Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Orbiting Jupiter

Jack's new foster brother is Joseph.  Here's what he knows about Joseph:  he's thirteen years old, he's been in juvie, he tried to kill a teacher, and he has a daughter he's never met.

This information does not dissuade Jack or his parents, and they accept Joseph into their family and their daily routine of farm life in Maine.  Joseph is skittish after his experiences.  He's been abused by his father and has suffered untold punishments in reform school.  He doesn't like to be touched, and he keeps his back to the wall.

The first sign that Joseph is beginning to thaw is the quick relationship he develops with Rosie the cow who instantly loves him and prefers him over anyone else when it comes to milking.

Jack stands by his new foster brother even when things get difficult, and he becomes the first person to have Joseph's back.

Joseph's main goal is to meet his daughter, Jupiter, and though it seems impossible, Jack's family eventually agrees to help in this quest.

Gary Schmidt's new book is smaller and quieter than his previous stories, but it is full of nuance and emotion.  This is a heartbreaking book about a boy who is misjudged and abused at almost every turn and the possibilities of hope.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Penelope's first day at a new school goes horribly wrong when she trips in the hall and drops all her stuff.  But things get worse when some bullies tease her about being a nerder girlfriend because of the boy who stops to help her.  Without thinking she pushes Jamie away.  Now everything is just...awkward.

Penelope wants to apologize for being so mean to Jamie when he was just trying to help, but she's so shy she can't even bring herself to face him.  To make matters worse, she is in art club, and Jamie is in science clubs.  The two clubs have been rivals for years, and now that rivalry has come to a head.

Will Penelope ever be able to look Jamie in the eye?  Will all the fighting ruin the two clubs?  Sigh...life in middle school is just so...awkward.

This is a great graphic novel and a great read!  The story and characters feel true, and there are several laugh out loud moments.  Svetlana Chmakova's new book is destined to be popular.  Highly recommended, especially for Raina Telgemeier fans!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Adrienne doesn't really like being a princess.  She hates fancy clothes and dinners, and those stories about wimpy girls waiting to be rescued never appealed to her.  Now her father has locked her in a tower where she's supposed to wait patiently for a prince to save the day.

But no one seems to be able to manage the job.  When she finds a sword hidden under her bed, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  She tames the dragon who is supposed to be guarding her and sets off to rescue her other sisters who are also locked in towers.

First, she needs some armor, so she meets up with Bedelia who is part dwarf and all blacksmith.  Together the two girls set off to free the girls of the land.

I absolutely loved this graphic novel from page one!  I snort laughed when Adrienne complained about the princess in her book having pipe cleaner arms. Princeless pokes fun at classic male and female stereotypes with charm and vigor.  I've finished book one and two, and I can't wait for Adrienne's next adventure!

Paper Hearts

Meg Wiviott's novel in verse is based on a true story of friendship and survival during the holocaust.

Fania and Zlotka find themselves at Auschwitz concentration camp.  There is no reason for the Nazis to hate them--except that they are Jews.  The girls never met before coming to the camp, but once there they form an instant bond of friendship.

Through the dehumanizing efforts of the Nazis, the young women find courage and strength from each other and their small group of friends.  In a place without hope, without love, without family, these young women dare to find all three.

Everything is illegal in Auschwitz but especially paper, pencils, and scissors, but Fania's 20th birthday is coming, and her friends want to do something special, something small, something dangerous.  They steal supplies to make a birthday card in the shape of a heart and bound with fabric taken from their own clothes.

This true story shows that it is possible to have hope and friendship even in the darkest of times.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Con Academy

For his senior year, Will has conned his way into an elite prep school.  It's a far cry from his childhood years spent in Trenton, New Jersey, pulling cons with his parents.  Since his mother's death, his father has become nasty and unpredictable, and Will wants to separate himself from that life.

That's why he's at Connaughton Academy.  If a spin at this school doesn't open doors (or at least a few wallets), nothing will.  Everything seems to be going without a hitch until he meets fellow student and con artist Andrea.  She sees right through Will's "poor little orphan" sob story, and she's determined to get rid of him.

Thus the ultimate challenge is born.  The first one to con a fellow student out of $50,000 gets to stay.  The other has to leave.  Will has selected the perfect mark, Brandt Rush.  The guy is loaded and so full of himself as to be blinded by a carefully constructed lie.

