Monday, March 5, 2018

Middle Grades Pick: The Night Diary

The Night Diary
by Verra Hirandani
Dial Books for Young Readers
258 pages
 glossary of terms

A compelling read for middle grades, The Night Diary is a series of letters (diary entries) written by twelve-year old Nisha to her mother who died in childbirth.

The year is 1947 and India is facing freedom from British rule. As the British move out, India struggles with religious upheaval and in-fighting. India splits into two countries with two religious groups. Pakistan becomes mostly Muslim and India mostly Hindu. The split causes millions of refugees to flee their homes.

Nisha's parents come from two religious backgrounds. Her doctor father is Hindu and married her Muslim mother (now deceased). The family  lives in what becomes Pakistan. Violence erupts around them, the kids are forced to leave their school. It is no longer safe for the family to stay in their home. Nisha is forced to say goodbye to the beloved family cook Kazi who is Muslim. Leaving under cover of  the night, her father, Nisha, her twin brother Amil and their paternal grandmother flee and attempt to cross the border into what they hope is a safer life. Along the way, Nisha witnesses violence and murder as overloaded trains carry the refugees across the border. They stay with Nisha's uncle (her mother's brother)  who keeps them safe until the children make friends with a neighbor girl which could put them all in danger. Uncle also tells Nisha about her mother and what kind of a person she was.

Nisha questions why all this fighting is happening. Why are people fighting and getting killed just because of their religion? Throughout the book, her father is closed off from the children. Nisha and Amil are rarely shown attention and never love from him. Nisha turns to her diary where she finds solace from the world around her and love from a mother she never knew.

The Night Diary tells a story probably unfamiliar to most western children. Even in history books, classes rarely get beyond World War I. More recent history, even American history, is never touched upon. The Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War may not even be mentioned.

The book is marketed for an older audience: grade 8 and up, but I question using a twelve year old narrator. I would place this book middle grades and important for its historical perspective.

Grade 5 and up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, February 16, 2018

YA Pick: American Panda

American Panda
by Gloria Chao
Simon Pulse
304 pages
ISBN: 9781481499101

Tender, heartfelt, and oh, so needed, American Panda delivers a sweet story about learning who you are and finding your voice even if it means disappointing your family or worse, breaking apart your bonds.

Seventeen year old Mei Lu is a freshman at MIT. She is younger than everyone she meets and she doesn't volunteer her age. Her parents have pushed her into studying medicine, but Mei is a germ-a-phobe who carries hand sanitizer everywhere. Her Chinese born parents are traditional and  have sacrificed and worked hard to give Mei and disowned older brother Xing an easier lives in a country of opportunity.

As children, Mei and Xing are expected to be dutiful and respectful. This includes following their parents' life plan for each of them. They must marry a good candidate from a Chinese family. Xing must become a doctor or other profession that can make tons of money. As a girl, Mei's spouse must be able to provide for her. This means Mei must marry a doctor or in the very least, a professor. Not as much money, but the prestige factor is enough. Mei's mother makes matchmaking her first priority (remember Mei is only seventeen). Xing makes the mistake of falling in love with a woman who may have trouble conceiving a child. It is of the utmost importance to Mei's father that his own son has a son to carry on the Lu name. Her parents disown Xing and kick him out of the house.

Living in the dorms at MIT, Mei doesn't have the privacy she had hoped for. Her parents know her school schedule by heart. If she doesn't return their phone calls or texts, they want to know where she is and who she is with. Mei's mother is the epitome of a tiger mom. Mei's roommate is Nicolette, and they start off barely tolerating each other. Mei misses her brother who is now a doctor. She longs to speak with him about her own fears: her fear of germs, her hatred of biology, her fear of speaking up to her father. Mei begins to meet Xing in secret.

When Mei finds herself having feelings for two very different, NON-Chinese boys, she keeps that secret as well. Another secret is that Mei has been teaching traditional Chinese dance classes and she loves it. Dancing is her passion, not medicine. Too many secrets are spilling over until Mei finally tells the truth.

American Panda is the story of many first generation Americans whose parents have immigrated from other countries. It is not an Asian story (although it is). It is an immigrant story that so many teens will find themselves in. Whatever country their parents came from, it is likely their parents are traditional in their thinking and customs. The American born children grow up in America and hear about their parents' struggles, but it is not the children's story.

