Thursday, January 29, 2015

Middle Grades Pick: The Terrrible Two

The Terrible Two
by Mac Barnett and Jory John
Illustrated by Kevin Cornell
Amulet Books
224 pages
ISBN: 9781419714917

Mischievous and fun, two boys go head to head to outprank each other. MIles has always held the title of top prankster at his school, but when he has to move to sleepy, bovine filled Yawnee Valley, he has met his match. Niles offers to help new kid Miles and be his mentor buddy. He even offers to join forces and that they become The Terrible Two--two pranksters working together, but Miles won't hear of it. He calls in an all out prank war. The two boys turn the school upside down to win the title of the best prankster.

Illustrated by Kevin Cornell, the book has a familiar feeling about it. Like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, the drawings help to move along the story. The Wimpy Kid books used a font that appeared to be hand written and less "scary" for some unmotivated readers. The Terrible Two uses a normal font.

Principal Barkin is not amused by all the practical jokes, and makes it his life's goal to find the culprit.

Who is the best prankster? Miles or Niles? You will have to decide for yourself.

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Whimsical Pick: Dragons at Crumbling Castle

Dragons at Crumbling Castle
by Terry Pratchett
2015 (first U.S. edition)
337 pages
ISBN: 9780544466593

Whimsical and amazing, Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a collection of fourteen short stories showcasing the mad wit of Sir Terry Pratchett at his fantastical best. Witches, wizards, dragons, princesses, kingdoms, plots and magic are afoot throughout.

Pratchett finds the magical  in the oddest, tiniest places: a dust mote or a carpet, for example.  Readers will be swept (pun intended) along for a fanciful ride. Frollicking with knights, dancing with princesses and brimming with possibilities this is one collection of stories that will be well-digested and loved by readers everywhere.

This collection of never before stories will resonate with fairy tale readers and gain a new following with young readers who have not discovered Pratchett's magic.

Highly, highly recommended for readers grade 4-up. Younger readers may not catch some subtle political and social nuances, but they are sure to enjoy the story anyway.

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Middle Grades Pick: Rhyme Schemer

Rhyme Schemer
by K.A. Holt
Chronicle Books
162 pages
ISBN: 9781452127002

This charming novel in verse is a great read aloud book; it will resonate with any reader who knows a bully and let's face it: everyone knows at least one bully.

Kevin Jamison is being bullied at home by his older brother. Kevin takes his anxiety and anger out on other kids at school. Everyone thinks Kevin is rich; both his mom and dad are doctors but there's five kids in all: Patrick, Paul, Philip, Petey and Kevin, the youngest and the only "K" name. He feels like a non-person in his family.

Kevin spends a lot of time in Principal Hartwick's office for various pranks and bullying incidents. Kevin thinks in rhymes, poems and rhyme schemes. To get back at the principal Kevin becomes "The Poetry Bandit." He rips pages from old books (from the library, oh, horror!) and circles words on the page to make a poem. He leaves his poetry/art hung up all over the school. The principal is not amused but can't pin it on Kevin (pun intended). Each time Kevin visits the principal's office, he composes an ode to the principal's ugly tie of the day. Each ode is hilarious.

The librarian sees potential in Kevin. She tells him about an open mic night and promises to take him if his parents will agree.

Petey is in a rock band but their band has no name and no song. Kevin keeps coming up with names for the band which he shares in his notebook. Later, Petey realizes Kevin's notebook has some good material for songs for his band.

As Kevin learns to embrace his poetry, he becomes empowered. Once his brother gives him a chance, Kevin shines.

Readers will love Kevin and his poetry antics.

Highly recommended for grade 5-up. Great for anti-bullying programs and class discussions.

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Monday, January 26, 2015

Middle School Pick: Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy

Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy
by Susan Vaught
Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster
240 pages
ISBN: 9781481422765

Available March 3, 2015

Delightful, quirky, poignant, honest, and heart-breaking, Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy captures the heart of a small Southern town with its cast of forlorn and headstrong characters. While considered a book for middle grades and up, much of the content deals with very real "adult" problems: mental illness, child abuse, drug abuse, murder, and arson.

