Thursday, January 24, 2013

Liar and Spy

Georges (pronounced like George, the "s" is silent) is not happy to have moved into a new apartment.  He loved his old house, but when his dad got laid off the family had to downsize.  To make things worse, his mother who is a nurse is always at the hospital.

When he meets a kid named Safer and joins Spy Club, things start to get weird.  Safer is convinced that one of their neighbors is a murderer, and he enlists a reluctant Georges to help him spy.

At school, Georges is tormented by a group of bullies.  His strategy has been to ignore everything and try to float above life at school, but it's getting harder to do that as the bullying intensifies.

Rebecca Stead's new book is about finding safety and belonging.  Sometimes that means you have to face the truth.

I highly recommend this one!  It's a great story that doesn't reveal all it's secrets until the end.

The Second Life of Abigail Walker

Abigail Walker is a shy overweight girl whose friends push her around and whose parents constantly harass her about her weight.  She lives her life hiding her true self from the world until the day she discovers the fox in an abandoned field.

The fox bites Abigail in a gentle and friendly way one afternoon, and suddenly Abigail sees the world in a new way.  She finds the courage to stand up to her friends when she finally realizes they are medium girls living medium lives.  Even when they turn against her, Abby stands her ground.

She also begins to explore her world beyond the boundaries of her neighborhood.  She meets a new friend whose father suffers from PTSD, and and Abby becomes involved in the effort to help him heal.  As she begins to make new friends, she gains self confidence and learns more about the person she wants to be.

The fox is also a recurring character as an ancient creature who has been part of many stories throughout time.

The more I thought about Frances O'Roark Dowell's new book, the more I liked it.  Even with the magical element of the fox, Abby's story feels real and true.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Crown of Embers


Elisa is now back in Brisadulce trying to rule the people of Joya d'Arena, but there is unrest and intrigue everywhere she turns.  The people are wary of their young foreign queen, and nobles plot and jockey for power.  Her country is on the edge of war with Invierne, and she feels pressure to marry a powerful ally to solidify her position. 

Upon learning of the source of her Godstone's power, she sets off on a quest to discover it hoping will give her the strength she needs to lead her people.  Accompanied by familiar companions from the first book and a few new ones who may or may not be trustworthy, she faces magical and human peril every step of the way. 

At her side is the ever faithful Hector, captain of the guard and Elisa's personal protector.  She can no longer deny her growing love for this strong and devoted man, but her own fears and insecurities prevent her from being honest with him even when she dares to hope he might love her, too.  Besides, now that she is queen, Elisa must use her marriage to make a political alliance.  She has little hope of a future with the man she loves.

Read Rae Carson's heart-racing sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns; you won't be disappointed.  Now I'm just mad I have to wait until this fall for the third book!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2012 in Review

Here it friends, the summary of my reading life in 2012!  I know you've all been waiting with bated breath, so I'll put you out of your misery. :)

Total books read in 2012:  106

Break down by genre/category (No, this doesn't add up to 106, so don't hurt your brain trying to make it work.)

Mystery:  8

Fantasy:  24

Realistic Fiction:  20

Sports:  4

Humor:  6

Historical Fiction:  12

Adventure:  6

Science Fiction:  14

Horror:  3

Nonfiction:  6

Of those 106 books, I gave 35 five stars.  I think those are pretty good odds.  That means almost a third of the books I read were amazing!  I must be a good picker. :)

Here are my ten favorite middle grade/YA books for 2012.  They aren't in any particular order.  It's hard enough to get it down to ten!

If I've already reviewed the book on this blog, I will link the title to the original review.  Click on it to see what I thought when I first read the book and to get videos and links to author websites.  

Title:  The One and Only Ivan
Author:  Katherine Applegate
Genre:  Fantasy
Date Read:  October 12

If you are looking for a book with heart, look no further.  I loved this book because it's really about how love and compassion for others can motivate people (and animals) to do incredible things.  Based in part on a true story, Ivan will break your heart and put it back together again.

 Title:  UnWholly
Author:  Neal Shusterman
Genre:  Science Fiction
Date Read:  December 8

As much as I enjoyed Unwind, I loved this sequel even more!  This is a twisting and turning science fiction thrill ride.  This book is what I love about science fiction.  It allows the reader to see the world through an alternate reality that illuminates questions about our own existence and the way we live our lives.