Highly, highly recommended, American Panda is a MUST read. Grades 8 and up. Some profanity.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Graphic Pick: Baby Monkey, Private Eye

Baby Monkey, Private Eye
by David Serlin
Art by Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press
192 pages
ISBN: 9781338180619

Available February 27, 2018

"Irresistible"--Booklist, Starred review

Brian Selznick continues to amaze readers--both young and old, artists and art lovers with his black and white (and red) illustrations that depict a range of emotions and pack a wealth of  information in each illustration. Baby Monkey, Private Eye reads like a picture book, but the art makes it a graphic novel and an art study. Targeted audience is ages 4 and up, but younger children will love Baby Monkey's antics, his struggle to put on his pants for each case, and his wide-eyed wonder captured so brilliantly by Selznick.

The repetitive nature of the text makes it an easy read and first time readers will guess what will happen before the page is turned. That is fun and also a treat when they discover that sometimes the repetition changes. At 192 pages, it is a longer read for the  youngest readers but they will discover more and more with each reading. Baby Monkey takes on each case, and the decor art in his office changes. For the opera jewelry theft, paintings and art are: singer Maria Callas, A Night at the Opera (Marx brothers), and a bust of Mozart.

Baby Monkey, Private Eye is a joy to behold and a triumph of mixing art, storytelling and elements of both picture books and graphic novels. Selznick continues to deliver books that defy pigeonholes and genres.

Highly, highly recommended and a MUST!

Ages 3 and up. This book is several art/history lessons.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Middle Grades Pick: The Skeleton Tree

Review by Guest Reviewer Lisa Lopez, Library Media Specialist, Lujan-Chavez Elementary in El Paso, Texas. Follow Lisa on Twitter @ LLopez_LCES

The Skeleton Tree
by Kim Ventrella
Scholastic Press
240 pages
ISBN: 9781338042702

 Lisa Lopez reviewing:

The Skeleton Tree is a middle grades book perfect for reluctant readers by debut author Kim Ventrella. Chapters are short making it an excellent choice for reading clubs and classroom reads.

Stanly is dealing with a ton of problems: his parents are recently divorced, his mother works too much,  and his younger sister has a terminal illness. There is comic relief in interactions with their caregiver who is from Kyrgyzstan.

At one of his sister's many doctor appointments, Stanly reads about The Young Discoverer's Prize. He is excited because he thinks he can win with a photo of a weird growth on the tree in his back yard. It appears that the tree is growing bones! Stanly can save his whole family. With the prize money in hand, his archeologist dad will come back home and Mom won't have to work too many jobs. His sister will get more attention and the caregiver from Kyrgyzstan won't have to visit again.

When Stanly's best friend Jaxon takes of photo of the tree, the kids can't believe the bone aren't visible. No one can see the skeleton but kids, and they can't see it in photos. Just what is happening to the tree and why?

Ventrella mixes pre-teen angst, real-life drama, mystery and the supernatural in The Skeleton Tree. This is an angel-of death spin done well for middle grades.

Recommended grades 3-7.This book is available on Scholastic Book Fairs.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review nor did guest reviewer Lisa Lopez.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Middle Grade Pick: The Serpent's Secret

The Serpent's Secret
Book 1: Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond
by Sayantani Dasgupta
Scholastic Press
368 pages
ISBN: 9781338185720

Available February 27, 2018

The vibrant cover catches the eye, but the words inside will captivate and control middle grade readers as they race to finish this one. Book #1 is so much fun and filled with heart and voice that Dasgupta will have to dig deep into her writer's bag of tricks to top this one.

It is her birthday and twelve-year old Kiranmala (Kiran) has no idea that she's about to be the hero of her own destiny. She never believed stories that she is a real princess and that there are demons who will want to kill her. Demons called rakkhosh speak in rhyme no less! Kiran comes home from school and discovers her house has been ransacked. Well, worse than ransacked. It looks  destroyed. Her mother has left her a birthday card with a note telling her to trust the princes, some rupees and a weird piece of paper. In a few minutes said princes show up on her door step and promise to keep her safe. Oh, and it's also Halloween. So, there's that.