The game is on, but as it progresses, Will starts to see things in a different light.  First, there's Gatsby the cute girl who is becoming his friend and maybe more.  But when Will involves his dad in the con, he's introduced an unpredictable element.

This was a really fun read, but I did feel frustrated with the bet structure.  The purpose of the game is to stay at school, but it quickly becomes obvious that neither of them will be able to stay  when it's over.  If you can overlook that, you'll enjoy Joe Schrieber's fun game of spy vs. spy!

Six of Crows

This is the first in the hotly anticipated new series from Leigh Bardugo.  As a fan of the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising), I was super excited about this book!  Plus, look at the cover!  It is awesome!

Six of Crows is set in the same world as the Grisha Trilogy not long after the events in Ruin and Rising; however, it is not necessary to read the first series to be immersed in this world.  These are completely separate characters.  That said, there are some fun little "Easter eggs" for those of us familiar with the events of the first series.

Six of Crows is the story of six teens who become part of a crew to pull off a "heist" for an epic payout that could change their lives.

Kaz is the leader of a gang and the mastermind of the mission.  He has a mission for being ruthless and a nickname to match.  Dirtyhands is famed for acting without compassion or remorse, and this cruelty combined with a wily intellect have taken him far in his young life.  But he won't be able to pull off this job alone.

The thief, the sharpshooter, the Heartrender, the spy, the runaway, and the convict.

These make up the team Kaz will take with him into the frozen lands to break into the most fortified stronghold in the world.  If they survive, their lives will change forever.  If they fail, they will be dead.

I loved this book!  I don't want to give too much away because part of the charm is the slow revelation of backstory and connection amongst the characters.  This is a must read for fantasy fans!  (grades 8 and up)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Baba Yaga's Assistant

Most kids would do anything to avoid a haunted forest and creepy witch who eats children.  Not Masha.  She has grown up with stories of Baba Yaga and all the children who tricked her.

So when her father announces he is going to remarry to a woman Masha's never met, she decides to run away and become Baba Yaga's assistant.  A child eating witch can't be worse than an evil stepmom and her horrible daughter, right?

Masha must use all the knowledge she has from grandmother's stories to outwit Baba Yaga, and a little bit of magical ability always comes in handy when you're dealing with a witch!

I really enjoyed this graphic novel from Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll.  Baba Yaga and her house on chicken legs has always been one of my favorite stories, and I love Masha who is wise enough to know Baba actually likes to be tricked.

Monday, January 4, 2016

2015 in Review!

So, I love the new format Goodreads is using for their year end stats!  It is both beautiful and informative.  Here is mine if you are curious. :)  At the end (School starts tomorrow.  It's still the end!) of each year, I like to take a little stroll down reading lane to review my year.  For the first part of this analysis, I'm including all books from picture books through books written for adults.

Total books read:  115

Total pages (Thank you, Goodreads!):  37,040

Five star books:  28

Four star books:  43

Three star books:  37

Two star books:  6

One star books:  0

Abandoned:  1

Adventure:  12

Fantasy:  30

Historical Fiction:  12

Horror:  6

Mystery:  17

Realistic Fiction:  18

Romance:  18

Science Fiction:  14

Sports:  2

Biography/Memoir:  8

History:  3

Technology:  1

Now for the really fun part!  Here are some of my favorite middle school books of the year!  If you want to see some of my other five star picks, click on the link to my Goodreads page.

My absolute favorite book of the year is this gem by Laura Amy Schlitz.  I just finished it over Christmas break, and what a treat it was!  Please, don't be put off by the cover.  You MUST read this book!  It is full of humor, voice, and intelligence.  Read it!

I feel like an evangelist, but this book is worth it.  You will be happier for meeting Joan Skaggs, a large and somewhat ignorant (but so intelligent) girl with an affinity for Jane Eyre!

What happens when a modern if nerdy Texas teen decides to take advice from a 1950's beauty queen on popularity?  Everything wonderful!  This book is delightful, thoughtful, and at time heartbreaking.  Popular navigates the social waters of middle school with surprising depth and skill.  A must read!