Fontana (Footer) Davis and her besties Peavine and Angel live in Bugtussle, Mississippi. That's part of the joke. The other part is that their town is named after a real bug. Footer knows this because she does on English paper on the name of her town. Days before this  the Abrams farm burns to the ground. Mr. Abrams' body is found but the bodies of Cissy and Doc are not recovered. The police think the fire killed Mr. Abrams and that the kids may have been kidnapped by a serial killer. This doesn't make sense to Footer and her friends. They decide to solve the mystery on their own.

As Footer begins to snoop around, she feels like someone may be watching them and she's right. Someone wants to know just what the kids are finding out about the fire and the missing kids. Footer's mom may know something, too. Even though she suffers from bi-polar disorder, Footer's mom clearly knows something. Now Footer is afraid what secrets she might uncover. Will her meddling cause a rift in her family?

The truth turns out to be even more horrible than Footer could dream up. How will the town and this family recover from its secrets?

I loved the setting and the "Southern-ness" of this book. Having Southern roots, I could relate to the pace, the heat, and the downright syrup. When someone says, "Bless her heart," in the South, it's not meant to be a compliment or a prayer to God. It means that the person is their own kind of crazy. Luckily, in the South, crazy is celebrated! (Think "Steel Magnolias")

Recommended grade 6-up.

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fairy Tale Pick: Egg & Spoon

Egg & Spoon
by Gregory Maguire
475 pages
ISBN: 9780763672201

Read a sample chapter

Click here for a Discussion Guide

Times are tough for Russian peasants. No longer serfs, but not better off, the people of the Russian countryside are starving. Crops and animals are dying and there is nothing to eat. Elena's father died years ago, one brother is fighting in the war, and another brother has been kidnapped. Elena alone must try and find food and medicine to keep her ailing mother alive. The village is empty except for the old "doctor"--who is really a veterinarian, an old grandmother, Elena and her sick mother, and a few women with babies.

Russia is unfair with its wealth. The poor get sick, starve and die. The rich eat succulent meats and creamy pastries and wear silk and satin finery and travel to visit the Tsar's palace. Someday Elena vows, she will go to the Tsar and tell him of her starving village and her sick mother. Surely, he will help. After all, he is the Tsar, right?

One day after a terrible storm, a beautiful train arrives in the village. The depot has long been closed. Even the elderly barely remember when trains used to stop there. Elena is curious. What caused  this fine train to  stop in her dusty village and who so rich could afford such luxury? The village has never seen such a train. The engineer explains that the bridge has been washed out ahead and will take time to repair. Until then, the train is stuck. Elena is captivated and soon discovers a girl her  own age on board.

Through a twist of fate, Elena leaves on the train and Ekaterina finds herself left behind in Elena's squalid village. Elena realizes that the grown ups will mistake her for the rich heiress, so she decides to go with it. She wears Ekaterina's clothing and with the help of the governess, pretends to be the rich girl.

On her own adventure the real Ekaterina ventures away and into woods where magic abounds. It is here she meets the witch of lore: Baba Yaga.

Two girls switched by fate: one poor urchin off to the palace and one rich princess off to the woods. Who would you put your money on?

Egg & Spoon is well crafted and written with a keen eye for plot development. My main concern about this book is the cover. It's not what I would call eye-catching or eye-candy for young readers. This cover will not draw them in. The mere girth of the novel is another problem--tipping the scales at 475 pages, it is not a short read for middle grades. I have a feeling this book will win awards and be recognized for its craft, but it will not be popular with middle grade readers. For that, I am sorry. It's a great read that teachers and librarians are going to have to lead readers to.

Highly recommended grade 5-up. Good readers should not have a problem with this book. It is entertaining and well-written but lengthy.

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

High School Pick: Evil Librarian

Evil Librarian
by Michelle Knudsen
Candlewick Press
343 pages
ISBN: 9780763660383

Enticingly evil, freshly funny, winsomely wry, and eerily  entertaining, The Evil Librarian takes two of the must unlike characters--a librarian and a demon (hey, librarians are angels!)--and brings them forth as one new arrival at Central High School. Handsome and charismatic Mr. Gabriel (Gabriel is God's messenger angel in the Bible) appears out of nowhere one day but it only takes moments for student fall under his spell.