A rakkhosh is inside her house and means to devour Kiran and the princes if they don't escape immediately. Kiran finds the courage and spunk and defends herself and the princes. They climb onto flying horses and go in search of her parents even though the note said NOT to look for them. The princes assure Kiran that she is the real deal princess.

They travel into another dimension to find her parents, and Kiran discovers the princes have no idea where to search. As she finds her strength, Kiran becomes the princess her parents always knew her to be.

The voice of Kiran is hilarious and spot on. She is self-deprecating and genuinely funny and a joy to read. This is not a "girl" book. This is an everybody book for readers of fantasy. Give this book to those who love Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. They will have another series to collect.

This book will be on Scholastic book fairs this spring and will likely hit the bestseller list. It's going to be HUGE.

Highly, highly recommended grade 5 and up. Grade 4 readers who are good readers will enjoy this one also.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

YA Pick: Not If I Save You First

Not If I Save You First
by Ally Carter
Scholastic Press
304 pages
ISBN: 9781338134145

Available March 27, 2018

Maddie and Logan play together every day and what a playhouse they have: all the corridors and hidden rooms and back staircases in the White House are at their disposal! Logan's dad is President and Maddie's dad is a Secret Service agent who keeps him safe. When a band of Russians try to shoot the President and steal the First Lady, Maddie's dad takes a bullet and saves the day. Seeking solace and safety for them both, he moves Maddie to the wilderness in Alaska.

Maddie misses Logan and writes him every day hoping that someday he'll write back. Six years pass but  Logan never writes. Maddie is sad then angry and she questions their friendship, but living in the wilds of Alaska keeps her busy: she learns to chop wood, fish, hunt, you know, all those girl things! Maddie becomes an expert at using what she has. She can even catch fish with pantyhose.

Logan is sent to Alaska with his own Secret Service detail. An arctic storm is on the way and Maddie's dad has to fly medicine to another town. Maddie is still mad at Logan for not answering her letters even though she is finding it hard not to notice how cute he is. Preparing for the storm, Maddie and Logan are ambushed. Maddie is knocked over a cliff and Logan is taken away. As Maddie comes to, she realizes that she has to go after Logan. The weather is turning and animals (like bear) will be hunting before the storm. Maddie is an expert in the terrain and tracking. Logan is trying to make it easier to find him by breaking branches and overturning rocks when he can.

Logan hears his kidnapper talking on a satellite phone and because he studied Russian he knows that the kidnappers plan to meet and take him out of Alaska. There is a doctor standing by. The kidnapper talks freely not realizing Logan knows Russian. Maddie finds Logan and they are able to get away, but things are not as they seem. They have more than one predator after them in the wilderness.

Fans of Ally Carter will love this new title. Maddie is a fierce, kick-butt heroine who doesn't cower to baddies or allow Logan to waltz in and steal her heart (at least not right away). The love/hate banter between Logan and Maddie is too good to miss! Carter is spot on with capturing teen voice.

Highly recommended grade 7 and up. A must have for your Ally Carter collection.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

High School Pick: The Pearl Thief (Guest Reviewer Leslie D. Rush)

Guest Review by Leslie D. Rush. Follow Leslie on Twitter @LeslieDRush

The Pearl Thief
Elizabeth Wein
317 pages (with  author’s notes)
ISBN: 97814847165