With a page taken from Freaky Friday, The Swap tells the stories of Jack and Ellie, two middle schoolers with some serious problems.  Jack is a great athlete,but he finds his father's militaristic training and parenting style almost impossible to bear.  He know he has to "be a man," but that is getting tougher every day.  Ellie's former best friend has suddenly turned her queen bully sights on her, and she feels abandoned and belittled.

This book is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking.  As a side note, I picked it up because it was popular with my students with no advertising from me.  That's usually a good sign!

If you've been reading this blog for long, you know I'm a huge fan of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, so Stitching Snow naturally appealed to me at first glance, but Lewis's world is darker and grittier with an epic sci-fi feel.

I read this book in one sitting because it is just so compelling.  Be warned, Disney's Evil Queen never thought to be as horrible as Essie's parents in this book! (Grades 8 and up)

This is a fantasy murder mystery with talking cats and a dash of female empowerment and even a bit of romance.  It's like Forster wrote it just for me!  Set in a fantasy version of ancient China with a dash of magic this is a lush world you won't want to leave! (Grades 8 and up)

This is a great story for all the animal lovers out there who know the power and healing that can come from a beloved pet.  It is the story of Tony, who has been neglected and abused, but when he is at his lowest point, he finds love, acceptance, family, and healing.

Stuart Gibbs is one of my favorite middle grade authors.  His books are the perfect blend of mystery, humor, and poop jokes!  Space Case was even better than I expected with a great twist at the end.

When Jack's aunt is kidnapped, he is warned to avoid the police, but he won't be alone.  Legendary film director and master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, just happens to be staying in the next hotel room.  Hitchcock proves a competent if reluctant detective, and this story is full of tongue in cheek humor and intrigue plus plenty of Easter eggs for Hitchcock fans!

This book was my first real introduction to the Romanov family, and it is fascinating exploration of royalty, the Russian class system, and political upheaval.  Fleming as effectively contrasts the daily life of royalty with that of the peasant class.  Highly recommended.

This evocative memoir in verse recounts Woodson's childhood in both rural South Carolina and in New York City.

Finally, here are a few sequels I read and enjoyed this year.

Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles concluded this year with Winter the long awaited sequel.  I love the series as a sci-fi and fairy tale fan, and this juicy conclusion weighing in at over 800 pages was the perfect fit for Christmas break.  I also recommend the companion novella, Fairest, which tells the story of Queen Levana.  (grades 8 and up for Fairest)

It's no secret I'm a huge fan of this Dickensian ghost series by Jonathan Stroud, and the third entry is no exception even if I did find myself yelling in frustration at the end.  I can't wait for the next one!

While not achieving the perfection of the first book, Crime is still an excellent book and continuation of The Winner's Kiss. This series is a blend of romance, politics, and morality. (grades 8 and up)

What are your favorites for 2015?

The Hired Girl

I LOVED this book!  It gets all the stars!

Joan is pretty certain her life is over.  It's 1911, and she is the only daughter of a poor farmer who sees no need for education and reading.  He sees fourteen year old Joan as a woman to do alone the woman's work of the farm--cooking and cleaning for her brutish father and brothers.

But Joan loves reading and school.  It was her dead mother's fondest wish that her daughter should get an education, become a teacher, and be the master of her own fate.  A smart girl like Joan would not have to marry a family and work herself to death.

When Joan sees an advertisement in the paper for a hired girl in the city, an idea begins to form.  Working for a family of strangers couldn't be any worse than working for her cruel father plus she would earn wages.  This sets off a conflict with her father so terrible Joan knows she must leave or else see all the days of her life as a an unloved servant to her father.

But she has little idea what to do when she actually arrives in Baltimore.  Where will she sleep?  How will she get a job?  A chance encounter in a moment of despair will change her life forever.  Joan, now known as Janet to conceal her identity, finds herself employed in the home of a wealthy Jewish merchant.  This is the first step on her road to progress, but little does she know the growing pains she will have to endure on her way to becoming a lady of refinement.

All these adventures she faithfully records in her diary, a gift from her former school teacher, and reading this book is like a visit with a best friend.  You both keep saying it's time to leave, but the hours continue to slip by while you enjoy one another's company.  Laura Amy Schlitz's new book is my favorite book I read in 2015.  It is just brimming with personality, humor, and voice as well as being an exploration of feminism, religion, education, and love.  Highly recommended!