Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: The Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World's Worst Pirate

Review of The Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World's Worst Pirate by Tim Collins The Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World's Worst Pirate by Tim Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

[I received this as a digital advance reader copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]

Thomas is a young man traveling by merchant vessel with his parents in the 18th century. They are traveling to one of the Carribbean Islands where his father is to be the new Govenor. But Thomas does not want the aristocratic life of a politician's son. Instead, he fantasizes about being a pirate, singing bawdy songs, hunting for treasure, and living in total freedom.

When real pirates sieze their ship and force everyone to transfer to the sinking pirate ship, Thomas decides that this is his chance to be a pirate and hides down in the cargo hold instead of going with his parents. After he is discovered, the Captain decides to let him join their crew, and Thomas discovers that the pirate life is not at all like his romanticized fantasy!

This is a story told in the diary style that has been popular with middle-grade readers every since Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out. It is a quick and easy read, and is fairly entertaining, though the language and writing style sound very modern, rather than true to the 18th century setting. While I found that to be an annoyance, I don't think the intended audience would be bothered by it.

I did like that it portrayed pirate life to be hard, full of violence, and often meeting a gruesome death (but in an age-appropriate way), rather than overly romanticized as fun and adventurous. I also liked that there are snippets of factual information interspersed throughout the book, and then a great deal more factual and historical information about pirates at the end of othe book, as well as a glossary.

I would recommend this for ages 8 to 12, and for readers who enjoy diary-style novels as well as those who are interested in pirate stories, and anyone looking for a quick and easy, somewhat light-hearted read with a little adventure.

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review: Sidetracked

Review of Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[I received a digital advanced reader copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

This is a story of overcoming obstacles, friendship, and comraderie. Seventh-grader Joseph Friedman faces many challenges; he has ADD as well as sensory and anxiety issues, is small, skinny, and weak, and is often made fun of by the kids at school. He is amazed by Heather, the new girl who is tall, strong, and takes no crap from anyone. Joseph ends up joining the cross-country team, after his Resource Room teacher practically forces him to. But, Joseph is pleasantly surprised to find that not only is his teacher the coach, but that Heather is also on the team. And, other than Heather, most of the other kids are not particularly great athletes. They all begin to gel as a team, supporting and encouraging each other, and Joseph discovers he can do more than he ever thought possible.

I loved this book! I was not an athlete, but I find that I often enjoy sports-related books and movies. There is just something about the comraderie and pushing one's self physically and mentally, and everyone loves an underdog. While I was never an athlete myself, my kids did cross-country and track, and I worked many a cross-country meet as a parent and also helped coach the middle school track team, and this book gave a very realistic portrayal of what cross-country is like. It is generally an overlooked sport, and doesn't get the recognition and glory that football, basketball, and soccer do, but it is often a safe haven for those who may not be exceptional athletes, but are willing to train and try their best. Runners are generally very encouraging and supportive of each other, even if they are not on the same team, and the focus is on achieving a personal best for most runners.

The story moved along at a satisfying pace, and the characters were well-developed and realistic, not caricatures as they often seem in middle-grade books. I loved seeing the relationship Jospeh had with his grandfather, and the friendship that developed between him and Heather. Heather reminded me very much of my own daughter, who is also very athletic and tough, and I could totally see punching a bully in the face. I liked that the outcome was completely realistic. {Spoiler} Joseph did not become Mr. Popularity, or miraculously win a huge race, but he did form some new friendships, become stronger both physically and mentally, and learned not only to stand up for himself, but that he could do more than he thought. I think readers will be very satisfied with the ending.

I loved this book, and I think it could appeal to a fairly wide range of readers who might find it inspiring: those who feel like they don't quite fit in, those who enjoy sports stories, those who are runners themselves, those who can relate to or like to root for the underdog, and those who need a push to challenge themselves. I would recommend it for ages 10-14, and it should appeal to boys and girls equally. A great middle-school read!

