Tuesday, April 30, 2013


by Jim Murphy
144 pages
Middle School+

The Great War, World War I is raging through Europe, sending despair through hearts.  Soldiers are converging, battle lines are drawn.  Death stalks these men, taking its daily toll.  Hope is scarce, and the future looks dim.

In the midst of one of the most horrible times of war, one day stands different than the others.  Christmas Day, 1914, dawns cold and silent.  Instead of bullets, Christmas carols ring through the air.  A brief truce between the English and German lines has enemies chatting together, celebrating Christmas in an entirely new way.  While tomorrow they may go back to shooting each other, for now, they are all bound by the special season.

This was a really good book.  There were lots of things I liked, including how it told the story.  Instead of just plopping us in the middle of the war, it gave some background- how the war started, what it was like leading up to Christmas, and overall, what it was like to be a soldier.  It is easier to understand what a miracle that day was when it is compared to the normal existence of daily life.  While the truce wasn't universal and some people still fought, the people that did participate remembered it.  It change them, and changed their outlook on the war.

I like all the photos and maps included in the book, as well as all the historical context of the setting.  I am not a history buff, and this book really helped me, as an adult, understand what was going on in the war better than any class I have ever had.

Good book!  Great story to tell, plus I really liked how it told the story.  Teens will learn not only about this specific instance, but about the rest of the war as well.  I listed as Middle School mostly for content and some of the pictures.  Life was not always pretty as a soldier, and some of the photos reflect that.  Text is detailed and informative, but not overwhelming.  Great book for history projects, or for kids interested in factual books instead of fiction.

Monday, April 22, 2013


by Hope Larson
176 pages
Middle School+

Abby is super excited to go to summer camp.  She can't wait to see Rose, her friend from last year, again.  But when she gets there, Rose is so busy being a staff helper, Abby feels like she is being neglected.  Instead of being able to spend time with her, Abby has to make new friends with Beth and Shasta.

 As Abby and Shasta grow closer, Abby gets kickback from her other friends.  They don't think that Shasta is the right person for Abby to be hanging out with.  On top of all the girl drama, Abby finds a boy that she like, Teal.  He's a Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master, and loves to play.  First time he meets Abby, he compares her to a wood-elf.  That night, she dreams of herself as an elf, journeying through the forest with him. 

As the summer progresses, she learns more about Shasta, and comes to be the only one that will hang out with her.  Abby's other friends also want to hang out with her, but can't stand Shasta.  How can she balance both groups of friends, and also keep an eye open for Teal?

This book is all about friendships and relationships.  Abby has certain expectations for friends that she has to adapt as real life kicks in.  She also has to realize that not everyone is perfect, but to accept them as friend anyways.  Backbiting, jealousy, and gossip make Abby deal with being told one thing, but feeling another.  She has to decide who she wants as a friend, especially her close friends.

Overall, good book, especially for those girls going through this type of stuff.  While I wasn't overwhelmed with the greatness of this book, it was fun.  The artwork was detailed and clear, without overwhelming the story.  Great balance of storytelling and art.  I would keep it to middle school and older, mostly because it makes some references that I'm not sure younger kids would get.  Good book, I'll recommend it!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Legacies (Shadow Grail Series #1)

Legacies (Shadow Grail Series #1)
by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill
320 pages
Middle School+

Spirit White remembers little of the car accident that killed her parents and little sister.  All she can see is something darker than night, and then the accident.  Waking up in the hospital afterwards, she has little motivation to live, and after a fire at her home, no belongings to keep.  Spirit is surprised to learn that a school called Oakhurst Academy is taking care of hospital bills, plus providing a place for her to live after she recovers.  Finally she leaves the hospital and travels to Oakhurst in the middle of nowhere Montana.

Early on, Spirit learns that this school is more than just a boarding school for orphans like herself- it is a school of wizards and magicians.  Each person there has gifts and talents that set them apart from the rest of the world, magical talents.  When it's time for Spirit to find out which element her powers come from, no one element feels right to her.  Confused and feeling very alone, Spirit wishes that she had died with her family.