     The Pearl Thief is the coming of age story of Julia Beaufort-Stuart, whose privileged life in the world of Scottish nobility collides with prejudice and her own sexual stirrings in the summer of 1938.
     Julie’s Grandfather, the Earl of Strathfearn, has died deep in debt, and the family is spending their last summer at the estate. Grandfather’s historical collection is catalogued and the estate grounds are being converted to an elite boarding school. Shortly after arriving, Julie is knocked unconscious on the banks of the river and wakes up in the hospital with little recollection of the attack, or the following three days, during which she was rescued and tended to by a family of Scottish gypsies, known as Travellers.
     Julie befriends the family of Travellers, but the disappearance of one of the estate historians is tied to the attack on Julie. This disappearance becomes a suspected suicide, but when the river gives up body parts, the inquiry turns into a murder investigation. Long-ingrained class prejudice against the Travellers surfaces among the local law enforcement, Julie’s librarian friend, and her own family. As her memory of the initial attack begins to return, Julie must solve the mystery before her friends are framed for murder.
        Throughout the book Julie has a burgeoning crush on Frank, the remaining historian. He is at least fifteen years older than Julie, but she implies she is older than her almost-sixteen years and  flirts with him constantly. Frank keeps Julie at arm’s length but is obviously attracted to her. Julie also has a crush on the beautiful, prickly Ellen, a member of the Travellers, and a well-drawn, interesting character, who teaches Julie how boys kiss “when they mean it.”  
     The unfolding mystery is solid, and the historical background is fascinating. I struggled with Julie’s wildly inappropriate relationship with Frank, despite its underlying message as a cautionary tale. The excessive use of parentheticals and italics to establish Julie’s voice was distracting, but eloquent descriptions of the landscape and history of the region create a powerful setting.
       This book is the prequel to the much-praised Code Name Verity. It stands on its own fairly well, but I suspect it will have more impact on readers who know Julie’s eventual fate. This one feels like Nancy Drew confronts British class prejudice and kisses a girl.
     The Pearl Thief is recommended for ages fifteen and up. Recommended for readers of Code Name Verity and anyone who loves historical fiction and  mystery.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher for #Cybils panel. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review nor did the guest reviewer.

Monday, January 8, 2018

High School Pick: Nice Try, Jane Sinner

Nice Try, Jane Sinner
by Lianne Oelke
Clarion Books
436 pages
ISBN: 9780544867857

Jane Sinner is a character that most readers will never forget. She is at a crossroads when she begins writing her diary and readers learn that Jane has been asked to leave high school because of an "event" she refers to but doesn't share the details until much later in the book. In order to find herself, free herself from her family and her parents' constant hovering, Jane enrolls in a local community college and takes a psychology course. She also sees a chance to escape her house and her younger sister Carol. Jane is accepted into a campus low budget reality show that another student film maker is filming and posting to YouTube. The grand prize is a used car and one perk of the show is contestants share a crumby house for low rent. Jane's bedroom is a small mattress separated by a sheet from others. There is no privacy and cameras roll 24/7.

Jane is excited to be "free" and writes her feelings and the events of the house and competition in her diary. It is here that Jane shines. She is self-deprecating, snarky, intelligent to the point of genius level, and over the top competitive. Jane wants to win and because of it, she is dangerous. She sizes up her competition and when she sees a way to win she takes it. Her antics at the paintball competition are comic genius and will have readers laughing out loud. She pretends to partner with others, but shoots them in the back and pretends that someone else shot them. And better yet, she is able to get away with it.

Some of the entries are imagined conversations with Jane's fake psychiatrist. Her answers to him are downright hysterical and his pseudo-psycho babble are brilliant. Jane has not attended her real therapy sessions and it is probably not helping her through her transition from high school to college and her problems that caused "the event." Fans of reality television will compare this novel to "Big Brother" and "The Real World."

The novel is tagged as "Christian" by Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but if readers are looking for an uplifting experience about God, Nice Try, Jane Sinner isn't that book.

Highly recommended for grade 9 and up. American readers will probably like the book's setting at a community college in Canada. Some mental health topics, profanity, sex, drugs, drinking.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

YA Pick: Eden Summer (Guest Review Sandy Brandon)

Eden Summer
by Liz Flanagan
David Fickling Books
288 pages
ISBN: 9781338121209

Guest Review by Sandy Brandon, Library Media Specialist, Montwood Middle School in El Paso, Texas. Follow Sandy on Twitter @SBrandon_MMS

Eden Holby seems to have it all. She's beautiful, popular and fun. She has a dedicated group of friends, a boyfriend who adores her and a family who loves her. Or so it seems. Then personal tragedy hits and Eden disappears. Jess, Eden's best friend, is an expert on all things Eden and she makes it her mission to find her. Unfortunately, Jess doesn't know why Eden went missing or where she might be. Will she find her alive or is it already too late?

Eden Summer is intense from the beginning and builds throughout the novel. Eden and Jess are believable high school girls facing typical his school drama and harsh realities of real life. Though Eden is missing from the start of the story, she is a very real presence in this novel. Friendships are tested and secrets are revealed. It is a fast-paced read and excitement builds. Mystery readers will enjoy this high school detective drama. This is a real page-turner and most readers will likely read it in one sitting.