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Review: Wishtree

Review of Wishtree by Applegate Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

[I received a digital advanced reader copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

This story is narrated by Red, a 216-year old oak tree in a residential neighborhood, who starts out telling the story of his life, the animals who reside in and around him, and about the curious custom that has developed, where on the 1st of May every year, people ties wishes to his branches. As the story evolves it comes to focus on the girl who lives in the house next to him, and takes on the broader issues of prejudice and intolerance.

I'm afraid I'm going to be one of the few dissenters who is not absolutely enthralled with this book and does not give it an overwhelmingly glowing review. I had a very hard time getting into the story at first, for a couple of reasons. To start with, the format was somewhat off-putting to me. I have read other books written in free verse that I really enjoyed, but this one seemed very choppy to me and did not flow well at all, particularly in the beginning. Rather than being led from one thought to the next, it was a struggle. Also the story really dragged in the beginning and did not really seem to hook the reader and draw them in early enough. In all honesty, I probably would not have finished if it was not by a well-known author and I did not know people would be asking it about it.

As the book progressed, it seemed to become more narrative in nature and became more interesting as the conflict was introduced, both the issues of intolerance towards Samar's family and the issue of whether Red would be cut down. Once the story really got going, I was much more interested and found it very enjoyable. While I enjoyed Red's storytelling, especially the story of Maeve and how he became a wishing tree, Bongo was easily my favorite character, with her banter and mischievous "deposits", as well as her tender-hearted gift-giving. While I tend to be a bit cynical and often suspicious about authors' true motives when they seem to be jumping on the latest social justice bandwagon, I must admit the ending did make me tear up (as well as laugh when Bongo gave someone a well-deserved "gift").

Many refer to this as book all children "must read", and while I have no doubt that it will be assigned in many a classroom this year as well as mentioned numerous times as a potential award-winner, I really wonder how many kids would really find it appealing and enjoy reading it? I think this is one of those children's books that is more appealing to adults than children. Adults will describe it as "beautiful" and "powerful", but I'm afraid many kids might describe it as "boring". I think the slow pace at the beginning would be an obstacle for many readers, though if they can get past it, I think they would find the rest of the story much more enjoyable as I did. Still, I think this book is best for those who don't need a lot of action and dialog to draw them in, and can appreciate something that is more "quiet" and thoughtful in nature, and especially those with an interest and appreciation for nature and relationships between people and nature. Recommended for ages 9-13.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: All Things New

All Things New All Things New by Lauren Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is the story of Jessa, a teen who suffers from severe anxiety and panic attacks. While she has learned to hide her anxiety much of the time, and the panic attacks have become less frequent, she really hasn't gotten "better". After discovering her boyfriend has been cheating on her at a party, Jessa leaves and ends up in a terrible car accident, leaving her as damaged on the outside as she is on the inside. In addition, she finds that she cannot form images in her mind, but she starts seeing injuries on other people's faces that aren't really there. She goes to live with her father for a fresh start and a change of scenery, where thanks to new friendships she slowly begins to heal and make sense of her strange symptoms.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I found the premise very interesting, and in some ways Iiked the story very much, but there were some issues. Jessa was a sympathetic character, but so much of the story was spent in her head, and seemed a bit cold and detached. For me this wasn't really a problem, but I think some readers would get bored and lose interest without a little more dialogue and emotional responses to liven it up. I loved the character of Marshall; he breathed some much needed life and levity into the story. Without giving too much away, I thought the way Jessa's hallucinations were explained in the end was good, but I personally felt the story got bogged down with the heavy religious awakening and imagery at the end, that didn't seem to fit the tone of the rest of the story. Also the ending seemed to be just a bit rushed, with a lot happening in a very short time, while the story prior to that had moved very slowly. I would prefer the pace to be evened out just a little more.

I would recommend this book to readers that do not need a lot of action and dialogue to hold their interest, and enjoy books that are more psychological, philosphical, and introspective in nature, that have a character working through issues and feelings, on an emotional journey rather than a physical one.