Cynthia's (Cyn's) best friend since childhood is totally gaga over the new librarian--seeming to walk around in a zombie-like daze. It takes a meeting with Mr. Gabriel for Cyn to realize something is wrong with their new librarian. She knows she has to save Annie from his clutches before it's too late.
Cyn is seemingly the only one immune to the evil charms of Mr. Gabriel; the trouble is--now he knows it.

As more and more students begin to walk around in the same zombie daze and when their principal has a heart attack and dies, Cyn decides that she must tell someone else. She turns to Ryan, a guy she has been crushing on. She realizes that she will probably sound like a crazy maniac but she must take the chance in order to save not only Annie but everyone in their school.

Although not totally convinced, Ryan has seen strange occurrences and agrees to enlist the help of an outsider. The two find a bookstore that houses a strange assortment of occult items. They get a quick lesson in demon capture and decide to take on Mr. Gabriel themselves.

Will Cyn and Ryan be able to stop Mr. Gabriel before he is too powerful to be banished? Will they be able to stop other demons from escaping into their school? Can they save Annie from the clutches of evil? Will Annie allow herself to be saved?

Weirdly rollicking on a sick thrill ride, Evil Librarian is great fun! Dastardly entertaining and enjoyable. YA readers will love this one!

Clever cover art depicts a library book complete with spine label and check out card pocket on the back cover. Librarians and library aficionados will laugh when they see the spine label. It says FICTION Central High School Library. Most libraries use F or FIC for fiction and all include the first three letters of the author's last name not the name of the school. How would anyone find this book in a real library?

Highly recommended for paranormal readers grade 9-up.  Some misbehavior and demon hunting.

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Picture Book Pick: Where's My Homework?

Where's My Homework?
by Michael Garland
Illustrations by the author
Cartwheel Books
32 pages
ISBN: 9780545436557

Michael Garland takes the oldest homework excuse/joke in the book and makes it funny again. When a young boy can't find his homework, he asks his sister if she's seen it. She says that maybe he didn't do it at all, but he knows he completed it but now he can't find it. He looks everywhere with the help of his faithful family dog.

After a search, he comes up with implausible excuses like maybe pirates plundered his homework or Martians could have abducted it. When he realizes his beloved dog Frumpy has actually eaten it, he does what any kid in his shoes would do! He takes the dog to school to explain to his teacher that his dog ate his homework. The teacher is unlikely to believe this old story, but Frumpy saves the day!

This is a silly, feel good book for kids with a sense of humor. Brilliant illustrations jump off each page. This color drenched picture book is astounding. I loved the oversize boy and dog on the back cover. Frumpy the dog is as loveable as he is adorable. I must say I've never seen a neater child's room. There is no clutter, no clothes on the floor, no toys, no books, only a notebook on the desk.

Highly recommended for young readers. This would be a fun read for pre-K and Kindergarten students who are just getting an idea of what school is all about and will be doing homework soon.

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Monday, January 12, 2015

Fiction Pick: The Honest Truth

The Honest Truth
by Dan Gemeinhart
Scholastic Press
240 pages
ISBN: 9780545665766

Available January 27, 2015

Honest, open, generous, inspirational  and deeply moving, The Honest Truth will stay with you long after you've turned the last page.

Mark is a deep thinker; he writes haiku, loves his dog, takes photos with  his old camera, and wants to climb a mountain. He has to climb that mountain if it's the last thing he does. And it might be because he's dying.

Mark leaves a note for his best friend in the form of haiku. Jess figures where Mark is going, but is too afraid to tell the adults. She wants to help her friend, but is keeping his secret really helping him or not?

Mark goes off with Beau, his faithful canine companion and best dog friend whose heart is bigger than his whole  body. Beau would follow Mark into battle and fight valiantly by his side, never wavering, never backing down. They will need each other to face the elements and troubles they will face.

