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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 www.stephaniekatestrohm.com 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.