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Review: In Over Their Heads

Review of In Over Their Heads by Haddix In Over Their Heads by Margaret Peterson Haddix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't quite like this as much as the first book, but I think that's because I'm an adult, not the age it was intended for. I would probably give it a 3, but rated it 4 stars in looking at it from the perspective of its intended audience. And also because it takes place in Mammoth Cave, which is in my home state.

This continues the story of Under Their Skin, in which Eryn and Nick made the shocking discovery that all the adults and older children in the world are really sophisticated robots, including their parents. Not only that, but their step-siblings, Jackson and Ava, are robots as well, but built illegally by their parents and passed off as human. At the end of the first book, the extended family has taken refuge in Mammoth cave, where Nick makes a startling discovery. As the drama continues in the second book, the family is discovered by a local girl name Lida Mae who says her family has lived in and around the caves for generations. As the story continues, the children are constantly having to re-evaluate what the truth is and who they can trust, even within their own family.

I felt like this book dragged a little compared to the first and I got a little tired of the back-and-forth "robots are bad-robots are good" rhetoric, but overall I think there is enough action and suspense to hold a child's interest, especially someone who has a particular interest in robots. I would recommend this for ages 8-12, and for readers who like sci-fi, particularly those who are fans of Haddix's previous Shadow Children and Missing series.

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Review: Orphan Train Girl

Review of Orphan Train Girl Orphan Train Girl by Christina Baker Kline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, I enjoyed this book, though I did not realize it was an abridged version of a book first published for adults when I picked it up. I would have preferred to read the original version first in order to compare the two.

This story tells how the lives of two seemingly very different people happen to intersect. Vivian Daly is a somewhat wealthy, refined elderly woman who Molly assumes has had a relatively easy life and couldn't possibly understand her. Molly is a teenager who has bounced from one foster home to another, after her father's death caused her mother to become unable to care for her. Molly has become somewhat jaded, withdrawn, bitter, and slightly rebellious as a result.

But the two meet when circumstances result in Molly having to help Vivian go through all the stuff in her attack as a form of community service, and Molly is suprised to find that Vivian not only doesn't judge her like other people, she seems to actually understand her. Then a class project leads Molly to interview Vivian about her life, and Molly is surprised at what she hears. Rather than the boring, cushy life Molly assumed, she learns that Vivian sufferred through circumstances even worse than her own, and the two end up help each other.

This story is told through alternating points of view, Molly's in the present, and Viviane's in the past. At times I felt like it shifted back and forth a little too frequently, and I would have preferred to stay with each POV just a little longer, but overall it worked. Sometimes the story seemed a bit choppy, with events ending a little abruptly and pieces missing, which I realize is a result of it being edited down from a longer and more adult novel. From reading summaries and reviews of the original version, it is obvious that some of the more sordid events from both Molly and Vivian's lives have been sanitized for the children's version, and rightfully so, but I wish it had been done just a little more smoothly.

Despite these minor flaws, it is generally a well-told story and moves at a satisfying pace, and will provoke an emotional response. I think readers who enjoy stories with children dealing with and overcoming difficult circumstances and are open to historical fiction would enjoy this book, such as fans of The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, or Paper Things by Jennifer Jacobson .

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Review: Short

Review of Short Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'd give this a 3-1/2 if I could. This book was okay, but did not quite live up to my expectations. I had seen it on a couple of lists of recommended middle-grade books, and was on the waiting list at my local library for longer than I had expected, so I was really expecting to be "wow'd" by this book and find it to be a must-read.

However, this was not the case. It was an enjoyable enough read, though it did drag at the beginning, but you wouldn't be missing anything if you didn't read it. It might be helpful for a child who has issues with their own height or physical characteristics, as Julia learns not to let her height (or lack thereof) define her, and even embraces her shortness by the end of the book. I also think it might be helpful for a child who has trouble "reading" people and picking up on both verbal and non-verbal cues, because Julia often explains her actions as a result of picking up on such cues.

So, in short, it's good enough to read, but not great enough to be a must-read.