I cried when I read the author's note to early readers and I didn't stop even after finishing this book. There is more than one kind of hero in the world--some of them have four legs. Be ready with a NEW box of tissues at your side when you open The Honest Truth--you'll need it.

Highly, highly recommended grade 5-up. Death and dying.

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Non-Fiction Pick: Undecided. Navigating Life and Learning After High School

Undecided. Navigating Life and Learning After High School
by Geniveve Morgan
Zest Books
247 pages, with resources, index and bibliography
ISBN: 9781936976324

Author Genevieve Morgan offers sound advice for anyone who is in high school or in the "gap years." Whether it's military service, volunteer work, an internship, a two year college, a four year college or the work force, Undecided will give young people much needed information about how to navigate the next few years of their lives.

Helpful and informative sidebars and tips are easy to spot in gray boxes. Readers will want to pay close attention to the information in these. Early chapters are about personality traits, being an introvert vs. extrovert and how to choose a career that will fit your personality. Money matters and the cost of a college education help students and parents plan for this drain on family finances. On-line courses may be taken by some students and preferred by many.

Maybe an internship or apprenticeship is the right idea, or studying abroad, or even opening up your own business. Whatever their choice is, soon-to-be twenty-somethings will gain insight from this new book.

A list of websites for resources is an invaluable addition.

Highly recommended grade 8-up. I would not give to a high school senior. Many of the decisions for college--what admission tests to take, how to finance college, how to apply for a loan or grant-- have to made before a student's senior year.

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Blog Tour and Book Giveaway: Model Undercover: New York

Model Undercover: New York
By Carina Axelsson
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
January 6, 2014
Book Info:
Axelle Anderson is an ace at two things: solving mysteries and modeling. So when the world’s most famous black diamond is stolen from a cover shoot in New York City, it’s no surprise that Axelle is called in to work her skills as an undercover model. But with a witness who won’t talk, a blackmailing thief, and an agent intent on filling Axelle’s schedule with interviews and photo shoots, will she be able to crack the case?
Carina Axelsson is a writer, illustrator, and former model. She grew up in California with her Swedish father and Mexican mother. After high school, Carina moved to New York City to model, then on to Paris where she published her first book. She currently lives in in the forests of Germany with four dogs and a very large aquarium full of fish.

Also by Carina Axelsson:
Model Undercover: Paris
Book Info: Axelle travels to Paris to find missing fashion designer Belle La Lune in another fabulous fashion mystery!
Book Giveaway:
Rafflecopter HTML (Open 1/6-1/31) – 1 Print Copy of Model Undercover New York

Monday, January 5, 2015

Gone Too Far and Guest Post

Gone Too Far
by Natalie D. Richards
Title: Gone Too Far
Author: Natalie D. Richards
ISBN: 9781402285547
Genre: Young Adult
Age Range: 14+

Keeping secrets ruined her life. But the truth might just kill her.

Piper Woods can't wait for the purgatory of senior year to end. She skirts the fringes of high school like a pro until the morning she finds a notebook with mutilated photographs and a list of student sins. She's sure the book is too gruesome to be true, until pretty, popular Stella dies after a sex-tape goes viral. Everyone's sure it's suicide, but Piper remembers Stella’s name from the book and begins to suspect something much worse.

Drowning in secrets she doesn’t want to keep, Piper’s fears are confirmed when she receives an anonymous text message daring her to make things right. All she needs to do is choose a name, the name of someone who deserves to be punished...

Ohioan and Double RWA Golden Heart Finalist NATALIE D. RICHARDS won her first writing competition in the second grade with her short story about Barbara Frances Bizzlefishes (who wouldn't dare do the dishes). After getting lost in a maze of cubicles, Natalie found her way back to storytelling, following the genre of her heart, teen fiction. Natalie lives in Ohio with her amazing husband, their three children, and a giant dust-mop who swears he’s the family dog.
Guest Post from the author:
Icky Clicky Cliques – or Why I Get Piper
By Natalie D. Richards

So here’s the weird truth. My schooling was a weird mix of everything. A little public, a little private, a little homeschooling…I tried it all and liked not very much of it. Homeschooling—very different those days—felt very lonely for my extroverted self, but traditional school (both public and private) had the whole social silliness that was equally annoying.
Thing is, as a teenager, I was so obsessed with finding myself I think I should have had a major in high school and it should have been navel-gazing. I hung out at coffee shops wearing very red lipstick and listening to angry, emotional music while I read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass over and over. (So help me, I had an underlined, highlighted copy. I still have it somewhere in my basement!) 