Recommended grade 9 and up due to social issues  and suicide.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review nor did the guest reviewer.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

YA Pick: The Date To Save (Guest Review by Heather Jurado)

The Date To Save
by Stephanie Kate Strohm
288  pages
ISBN: 9781338149067

Guest Review by Heather Jurado, Library Media Specialist, Horizon Middle School, Clint ISD, Horizon City, Texas. Follow Heather on Twitter @horizonmshawks

If you wonder what might possibly happen if all the important high school events were scheduled on the exact same date and how the student body and a small high school newspaper staff could possibly cover all of the ensuing chaos, this is the book for you! Angelica is a newspaper staff writer with something to prove. She documents all the funny, sweet, romantic interactions between friends and frenemies at San Anselmo Prep High School located in California.

Readers are entertained by multiple points of view and stories pass from one character to the next. Activities and scenes are happening at the same time and it gives a real picture of how high school students who are involved in a variety of extracurricular activities handle the pressure of achievement and how they build friendships and sometimes even romances along the way.

Marching band, student government, drama, cheerleading, academic competitions and the Homecoming football game and dance are featured. Characters are believable and each one connects with their high school and their clique. Teens won't want to put this book down until they reach the DATE when all the action happens.

Follow the author at and on Twitter @StephKateStrohm

Recommended grade 7 and up. This book is featured on middle school book fairs.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review. Heather did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

YA Pick: Running Full Tilt

Running Full Tilt
by Michael Currinder
Charlesbridge Teen
325 pages
ISBN: 9781580898027

High school junior Leo Coughlin is happy his family has to move. His brother Caleb has not made things easy for them or the neighbors. It's because of his brother's actions, that they leave their old neighborhood and find a new place to live. Leo starts at a new school and hopes for the future. Caleb is on the autism spectrum and has other learning disabilities and issues. Their parents are struggling to keep things together but the stress is palpable.

When Caleb begins acting out and hurting Leo, Leo decides to run and keep running. He finds out that he likes running. A lot. In fact, he joins his school's cross country team where he meets Curtis. Curtis and Leo become fast friends and Curtis pushes Leo to be great runner. Things at home continue to spiral out of control but with school, cross country and a new relationship with a sweet girl, Leo has a life.

The book's strengths are the relationship between Leo and Caleb. Leo loves his brother, but he cannot continue to be a punching bag. Caleb for his part doesn't intend to hurt his brother; he loves him but sometimes he can't control himself. Another strength are the descriptions of the meets and Leo's training Only someone with a running background could have written these descriptions. Non-running readers may not love the running passages as much but they are well done!

Recommended for reluctant readers and anyone who has a sibling or child on the spectrum. Readers who love sports will love this one, too.

Grade 9 and up. Some violence and language.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publishers for #cybils. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Picture Book Pick: A Creepy Pair of Underwear

A Creepy Pair of Underwear
by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Brown
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
32 pages
ISBN: 9781442402980

Jasper Rabbit and his mother go to the store to buy him new underwear. Mother buys him the usual white underwear, but Jasper sees glowing green underwear and pleads for her to buy them because they are, "so creepy. so comfy." He brings out his full arsenal of I'm old enough and I'm not a baby. Jasper wins and later wears his underwear to bed. He doesn't realize until he's in his dark room that his underwear glow. Jasper is freaked out. He keeps trying to throw the creepy green underwear away even trying to ship them off to China! He cuts them into a million glowing pieces. Problem solved.

He is finally free of the creepy underwear but now there's a new problem. His room is too dark! Jasper goes back to the store all by himself and buys more creepy green underwear and uses them as "flags" or decorations to light his dark room. The illustration of Jasper in his decorated room will take readers by surprise and is genius! Jasper faces his fear of the dark and the underwear and embraces both. The underwear which used to be a problem have now become a solution. He is no longer afraid to sleep in his room.

Illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner Peter Brown are spectacular. The book is done in black, white and shades of gray except for the florescent green underwear which make a statement on every page! Winsome and fun, kids will love turning the pages for each two page spread and pointing out the underwear.