Slowly, Spirit starts to feel more at home as she begins to make friends: Loch, who arrived with her, Addie and Muirin who helped show her around, and big Burke, a battle mage that can learn any fighting style.  As they grow closer, they start to notice a strange pattern of other kids going missing.  When one of Muirin's close friends disappears, they decide to look closer at what is happening.  Who is taking the kids?  Why do they never hear from graduates?  And will Spirit ever find her power?

So, while on the surface it seems to be another "wizard school" novel, the story comes out fairly different than other novels I've read with that theme.  The dynamics within the school setting feel very different that the Harry Potter books, something the author does on purpose since Oakhurst is very different than Hogwarts!   Some similarities exist, but this book has it's own character and feel.

I do like that way that the book deals with Spirit's grief at losing her family.  At first, it is overwhelming, and consumes her.  Then someone tells her to stop feeling sorry for herself, and she starts to get on with her life.  She continues to think about them, and miss them, so it's not this abrupt "oh I'm over that" feeling.  Spirit's family continue to be a part of her- she is always hearing her mother's voice saying something that applies to her situation, or thinking of what her sister would do.  They stay a part of her, and she remembers them and misses them, but fortunately it doesn't overwhelm the story.  Instead it's a reminder that she wishes life were different.

Overall, fairly good book.  This is the second time I've read it, so good enough to come back to it!  A couple sequels have been written, so I'm excited to read those as well.  While not completely impressed with it, I will read the sequels.  Likable characters, interesting plot line (even if a little predictable by the end), and lots of potential for more to happen.  Good book, have fun!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
305 pages

Ivan is a gorilla, the "One and Only Ivan at Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade!"  Living there for most of his life, by himself with only a few other animals to talk to, he has grown bored and complacent. He lives in his domain (cage) and entertains the few visitors that come into the mall.

Nothing big usually happens, just the same old things, day in and day out.  He watches TV, doodles on the random papers that are given to him, and waits for Julia to come in the evenings with her father, the janitor.  With his little doggie friend, Bob, and the elephant next door named Stella, Ivan doesn't even remember enough of his wild life to miss it.

One day, a new baby elephant named Ruby is introduced to the mall.  Living with Stella, she is very shy and quiet.  When the older elephant dies, Ruby is left alone with no one but Ivan to comfort her.  She asks for happy stories, stories from anywhere besides the mall, making Ivan remember his life before he came.  Remembering what it was like in the wild, plus his promise to Stella to look after Ruby, Ivan realizes he must do something to change not only his life, but Ruby's as well.

This was a touching story!  Ivan seems so set in his ways, and content to have what he has until Ruby come in.  Once he realizes how vulnerable she is, and that no one else will take care of her, he rises to the challenge of changing her life and her future.  His actions are very much in line with what a silver-back gorilla should do- protect his family.   Once he makes that realization, he acts and changes his live.  Not only is it touching to see how much he cares for the little elephant, it is also empowering, showing that no matter what your circumstance, you can change it.  There's not much hope for a gorilla in a cage, but he finds a way to communicate and have an impact on everyone around him.

Despite the number of pages, this was a fairly quick read.  It is told from Ivan's point of view, in short, almost poetic, style.  I've read other books with similar styles and they have felt choppy, but this one flowed much better than the others.  Because of the heading for each section, it lets you know what he is talking about, and the ideas connect one section to the next.  Quicker read than the 300 pages would imply.  Suitable for kids of many ages.

Overall, this is a great book that I will recommend to just about anyone, particularly to kids that like animals.  Great story line, lots of topics that could be discussed in families or classes.  Go read it!  Great book!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Scarlet (Book 2 of The Lunar Chronicles)

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles)
by Marissa Meyer
464 pages
Middle School+

Cinder is a cyborg.  She is also a Lunar, despised by the people of earth that she grew up with.  And on top of all that, she is now a fugitive from the law.  Breaking out of prison with Captain Thorne, they fly off in his spaceship in order to avoid capture or worse.  Cinder must find time to process the fact that not only is she Lunar, but she is the lost Lunar princess, and rightful heir to the throne.