At any rate, my teen years were a desperate pursuit of self-discovery.
It was absurd. I was absurd.

And between my identity focus and my ever-changing school situation, I never found a particular slot that I filled in one specific group. I drifted through social circles at a variety of high schools my friends attended, bouncing around from goth groups to theater kids to book worms. I wasn’t unpopular, but I was often a black sheep, a weird seventeen year old convinced my maturity stretched years, maybe even decades, beyond my actual age. 

Like I said, absurd.

Thing is, Piper’s got a little bit of that in her too. She knows exactly who she is and what she wants. Her future isn’t just a dream, it’s a plan and she’s taking all the right steps to make it reality. Piper is many things I wish I was in high school, but she’s
still caught up with some of the same trappings because she’s convinced she’s above all those immature high school social games.

But the truth is, she’s perpetuating some of that childishness herself. Just the act of deciding she’s more mature than everyone else puts her in a clique of sorts. The seventeen-going-on-twenty-seven-year-olds. The we-think-we’re-above-this kids. 

We all end up in social groups, some that we choose and some we don’t. With very few exceptions, those groups inevitably consider themselves better than some other group out there. That’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s the same world all around us, but the view depends on where you’re standing.
Gone Too Far takes a hard look at social groups and the good and bad that can come out of them. It was hard for me to write, because I had to be brutally honest about my own past, and how that past continued to shade my perceptions. It wasn’t always fun, but in lots of ways, writing Gone Too Far opened my eyes to a whole new world. It was a journey and I was a traveler, sometimes just hanging on for the ride. Being a travel enthusiast himself, I like to think Walt Whitman would have approved. ;-)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Book Giveaway and Blog Tour: Hissy Fitz

Hissy Fitz
by Patrick Jennings

I have FIVE FREE copies up for grabs! For your chance to win, post a comment to the blog. Please include your first name, city, state and email contact. Deadline for posts is January 12 at noon MST. Winners are chosen randomly by Randomizer. Winners will be notified January 12 shortly after noon. Please check your email on that date. Winners have 24 hours to respond to my email. Books will ship from New York. Good luck and start posting! Pamela

out Hissy Fitz
Children’s Fiction: Ages 8-12
A moment ago, I was happily napping on the windowsill in the sunshine, dreaming I was flying through the air, catching sparrows in my claws.
Now I’m awake. Georgie woke me. I wouldn’t do that to her.
A popular middle-grade writer moves to chapter books (ages 7-9) with this humorous tale about a cat that makes Grumpy Cat seem cheerful. Perfect for fans of Geronimo Stilton and Dog Diaries.
Hissy Fitz lives with some two-legged creatures who are destined to serve him in every possible way and understand his every whim. Sadly, these creatures are sorely lacking in their skills. For one thing--they touch him when they want to touch him. Don't they know that the two-legged are there for him to touch when he wants to--meaning when he wants food? Petting wakes him up! They speak to him--don't they know the two-legged should be seen--so Hissy knows where to order food--and not heard! It's becoming intolerable. What is this irascible cat to do?
Hissy Fitz is now tweeting as @thehissyfitz – please follow him!
About Patrick Jennings
Patrick Jennings grew up in northwest Indiana with a bunch of siblings and a book in his hand. He moved to Bisbee, in southern Arizona, where he taught preschool, and later left the desert to live on the coast in Washington State. He travels to schools around the country, speaking to students and parents, and runs a creative writing group for middle-graders. Patrick lives with his daughter in Washington State. Visit his website, to learn more, or follow him on Twitter @pjenningswrites.