go wrong when her best and only childhood friend, Sal, gets punched by a neighborhood boy.  Sal stops hanging out with Miranda, and bewildered, Miranda turns to Annemarie and Colin.  In the meantime, Miranda's mom is preparing to be a contestant on the 20,000 Pyramid tv show.  When cryptic notes begin to show up, Miranda gets the vague feeling that something bad is going to happen. but as events occur, Miranda doesn't realize that they are clues to the mystery.
Though Miranda is 12 and this takes place in the 1970's, this is an enjoyable read for any age reader who likes a mystery or can identify with the times and the nostalgic things mentioned.

Recommended for anyone junior high and older.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Divided We Fall

Divided We Fall.  Reedy, Trent.  Crawfordsville, IN: Arthur A. Levine Books, c2014.  374 pages.

This book on the Iowa High School Book Award reading list was written by a former member of the Iowa National Guard.  When he describes events in the book, he knows what life in the Guard is like.  From time to time people who object to government regulations hold protests or even standoffs like the one in Oregon right now.  In this book, the State of Idaho chooses to take action by denying the government mandate to issue Federal ID cards. When the guard is called in to maintain order at a protest from the opposition to this decision, an accidental gun shot begins a chain of events that have disastrous results for 17-year-old Daniel Wright and for the relationship between the State of Idaho and the Federal Government.  Daniel has a lot of responsibility for his mother who is mentally fragile and for his long-time girl friend.  He feels things have gotten out of hand, but there is no way to make them right again.  You will be asking yourself some questions as you read.  Where would YOU draw the line when government becomes too intrusive.  What would YOU be willing to fight for?   There is a lot of action and violence in this book, but some important concepts about American freedom make this a thought provoking read as well.  The sequel to this book is called Burning Nation

Recommended for high school.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Half Bad

Half Bad.  Green, Sally.  NY: Viking, c2014.  394 pages.

If you are a fan of books about witches, you should find this a good read.  In modern-day England, there is a constant struggle between white and black witches.  Although one would think black means "bad" when you see what the white witches do to 16-year-old Nathan, a boy with a white witch mother and a black witch father, you would wonder.  Though he has done nothing bad for his entire life, Nathan is kept in a cage, beaten, shackled, and trained to kill...his father!  He struggles to maintain his identity and vows he will never give in to their wishes.  Toss in a little romance when Annalise becomes his friend and more.  This is the first book in a trilogy.  The second books is called Half Wild, and the third book is Half Lost, to be published in March of 2016.  A lot of comparisons have been made to the Harry Potter books, but I personally don't see it.  The only similarity is that Harry is not treated very nicely by his guardians and his father figure is a mystery.  Perhaps when I read the whole series I may change my mind.  At any rate, I am anxious to find out what happens to Nathan and you will be too.

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