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Review: When We Collided

Review of When We Collided When We Collided by Emery Lord
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of a summer romance between two teens, Vivi and Jonah, but it is really so much more than that as both Vivi and Jonah are dealing with much bigger issues. Vivi has bipolar disorder, but has stopped taking her medication because she doesn't think she needs it anymore. Jonah is unaware of her diagnosis, but is confused, frustrated, and concerned by her increasingly impulsive and outrageous behavior as she begins to enter a manic phase. Jonah shoulders a great deal of responsibility for his 3 younger siblings after the recent and sudden death of his father led to his mother being unable to function due to grief and depression, which the family is trying to hide.

While I found Vivi to be a slightly less sypathetic character, she was the breathe of fresh air that Jonah's family needed, helping them rediscover what it was like to have fun, and to laugh. I loved Jonah's character, stepping up to help take care of his family, and could see why Vivi, and only child of a single parent, was drawn to them. Vivi's mother is a frustrating character at her hands-off parenting style considering Vivi's diagnosis and escalating behavior, and seems partly in denial as well as a bit self-centered. This story is fairly well-paced and has a satisifying ending with some resolution.

I would recommend this to those who enjoy teen romances that are slightly more edgy and also deal with serious issues, such as fans of books by Rainbow Rowell or John Greene, or specifically looking for fiction that has teen characters dealing with mental health issues.

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Review: Unbecoming

Review of Unbecoming Unbecoming by Jenny Downham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I highly recommend this book, which tells the stories of three generations of women in the same family, each with their own secrets. I think this book could appeal to many people because of the cross-generational content, and each character facing different challenges, making it highly relateable. Mary is struggling to hold on to her memories of her colorful past, and sacrifices that she made that her daughter never understood. Caroline struggles with caring for an elderly parent she barely knows and has always resented, as well as being a single mom to two teenagers, one with special needs (that are never really quite spelled out). Katie is the peacemaker, trying to mediate between her mother and grandmother while dealing with her confusion about her sexuality and fear of telling her mother.

This is a well-paced, but thoughtful story with multiple story- and time-lines that are very well integrated in a way that is easy to follow and enjoyable to read, not succumbing to the confusion that sometimes arises when this is attempted. I would recommend this for ages 15 and up; it is an excellent example of a successful YA-Adult crossover, and would be good for a mother-daughter book club. It would also be a good book to ease someone into LGTBQ themes, as this is only one part of the overall story.

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Slight Change of Plans

I recently decided to discontinue this blog and integrate the posts on youth programming into my other blog and do book reviews on Goodreads instead...

Well, only then did I discover that Goodreads has a setting that will automatically post reviews to a blog as well. I wish I had known that all along! In light of this discovery, I have decided to make use of this feature, so book reviews will continue to be published on this blog, via Goodreads, while youth programming and general commentary will be found at Adventures In Storytime (and Beyond), along with everything related to early literacy.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Time Has Come.... make some major changes.

I've been back and forth about this for the last year, and I've decided to semi-retire this blog, at least for the foreseeable future. With working on my MLIS and everything else going on in my life, I just do not have time (or enough content) for a second blog, and this blog has never attracted the readership that my storytime blog does.

So, I have decided to integrate the two on my "Adventures In Storytime" blog. That blog will still primarily focus on storytime and early literacy, because that is 80% of what my job is, but I will include my other programs and miscellaneous commentary. I probably will not include book reviews for middle-grade and older, but will likely start using Goodreads for those. I've had an account on there for a while, but really haven't used it much until now.

I will leave this blog up for anyone who still wants to access the existing content, and in case I decide to pick it back up later if the focus of my work changes significantly in the future. If time permits, I may start copying some of the content back to the storytime blog and/or Goodreads.

I hope you've found this blog helpful, and will continue to follow me on Adventures In Storytime, Facebook, and Goodreads

**NOTE: After I started using Goodreads, I discovered that there is a setting that will automatically post your review to a blog and/or Facebook (I wish I'd known that all along!), so I will make use of that feature and keep posting book reviews on here as well.