"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

31 August 2018

The Strangers

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. The Strangers. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019.

Chess, Emma, and Finn come home from school to find their mother staring at her laptop, where there is a news recording of three children in Arizona who have been kidnapped. Three children who have the exact same first and middle names as they do and who share their birthdays. The next day their mother has to leave town for work, and the trio stumble into a mystery that has them looking for clues, breaking secret codes, and traveling to other worlds.

I remember reading and loving Haddix's Hidden Children series as well as her book Running Out of Time. I was very excited, then, to receive a digital ARC of this book to review. Similar to Haddix's other books, this book is filled with lots of action and adventure to help keep kids reading and turning the pages. Unlike many of her other works, though, this one has a rather slow build. There is a lot of explanation and a lot of description of the kids sitting around trying to figure things out. If you have read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you'll remember the 100+ pages when Harry and Hermione (and sometimes Ron) are camping - they move from place to place and keep trying to figure things out, but there isn't much action in that section of the book. It's the same in this book for the first 75% or so.

It's a very slow build up, which makes it quite different from many other of Haddix's shorter, compelling stories. Because of this, I wouldn't give this book to a reluctant or struggling reader, but I would give it to a child who enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time, and I would give it to a child who had read all of Haddix's other works and was looking for a new book to read. The story is interesting, but not compelling. It's a solid clean read, though, so keep it on your shelves for patrons who want books without violence or language.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: mild peril
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Book Scavenger, What We Found In the Sofa and How It Saved the World, A Wrinkle in Time

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

29 August 2018

Love & Other Curses

Ford, Michael Thomas. Love & Other Curses. HarperCollins, 2019.

Sam's family is under a curse. Every person in his family who falls in love before the age of 17 sees their loved one die. This has happened as far back as anyone in the family can remember. So of course Sam is trying to do everything to stay away from romance for at least a few more weeks. This shouldn't be a problem for the openly gay teen in a small coastal tourist town, until Tom comes into town. And with Tom comes a boatload of trouble for Sam.

There's a lot to unpack in this story. There is the idea of a generational curse, similar to that in Louis Sachar's Holes, along with Sam's family's belief in the supernatural. Additionally, Sam has been sneaking out to spend time at a gay bar (which he isn't legally old enough to do), and while there he spends most of his time backstage assisting the drag queens. On top of all of that, Sam finds out that Tom is transgender and Tom's family is not supportive, deadnaming him and using female pronouns in reference to him. Furthermore, Tom is straight, so even though Sam is attracted to him, it isn't reciprocated.

The overall story arc is interesting enough. Sam's supportive family is a wonderful relief to read about in contrast to Tom's family. The issues Tom has with his family - wearing makeup and feminine clothing around them and hearing them say that obviously he would like those things now that he's tried them, them making references to his need to grow his hair out and allowing him to spend time with Sam under the guise that they are dating - ring true as I am married to a transgender man and witnessed these very types of things when we were dating.

Sam's inability to use consistent pronouns with the drag queens is irritating beyond belief, especially once he is informed that female pronouns are always okay, but male pronouns are only okay when a queen is out of drag. That, combined, with Sam's consistent use of male pronouns for Tom make things weird when he's around the queens and changes pronouns mid-thought or mid-sentence. This is one of those sad books about transgender teens who don't get support at home, and Tom does not get his happily ever after ending, and indeed falls prey to the "transgender person must harm themselves or be attacked or something" plot line that is so overused. Apart from these flaws, the story is a good one.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: misgendering and deadnaming of Tom and the drag queens, drug use and alcohol use, Tom and Sam fight and through homophobic and transphobic slurs at each other.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Holes, Drag Teen, What If It's Us

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

27 August 2018

All the Things That Could Go Wrong

Foster, Stewart. All the Things that Could Go Wrong. Little, Brown BYR 2018.

Alex has OCD which is seriously affecting his ability to do his schoolwork and interact with his classmates. Dan's older brother has been incarcerated, and Dan's so angry about this that he attacks and bullies Alex. The two boys are forced to spend time together when their moms, who are friends, decide they could each use a friend.

Let's start with the characters before moving into a traditional review. Alex has OCD, but he is not on any medication or seeing a therapist with any regularity. His parents worry about the expense of a therapist, which is understandable, but Alex's OCD is problematic, causing him to be frequently late for school and damaging his hands and his school supplies from multiple washings. It also appears that his teachers are indifferent or ignorant of his condition.

Dan is set up as a secondary protagonist, and the reader is supposed to sympathize with him because his older brother is in juvenile detention for stealing a car and robbing a store. Dan bullies Alex because Dan hangs out with bullies at school, bullies who aren't really friends to him, either. While Dan is a fully fleshed-out character in this story, the other bullies - the Georges and Sophia - are just random evil flat characters.