Meanwhile, in small town France, Scarlet Benoit is trying to live her normal life.  It's hard though when her grandmother has been missing for the last two weeks.  When the police cease their investigation, due to lack of evidence, Scarlet is furious and determined to find out the truth. As she delivers fruit to a local restaurant, she meets Wolf, a fighter that defends her in a brawl.  Not quite trusting him, she declines his company home.

After finishing all her deliveries, Scarlet heads home, only to find her long lost father there, tearing the house apart. He is frantically searching for something, not knowing exactly what.  Looking closer at him, Scarlet notices wounds and burns on him.  After he admits to being tortured by the same people that have her grandmother, Scarlet is more determined than ever to find out who took her grandmother and what these strangers want.  Her only clue is a tattoo that her father saw, the same type of tattoo that she saw on Wolf's arm.

So, I heard some people say they weren't as satisfied with this book as they were with Cinder, but I liked it just fine!  The adventure is continuous, the plot twists and turns plenty, plus there is tons of foreshadowing and hints at what may come.  I'm very excited to see Cinder grow and change in the next book.  This book occurred over such a short time frame (about a week) that characters faced struggles, overcame them, but the longer growth wasn't as visible.  I want to see how Cinder is going to balance her new powers with staying true to herself and her own values.  I also want to see Cinder and Prince Kai connecting again...

I really like both Cinder and Scarlet for the way they retell the fairy tales.  Who would have thought of a cyborg and Lunar Cinderella!  I love that while she has used the tales for inspiration, Meyer is not afraid to go outside the traditional story and really makes the story her own.  I can't wait for Cress  in 2014, and see what she does with that story!

Overall, great story, great series!  I can see mostly girls liking this, but boys I think would get a kick out of the cyborg part of the story.  Recommended for middle school kids and up, mostly for the length.  Later elementary readers could probably take it on if they are interested and love to read.  Go out, read this series!  Definitely read Cinder first, otherwise you would be very lost in reading Scarlet.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Unsinkable Walter Bean

The Unsinkable Walter Bean
by Aaron Renier
208 pages
Middle School+

Walter Bean is a slightly dorky kid who worships his grandfather, his stories and his inventions.  When his grandfather gets struck by an ancient curse, it is up to him to return the evil skull causing the curse.

Not looking for adventure, Walter is suddenly swept up into hiding from pirates, ancient sea monsters hunting them, and inventing machines to fool the entire crew on his ship.  Not to mention, he has to fight on the side of the pirates, rebuild the ship, and try to keep everyone safe from the skull.  If he listens to the whisperings of the skull, he and everyone around his will end up dead.  With new found friends, Walter must figure out who the strange doctor is, what he really wants, and how to protect everyone from the curse of the pearl skull.

So, the story was fun and mostly interesting.  But, to me the artwork was cluttered and messy.  I found myself skimming through a lot of it, just to get it over with.  The story was intriguing enough that I wanted to finish, but the artwork was very distracting from the story for me.  It was like Amulet, where I wanted to stop and really look at the pictures as much as I wanted to read the story.  This was just get it over with!

Other than the artwork, I like the story.  Nice twists, turns and lots of foreshadowing.  The story also has more potential, as if was meant to be the first in a series.  Some things haven't been resolved, but the book doesn't feel like it's left you hanging.  Good balance of wrapping up, but leaving more to be done.