Young readers love books about underwear and this one is a sure winner! It is funny, charming and beautiful. This is the perfect bedtime book for anyone still afraid of the dark.
Highly, highly recommended beginning readers and everyone else.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Graphic Pick: The Witch Boy

The Witch Boy
by Molly Knox Ostertag
graphic novel; full color illustrations
224 pages
ISBN: 9781338089523

Masterful illustrations by debut author Molly Knox Ostertag position The Witch Boy to be the graphic darling of 2018. The late 2017 publication date insure that this title will be considered for both years.

Aster's family has always taught their daughters and girls magic. It is the rule. When Aster shows his interest, he is berated and bullied by his male relatives and chastised by his female relatives. Aster is headstrong and actually shows a penchant for "girl's" magic. He has not yet been able to see his shape. Boys in his family are shapeshifter, yet Aster has not had any luck realizing his shape. Then two of his boy cousins disappear and the family worries that a dangerous spirit may be at work. It may be up to Aster to discover his cousins' plight and rescue them from an evil entity. For him to be successful, he'll have to embrace magic and find his power.

The Witch Boy  and Aster embrace the differences in children. Aster won't accept his family's social norms and he breaks them. By breaking out, he is able to save his cousins, show his family that he is normal and show them that different is okay.

Recommended grade 4 and up.

Friday, December 15, 2017

YA Classic Retelling: Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook

Guest Review by Oscar Porras, Library Media Specialist, Ysleta Middle School in El Paso, Texas.
Follow Oscar on Twitter @oporras_LMS

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook
by Christina Henry
304 pages
ISBN:  9780399584022 

From the beloved story from childhood, readers have learned that there is a fierce rivalry between Peter Pan and Hook; however, the author never expounded on how this rivalry began. One story is that Hook was once a Lost Boy who  ran away when he realized that he was too old to be a part of the group. Another story goes that Hook was always a pirate and always Peter's nemesis (think Batman vs. The Joker).

Christina Henry's YA novel is a unique twist on the relationship between the two. Jamie, aka future Captain Hook, is the first boy Peter chooses to join him in Neverland for adventures. They will stay young and be irresponsible forever. This new world holds terrible secrets: there are pirates and beasts of many kinds. Through Jamie's eyes, the reader realizes that the title Lost Boy carries a terrible price. Jamie  has had to bury his fellow Lost Boys when they have died or when they've gone to battle with pirates on the island. Jamie's aging has also started to weigh heavily on him. Although he doesn't physically age, the years are catching up to him. Peter Pan, on the other hand, stays young and reckless often sending his Lost Boys on dangerous adventures without regard for their safety and they are lost on the island.

The book's trajectory follows the path of a falling out between the two boys. Hook realizes that Pan is anything but his best friend and the Lost Boys are mere playthings for Peter discarded in the name of fun. The traditional story features Peter as a jovial child playing tricks on friends and flying children to Neverland to have epic adventures. Henry's Peter is much darker. He is a sociopath with no regard for human life and wholly predictable. This line encompasses the book, "This isn't a wonderful place for boys to play and have adventures and stay young for always. It's a killing place, and we're all just soldiers in Peter's war."

Recommended grade 9 and up. Violence and gore.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I (Pamela Thompson) received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review nor did reviewer Oscar Porras.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top Books 2017: Pamela's Picks: YA and Others!

2017 was an AWESOME year for YA fiction. It was stronger by far than last year. I saw a few trends in YA this year: the sibling relationship was strong in several books. Strong female protagonists abound--it was the year of "Wonder Woman" at the box office! Books with messages about what is going on in the news were strong this year. Books that will leave teens (and adults) thinking and talking were big.  What we saw on the news, we saw in our fiction this year. This year I was selected to sit on the YA Fiction panel for the Cybils Awards. Many of my picks are also being considered for Cybils.

Here are my top picks of the year for Graphic novel, non-fiction, preschool and ten for YA. The ten picks are in no specific order. They are all fantastic and I would hand them to any YA fan! Oh, but the BEST of the BEST because it was EVERYTHING a book should be and it surprised me for its crossover appeal: The Last Magician! This could easily be labeled as adult fiction. I would give this to any adult who loves to read. 

Ten Ten YA:

The Last Magician
by Lisa Maxwell

This one has EVERYTHING! A tough female protagonist, New York at the turn of the century (1900s), bad guys, a magical book, magicians who are imprisoned in New York, a love interest, second story guys, mobsters, ladies of questionable virtue, dens of inequity, street thugs, thievery, magic, you-name-it, it's here! The writing is SUBLIME. You can eat these words! Best book of the year! On the Cybils Awards list and a contender. 