Title:  Cinder
Author:  Marissa Meyer
Genre:  Science Fiction
Date Read:  January 15

Why do I love this book?  If you know anything about me, you know I am a fairy tale fanatic, and this seemed like an interesting concept:  Cinderella as a cyborg.  I started it because I though it was an interesting take on the ancient story, but the book quickly had me enthralled.  Aside from being a take on Cinderella, this is just a great story, and the Cinderella elements are woven quietly and expertly into the story.  Each time one popped up, it was like finding a treat.  I can't wait for book two!

Title:  A Monster Calls
Author:  Patrick Ness
Genre:  Fantasy/Horror
Date Read:  March 5

Though there is a monster in this story, an ancient ash tree that comes to life, the story is about monsters we don't want to face in our everyday lives and about the power of story.  The ink blot style illustrations contribute to the wonderful mood of this book.

Title:  Paintings From the Cave
Author:  Gary Paulsen
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Date Read:  March 16

This book looks at the real horrors a handful of children face.  I think what makes this book so good is the way Paulsen approaches the stories with compassion but not condescension and he never takes the fairy tale ending approach that often rears up in YA lit.  These are difficult stories about difficult lives that will break your heart.

Title:  The Cheshire Cheese Cat
Author:  Carmen Agra Deedy
Genre:  Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Date Read:  January 30

This book is simply a delight!  It's about an unlikely friendship between a mouse and a cat who has a dark secret (he loves cheese).  With charming illustrations and playful text that pounces and weaves around the page, this was an easy favorite.  And if that weren't enough, Charles Dickens is a character!

Title:  Inside Out and Back Again
Author Thanhha Lai
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Date Read:  June 28

This is a beautiful story of refugees and immigration and the pain of leaving a beloved home for a new and alien place that rarely seems better.  I really enjoyed this verse novel about a young Vietnamese girl who flees a communist invasion and finds herself in Alabama in the 1970's.

Title:  The Mighty Miss Malone
Author:  Christopher Paul Curtis
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Date Read:  May 15

Christopher Paul Curtis is a master of emotional connection and creating characters with personality and spark.  This is the story of Deza Malone and her family who get side tracked on the "road to wonderful" during the Depression.  As usual, I found myself laughing one minute and brokenhearted the next.  While the Great Depression may be long over, children struggling to thrive in poverty are all around us still.

Title:  Insignia
Author:  S.J. Kincaid
Genre:  Science Fiction
Date Read:  December 18

This book was shockingly good!  I knew it had good reviews and had been recommended by students, but I was blown away by how much I enjoyed it.  The science fiction was awesome (computers in your brain!), the characters and relationships were engaging, there were times when I laughed out loud, and I didn't have it all figured out by the end.  Smart and funny really are the perfect combination!

Title:  Shadow and Bone
Author:  Leigh Bardugo
Genre:  Fantasy
Date Read:  September 3

I'm a girl who appreciates a good old school fantasy with plenty of atmosphere and foreboding, so it's no surprise I loved this one.  The story and characters were great, but I think it's the setting in a pre-industrial Russia with lots of fur coats and frozen landscapes that really won me over!

Title:  The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, Son
Author:  Lois Lowry
Genre:  Science Fiction
Date Read:  October 18-December 12

I'm adding a bonus number eleven for Lois Lowry's Giver Series.  I reread all the books again this year to celebrate the release of the final installment.  It's great dystopia fiction, and I highly recommend the whole series.  Lowry's stories allow the reader to question humanity through the lens of fiction.

Okay, I know I said ten favorite, but I am going to cheat and a couple of nonfiction picks separately because I'm the boss of me and this blog and I decided I could do that.

Title:  How They Croaked
Author:  Georgia Bragg
Genre:  Nonfiction/Biography
Date Read:  September 9

I thoroughly enjoyed this delightfully disgusting collection of the deaths of famous historical figures.  It is entertaining, informative, and the book design is awesome!

Title:  They Called Themselves the KKK:  The Birth of an American Terrorist Organization
Author:  Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Genre:  Nonfiction/History
Date Read:  February 13

This straight forward account of the Ku Klux Klan is written in such a way that a person who knew nothing about the group or it's context could read the book and come away with an understanding of both.  It is a disturbing but necessary book for all of us.