The whole point of this book is clearly to make a person feel empathy for a bully and to understand that bullies have back stories and things going on in their lives that cause them to bully. However, the worst of the lot - Sophia - is not given a story. All we ever see her do is instigate trouble with Dan, with Alex, and with others.

All in all, this is an easy enough story to read, although I think that since Alex's OCD was diagnosed it would have been more realistic for him to have some more support for it, and the story's very didactic feel may turn off the very readers it was intended for. The two main characters are well-rounded, but all of the rest fade into the background, which only adds to the didactic feel of this story.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: lots of bullying - Alex has his head stuck in a toilet, for example, which is horrifying for a neurotypical person but traumatic for a person with OCD
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read Instead: You Go First, The Losers Club, Absolutely Almost

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

24 August 2018

The Meaning of Birds

Brown, Jaye Robin. The Meaning of Birds. HarperCollins, 2018.

Jess and Vivi were inseparable for more than two years. Jess felt like Vivi completed her, understood her, helped calm the rage of anger that so frequently spilled over before. But now Vivi is dead, and Jess isn't sure what to do anymore. Her rages and fights at school land her in an alternative school for a month; her mother is hoping she will use this time to work through her grief and find her own way.

This is a lovely book about grieving the loss of a loved one. It is not a happy book, but it is a good one and a necessary one, particularly because of the amazingly queer cast of characters. Jess is a lesbian; Vivi never self-identifies but reads as pansexual; Jess's best friend is asexual; a classmate at the alternative school is a straight guy who is dating a transgender girl and he takes a lot of flack for it but loves her anyway. Jess's grief reads as genuine. She spirals in and out of rages; she loses interest in her activities from before Vivi's death; she loses touch with her friends. Numerous people figure she should be "over it" by now, as if grief somehow has a deadline.

I also appreciated the discussion of alternative education opportunities - internships, etc. - for those who may not be interested in attending college. Jess becomes interested in blacksmithing, which is fascinating and different and not something you'd see at most traditional colleges or universities. With the student loan debt situation and job situation we have in this country, it's good to remind people that there are other ways to make a living and be an adult, and not all of them require fancy degrees.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: some language; some violence particularly on Jess's part; one character grabs Jess's crotch in order to determine what kind of genitalia she has; lots of underage drinking and recreational drug use
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: We Are Okay, Summer Bird Blue, You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

22 August 2018

The Lonely Dead

Henry, April. The Lonely Dead. Henry Holt & Co, 2018.

Adele can speak with the dead. Like her mother and grandmother before her, Adele can see and communicate with the dead when she is near the place their remains lie. Diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age, Adele has been taking medication to damper the voices of the dead. But recently she stopped taking her meds, and now her former best friend is speaking to her, right over the place where her body is buried. Soon the murder is discovered, the police are looking for someone to pin the crime on, and Adele is looking like the ideal suspect.

Anyone who enjoys shows like Supernatural or X-Files where people can speak to the dead, combined with shows like Criminal Minds or Bones where there are murder investigations, would enjoy this book. The ending was completely predictable in the way many suspense/thriller endings are, but that didn't make it any less enjoyable. This book focuses mainly on the action of the plot, and it is certainly a compelling story. There is not much world-building and not a ton of character development, but if you are looking for a fast-paced story, this is the one for you.

I can't speak to the use of schizophrenia as Adele's diagnosis, but I do hope some #ownvoices reviewers on Goodreads do address this issue. It is unsurprising that she was diagnosed, especially with the history of her mother and grandmother also speaking to the dead, but I don't know how an #ownvoices reviewer would see the way this issue was handled.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, attempted murder
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alike Authors: Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Nick Lake, Lucy Christopher

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

20 August 2018

The Bookshop Girl

Bishop, Sylvia. The Bookshop Girl. Peachtree Publishers, 2018.

Property Jones was abandoned in a bookshop when she was just five years old, and since then she has lived with the owners of the shop, who have raised her as their own. Their shop isn't doing well, until one day they discover that they have won a competition and stand to inherit The Great Montgomery Book Emporium! But with this new shop also comes a big mystery, and it's up to Property to get to the bottom of it.

This is a nice, clean read for middle grade students. I found the idea of a five year old being abandoned in a book shop, and then simply taken in by the family, a bit of a stretch (why didn't five year old Property know her name or who her parents were?), but the target audience for this book will not have a problem with that in the slightest. Otherwise, it's a fun, light mystery set in a bookshop and will appeal to many readers.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: None
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, Book Scavenger, The Mysterious Benedict Society

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

17 August 2018

The Darkdeep

Condie, Ally. The Darkdeep. Bloomsbury, 2018.

Nico's drone is sent into the mist in an area that is prohibited. Naturally, he follows it in, and accompanied by a couple of friends as well as a frenemy, Nico discovers a mysterious island where strange and scary things are happening. The group tries to uncover the secret of the darkdeep.