Overall, engrossing storyline but the artwork detracted from the plot, at least for me.  Great adventurous, pirate story with buried treasure (kind of), sword fights and strange inventions.  Boys will get a kick out this book, but there's enough complexity that girls will like it too.  I labeled it as Middle School, but late elementary would probably like it too.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Out Stars
by John Green
336 pages
High School+

Hazel has cancer.  Even though it is in remission, she knows that one day, sooner than she would like, it will kill her.  It's hard to try and live a busy and satisfying life when you can't breath well and you know you're going to die anyways.  While Hazel tries to live life, and be happy, she feels cynical and weighed down a lot of the time.  She even doesn't like going to her cancer support group- too dreary and disheartening to hear the list of dead people 3 times longer than the list of those still alive.

One night, her mom all but forces her to go to support group, to get out of the house and go do something.  She gets there, sees a couple old friends, and also meets a new guy, Augustus Waters. Gus is different, even though he too is a survivor.  He smiles, he grins, and draws Hazel to him, not just for his looks, but for his charisma.  Soon, they are hanging out together, going on picnics together, and even sharing their favorite books.  When Hazel makes Gus read "An Imperial Affliction" about a girl with cancer, he is hooked.  He reads it in a night, and, just like Hazel, can't stand not knowing what happens.  The book ended mid-sentence!  Both of them write the author to see if he is writing a sequel, or would even just tell them what happens to the characters.

Together, they start an adventure.  Hazel lives life, finally, while helping Gus live his as well.  They support friends through breakups, pester an author, and manage their cancer symptoms.  What good is living with cancer if you can't live? 

Oh my goodness, I cried!  I loved this book, not just for its witty banter, not only for the great characters and realistic setting, but because it made me cry.  I got so emotionally tied to Hazel and Gus that when they hurt, I hurt too.  My heart ached for their trials. Hint- have lots of tissues on hand toward the end.  This was a fantastic book!

I'm usually not into realistic fiction (check out how many fantasy books I have on here), usually because it doesn't seem to do much.  There's not adventure or the characters just sit around and talk about each other behind their backs.  But in the book, Hazel and Gus were doing things.  They went places around town, obsessed about their favorite book, comforted another friend in need, and more.  They don't just sit around, the do things!  And not normal everyday things.  I do enough "normal" things, I don't particularly want to read about them.  But this book had a great blend of normal, so I would identify with the characters, and the unusual, to keep my interest. 

Several themes in this book that could be discussed, almost too many to list.  Life and death is huge.  Both Hazel and Gus know that at some point soon, they will die.  This changes their outlook on life, and causes them to evaluate what "living" means to them.  What would you change in your life if you knew you might not be around the next month? 

Another theme is love, what it means to a person, how it affects their actions, and how it changes lives.  Knowing what the future holds, or knowing how things will end is another emphasized theme.  Hazel and Gus do some fairly extreme things to try to figure out what happens to characters in a book.  This reflects their desire to know how their own stories end: what happens to their families and friends after they die, will people remember them or be hurt by their death.  Knowledge is powerful in this book.

Overall, AMAZING book.  I will recommend to any teen, regardless of gender or what type of book they usually read.  I would keep it to high school teens for a couple reasons.  One, subject matter- so heavy and thought provoking.  I don't know that middle school kids would have the maturity to be interested in this book.  Second, a small sexual scene.  Nothing big, nothing explicit, but it's there.  Younger kids probably know more than what this book holds, but just for safety's sake, keep it more to high school or older.

Read this book!  It is amazing and I loved it!

Johnny Boo

Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost in the World!
by James Kochalka
40 pages
Elementary +

Johnny Boo is a small ghost that has Boo Power!  He can shout boo so loud, it scares anyone!  Along with him on adventures is his little friend, Swiggle, he wants to eat some ice cream!

Overhearing their conversation is the Ice Cream Monster!  He wants ice cream too, but scares Johnny Boo and Swiggle because he is so big!  When they finally start talking, everyone realizes that they can be friends. But what happened to Swiggle?  He disappears!

Very cute, simple graphic novel.  Great book to introduce kids to the graphic novel format.  Simple text with clear and colorful pictures make it a good basic book. I will recommend to early readers to middle elementary aged kids.  Fun story, fun pictures!