Title:  Zombie Makers:  True Stories of Nature's Undead
Author:  Rebecca L. Johnson
Genre:  Nonfiction/Science
Date Read:  November 30

I keep saying I hate zombies, but this is the second zombie book I've enjoyed this year.  This book is disgusting and 100% true.  The text is wonderful and the pages are filled with large full color photos.  It won't take you long to read it, but you will be talking about for days!

Well, that's it.  I will stop myself here even though I feel guilty for leaving out so many great books.  Click on my Goodreads shelf on the right if you want to see some of my other five star books for 2012.  What do you think?  Were any of these your favorites, too?  Were you shocked and dismayed by any of my choices?  Please feel free to leave comments!

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Sixteen year old Elisa has spent her life feeling useless.  She is the shy and overweight younger daughter of a king who avoids the spotlight and soothes her insecurities with food.  There is one thing about her that makes her special; she bears the Godstone.  Only one person in a century is chosen to bear the bear the stone and perform an act of service.  But Elisa knows she isn't worthy and fears she will never fulfill her destiny.

Now she is marrying the king of a neighboring land, a man she's never met.  It's a political alliance, and she's never met her future husband.  With her marriage to the suave and handsome Alejandro, Elisa moves into a world of danger and confusion.  She's always been so certain about her place in the world, but now she is surrounded by new dangers and traitors at every corner.

There is an enemy at the gate ready to destroy everything in their way. The Inviernos are wild and savage, and they are led by animagi who burn villages and people with an unnatural fire.  How can Elisa be of any use against such a numerous and powerful enemy?

As Elisa transitions from a pampered and frightened princess into a bold and hardened warrior, she will deal with palace intrigues, rugged wilderness journeys, and forbidden love.  Rae Carson's debut novel is a wild and romantic fantasy in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Summer and Bird

What can I say about this book?  It's a new story, but it reads like an old world fairy tale with a modern update.  And if you know me, you know I love fairy tales! 

Summer and Bird live in an old cottage in the forest with their parents until the morning they awake to find their parents missing.  In their despair, they decide to go in search of them and quickly find themselves in Down.  In Up it was almost spring, but in Down it is still winter, and the two sisters are now grieving their parents and shivering with cold, but Down is a strange place in others ways.  Bird seems to be able to talk with the birds there, and Summer has strange visions.

In this moment of crisis, all their sisterly rivalries are strengthened, and Summer awakes one morning to find little sister, Bird, gone.  Now they are on separate paths that will lead them through dangers, revelations, anger, and guilt. 

Bird will continue on a quest to find her heart's desire where she will meet the evil Puppeteer who whispers lies mixed with truth to capture your heart.  She is the little sister always longing to prove her worth to show that she has ideas and plans to be free of her older sister's tyranny.  

Summer will continue in her search for her family racked by guilt over losing Bird and helped by many strange and wondrous creatures including a raven and old man.  She feels the frustration of the older sister always having to be responsible for a babyish girl who steals their mother's affection.

Like any good fairy tale, this is a story of transformation, difficult journeys, sacrifice, and love.  But like real fairy tales and real life, there are no completely happy endings, and we all have to pay for our mistakes.

This is Katherine Catmull's first book, and it is a true gem!

Game Changers

Ben McBain is the guy you want on your team!  He can be a star in any position, but he really wants to play quarter back.  For Ben it's not about being a star player (even though he is one); it's about being part of a team and being loyal to your friends.  Despite all this, he can't ever get his coach's attention.  No matter how great his tryout is, all they can see is his size.  Ben may have his dad's football skills, but he inherited his mother's size.

This year won't be any different now that his new coach also happens to be the father of the other guy trying out for quarter back.  Ben isn't really surprised when Shawn gets the quarter back position again even though his last season was really uneven.  After all, his dad is the coach and a former pro quarter back.  But Shawn has a bad attitude and holds himself apart from the team.

When Shawn chokes at the first few games, Ben's dreams of a winning season are challenged.  Despite his frustrations, Ben decides to help Shawn for the good of the team.  Ben may be loyal to Shawn and the team, but will be Shawn be loyal to Ben when it counts?  And will the Rams be able to pull off a winning season after all?

This is the first book in a new series by one of our favorite sports writers, Mike Lupica, so there will be more to come from Ben and his friends!