This is touted as Stranger Things for kids, and that's a fairly accurate description. This is scarier than Goosebumps, but not too scary to recommend to most tweens (10-12 year olds and older). There is little backstory and scanty character development, but both of those things are sacrificed for the sake of the spooky action, which is the focus in this story. The scary, paranormal phenomena will keep kids turning pages. Recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: bullying, "minor peril"
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

15 August 2018

The Witch Boy

Ostertag, Molly. The Witch Boy. Scholastic, 2017.

Aster is being raised to be a shape-shifter, along with all of the other boys in his family, but he is drawn time and again to the lessons in witchcraft the girls are learning. He is teased by the other boys for wanting to do girly things, and his elders caution him not to be like his grandfather, who was into witchery and was cursed. But when boys start mysteriously disappearing, it's up to Aster and his skills in witchcraft to get to the bottom of it.

I LOVED this story. From a graphic novel perspective, the panels are colorful and engaging, and the color palette perfectly matches the tone of each section of the story. It's just the right amount of scary for a tween audience. The story itself is very interesting, both in concept and in pacing. There is plenty of character development and just enough world building so the reader can follow the plot. This story, though, is mostly about Aster, a boy who wants to do girl things. In the end, his desire to do girl things is accepted rather than shunned, and he finds out some surprising things about his relatives along the way. His only friend outside the family has two dads, and that is mentioned in passing throughout the story because it is shown as perfectly normal (which it is). This is a great book to give to kids who enjoy the many Rick Riordan series, Harry Potter, or any other fantasy story involving magic. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: some mild fantasy violence; witchcraft (like, lighting candles and mixing potions and all that - if your family won't read Harry Potter, you won't want to read this, either)
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Iron Trial, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,

13 August 2018

After Zero

Collins, Christina. After Zero. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018.

Elise keeps tallies in her notebook - one tally mark for every one word spoken aloud. She tries her best to stay at zero every day. If she doesn't speak, then she won't make a mistake. If she doesn't speak, she won't embarrass herself or others. Ellie's silence, though, is affecting her life at school, and once her mom clues in to the fact that things are not as rosy as Ellie is making them seem, Ellie is faced with a family secret that may prove louder than her silence.

This is an #ownvoices story according to the author information in the back of the book, and I can only barely imagine the frustration of a child or teen who is dealing with selective mutism. I was glad that the author highlighted this very real struggle that some people are facing, as well as the difficulty some students have when transitioning out of a homeschool environment and into a public school. The ending isn't a Disney-esque rosy picture where everything wraps up perfectly, but it is satisfying. Well-developed characters and a measured plot make this an ideal middle grade story. Recommended.

Recommended for: middle grade, tweens
Red Flags: bullying
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Red Pencil, The One and Only Ivan, The Benefits of Being an Octopus

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

10 August 2018


Shusterman, Neal. Dry. Simon & Schuster BYR, 2018.

California's drought has continued for years now, and when neighboring states block access to the Colorado River, suddenly everyone's water is gone. No water from the tap. No toilets. No showers. And inevitably people begin panicking. The government and the talking heads on the news assure Californians that they will be fine, that help is on the way, but it is taking a very long time for that help to arrive, and in the meantime, this crisis is bringing out the worst in people.

I lived in California for three years near the beginning of the real drought, and this story is terrifying in how true it reads. I could see things developing in a manner very similar to what is described in this book, and all I can say is that this is exactly why I no longer live in California. This is a compelling page-turning story filled with plenty of action. I can highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy survival stories or dystopian tales that focus on the creation of the dystopia rather than the "tearing down the corrupt government" a la The Hunger Games. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, violence, a character is threatened with rape on at least one occasion
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Life As We Knew It, Ashfall, Hungry

08 August 2018

This Would Make a Good Story Someday

Levy, Dana Alison. This Would Make a Good Story Someday. Delacorte Press, 2017.

Sara is all set to spend her summer with her two best friends, who together have decided to reinvent themselves before middle school. Then she finds out that her family has won a cross-country train trip, so she, her moms, her older sister and sister's boyfriend, and her younger sister are going to be on a train for practically the entire summer. Moreover, one of Sara's moms is writing a book about their trip, and Sara does NOT want every silly or funny or embarrassing thing she says or does put in this book. With her summer ruined, Sara is ready to clam up and get through the entire train ride, but she didn't expect to find friends along the way.

This book is set in the same universe as the family Fletcher stories; this story is about Frog's friend Ladybug's family, even though the narrator is the middle daughter instead of the youngest. It is a cute and fun story with plenty of hilarious moments and some parts that are sad enough that you may wish to have tissues nearby. This is a great middle grade or tween road trip story and is worth adding to every library's collection.