A Short History of the Girl Next Door
by Jared Reck

OMGosh, this book! It's the BEST realistic fiction. It has all the feels. I laughed, I cried. You will need tissues. Tear-jerker appeal. You simply MUST read this book. I am happy to report this one is on the Cybils list and a possible contender. 

A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
by Mackenzi Lee

Wow! Historical fiction done right! This one follows a young British lord who is bi-sexual and promiscuous and what a rapscallion Percy is! I have never seen a bi-sexual teen in historical fiction before in YA. Percy, his friend and sometime love interest and sister travel to the Continent for a year before Percy is expected to come home to England and be a proper gentleman. Oh, but the fun and shenanigans doesn't stop. This one is hilarious in all the right ways. This one is on the Cybils list and a possible contender. 

The Reader 
by Traci Chee

This is first in a trilogy of Sea of Ink and Gold. The Reader is fantasy, it's magical with a strong female protagonist, pirates, stowaways, clues that are actually sprinkled throughout the book--a fun adventure on its own, a secret message if you are able to solve it, and Chee's masterful storytelling.

by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie is just as fun as its cover! Book love for this one! I received the ARC of this one and a button "Moxie Girls Fight Back" at Texas Library Association conference back in April. Little did I know how much "trouble" this book was about to stir up! The boys (and teachers) in this book are so awful it's nearly laughable, but I remember hearing their types of comments, as I'm sure girls do now, in high school. Well, moxie girls do fight back and create a movement. What's not to love? It is the Year of the Female Protagonists Take Over the World (at least in YA). Moxie is on the Cybils list and a possible contender. 

Piecing Me Together
by Renee Watson

What a beautiful book! Jade uses her art as an outlet for her feelings. She takes trash and makes collages. Elegant storytelling by Renee Watson make this one a winner! This is on the Cybils list and a possible contender! 

The Lake Effect
by Erin McCahan

This one is also on the Cybils list and a contender. 2017 saw a trend of a little bit older protagonist. Many of the YA books had teens who had just graduated high school and were getting ready for college. The Lake Effect is one. I consider this book a postcard from the Great Lakes. Having spent many summer on Lake Erie and having countless relatives who hail from there, it reminded me of all those summers on the lake. McCahan pays homage to the teens who have to work summers for college. Briggs arrives at the beautiful Victorian on the lake in time to take his new 84 year old boss to the first of many funerals he will have to attend. This one is sarcastic, funny and whip-smart. 

Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn
by Elizabeth Kiem

This book breaks boundaries in YA. We usually don't see a spy thriller set in 1958 Soviet Union. The writing and research is sublime. Kiem deserves mass praise for what must have been exhaustive hours researching the time period and political nuances. I loved this book. It is historical fiction with a BANG. 

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life 
by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Saenz triumphs again after success with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe. If you loved that one, you'll love Logic even more. Sal is a teen who questions his place. Sounds familiar, right? In Saenz's loving hands, each character seems like a real person. I am glad I live in the world where Benjamin Alire Saenz writes YA fiction. I have seen him speak a number of times (he is from El Paso) and he is one of the most sincere and sweet humans you will ever meet. I don't add this book to the list because Saenz is known to me. I add it because it's amazing and also on the list for the YA Cybils Fiction panel and a contender. If you missed Dante and Aristotle--buy it today! 

Non-fiction Pick:

Some Writer!
The Story of E. B. White
by Melissa Sweet

E.B. White. Melissa Sweet. It's genius! Highly readable and enjoyable. I am not a big fan of non-fiction, but this was GREAT!

Pre-School Pick:

by Tim McCanna
Illustrations by Richard Smythe

The artwork is the most beautiful gift you can give to a child. A lovely treasure!

Graphic Pick:

Fish Girl
by Donna Jo Napoli
Illustrated by David Wiesner

There's a reason Wiesner is a Caldecott winner, this is it! No one can beat his artwork. I LOVE Fish Girl! 

That's it! My picks for the Best of the Best for 2017. Happy reading, everyone! I hope 2018 gives us many more literary gifts. Pamela