Recommended for: tweens, middle grade
Red Flags: none come to mind. This is a clean read.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Someday Birds, Everything I Know About You, Book Scavenger

06 August 2018

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

"It is not a failure to readjust my sails to fit the waters I find myself in."

Lee, Mackenzi. The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018.

Felicity Montague wants to become a doctor. Unfortunately, no one will take her seriously because she's a woman. When she discovers a childhood friend is marrying her idol, she travels to the wedding so she can beg to become a student of the famous doctor. But all is not as it seems, and soon Felicity is traveling across the continent and into Africa in pursuit of a mysterious curative substance. But will the pirates keep their word, or will pirates be pirates?

Wow, there's so much in this book that I liked; I barely know where to start. Felicity is a serious-minded girl who enjoys science and medicine and studying. She doesn't have the best social skills, despises frilly things, and isn't really interested in marrying anyone. She turns down a proposal from a man and mostly turns down another one from a woman. From the discussion in the book, I would tag Felicity as either ace or graysexual. Felicity's brother is married (of a sort, of course that wasn't legal then) to his boyfriend from the previous book in this series. So, lots of exciting queer rep.

There's also a great discussion about Felicity's childhood friend, who adores frilly dresses and is the life of the party, but who also enjoys science and spends lots of time in the company of her pet dog. Felicity scoffs at her friend's enjoyment of pink and frills, but her friend insists that it's okay to like both, and indeed it is. There's a minor discussion of religious and cultural differences as Felicity finds herself, for the first time in her life, to be the minority both in gender and in ethnicity.

All in all, this is a fantastic adventure tale featuring strong female characters (not all of them cishet white women, either), and there's plenty to be enjoyed by any reader who likes adventure stories, pirates, or dragons. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Some discussion of addiction to an illicit substance; mild piratical violence; character uses "zounds" as a cuss word, so no real offensive language
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Etiquette & Espionage

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

03 August 2018

The Silver Mask

Black, Holly. The Silver Mask. Scholastic Press, 2017.

Callum Hunt, who carries within him the soul of the most evil mage ever, is in prison while the Magisterium tries to figure out what to do with him. Master Joseph wants to turn Callum loose in the hopes that he will complete the work Constantine started. Most of the Magisterium wants to keep Callum in prison for life or possibly execute him. Callum himself isn't sure what he wants; he's certain he's not the resurrected Constantine, but that's about the only thing he's sure of.

This book picks up where the third book left off, and leaves off at a cliffhanger which sets the stage for the fifth and final book in this series. The similarities between this series and the Harry Potter series make it an excellent read-alike for tweens who enjoyed Harry Potter. This may also be a good series to start a reader on if they think Rowling's books look a bit too long or overwhelming. This is a fast-paced story that keeps the reader turning pages, and while it is certainly helpful to have read the first three books in the series, I found that I could pick this one up and get back into the story even though it has been probably a year or more since I read the third book.

It is worth mentioning that this book goes further than Rowling did by having the Dumbledore-esque character actually be gay (or at least he's a man who is interested in men; it's possible that he is bi- or pan- or something else). It was only a brief mention in passing as the character spoke with Callum, but he did say that he was in love with a man at one point.

Bottom Line: The series is good, and it's very readable. It's not my favorite series of all time, but I could easily book talk these books to tweens and entice them to give them a try.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: fantasy violence (a mostly undescribed battle scene, a few deaths and near deaths)
Overall Rating; 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

01 August 2018

Forget Me Not

Terry. Ellie. Forget Me Not. Feiwel and Friends, 2017.

Calli is in 7th grade and has started at a new school eleven times. Her mom has a habit of hooking up with a guy, dating for a brief period, then having a messy breakup where she packs everything into the car and hauls Calli to a new town to start over again. Calli also has Tourette Syndrome, and she has been warned not to explain this to her new teachers or classmates. Jinsong is Calli's neighbor and he likes her - possibly as more than a friend - but he's also student body president and very popular, so he isn't sure how/if he can stand up for her when the inevitable teasing starts.

Calli's chapters are told in verse, which makes this book a pretty fast read, and that fits with Calli's personality because she is interested in space but is also artistic. Jinsong's internal struggle between standing up for Calli at school and hiding his interest in her reads true and is perfect for this age group, too. The fact that Calli's mom hasn't taken the time to understand her condition and insists that she could just "not do it" when her tics occur rings true as well. The author states in a note at the end that she also has Tourette Syndrome, so this is an #ownvoices novel. I could see this book appealing to kids who enjoyed Wonder and also to those who like reading novels in verse. This is a much-needed addition to most library collections.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: Calli is bullied quite a bit, mostly by the stereotypical Mean Girl in the story; it turns out this person also bullied Jinsong because of his ethnicity and that moment is described as well.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Wonder, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, Absolutely Almost