Category Archives: book review

International buddy road trip – Amazon style

wwoman warbringerLike the recent Wonder Woman movie, this book lets Diana Prince be Wonder Woman with no apologies.  She’s fast and strong and can whip that lasso around and deflect bullets, too.  So what?  She’s been training for this moment her whole life, even if she might not have realized it.

Instead of saving a downed pilot, she saves Alia Keralis, a rich girl who turns out to be a Warbringer, a modern relative of Helen of Troy.  In saving Alia, Diana has messed things up for a whole island of Amazons and possibly the world, too.

And this is where it gets really fun.  After landing in New York by mistake, Alia reconnects with her brother Jason, his friend Theo, and her bestie Nim.  A gala is destroyed by bombs and dudes with semi-automatic weapons, and Diana must do what she can to protect Alia long enough to get her to a place that can cleanse her of her Warbringer heritage and fast enough to beat a deadline.

If your road trips usually involve wealthy people jetting off to Greece, morphing into gods of panic, and fighting off lots of men in tactical gear in black vehicles, more power to you.  For those of us who live much quieter lives, we can still enjoy the chase, worry about possible betrayals, and be happy about the conclusion.

There’s just enough information about Greek history and myths to keep it interesting and moving along, without seeming like we’re going to be tested on everything at the end.  And Wonder Woman?  She’s awesome – smart, funny, strong, strategic, and even kind – just like we’d expect her to be.

Wonder Woman:  Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

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One architect, one activist, one strong man

I suppose that “architect, activist and strongman” could all work together in the right person.  However, today I’ve been reading nonfiction picture books about three very different people: Zaha Hadid, Jane Addams, and Eugen Sandow.

You might not think they’d have a lot in common, but all faced challenges from people who maybe thought they’d fit in better if they’d grow up and do something just a wee bit more “normal.”  Eugen Sandow, the strong man, grew up not so strong, with people who encouraged him to become a doctor.  He ran off with the circus before eventually becoming a bodybuilder, starting a gym, and working with people on nutritious eating. Jane Addams never seemed particularly interested in following society’s expectations for young women when she was young.  She was shocked by the conditions poor people lived in, founded Hull House, and later ruffled feathers by speaking out for peace during a war, also winning a Nobel Peace Prize.  Zaha Hadid loved to design things even as a child.  She left Iraq to study architecture and mathematics and eventually designed buildings (and shoes and furniture, too) inspired by patterns, shapes, nature, and whatever else sparked her interest.

Take a look.  There’s inspiration all around here.

The World is not a Rectangle:  a portrait of architect Zaha Hadid, Jeanette Winter

Dangerous Jane, Suzanne Slade and Alice Ratterree

Strong as Sandow, Don Tate

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Fortunately these are not Florian’s glory days

vanished-9781481436335_lgFlorian and Margaret work on “special projects” for the FBI.  They’re still in middle school, though, so they also have to do things like take algebra tests and survive lunch in a Hunger Games sort of cafeteria.  But they exist on two levels – being themselves completely with each other while living in disguise with the people they’re investigating.  Stuff happens to Florian; he’s just not cool, although he’s super smart.  Florian is one of those kids who will wait it out through middle school and high school, and then set his awesomeness free without a glance back later on.  Margaret is a little more able to deflect the slights of the queen bee and school bully in the moment.

It’s a fun read and a fast read.  There are little side plots bubbling along throughout the book, and they come together well in the end.  Kids who enjoy puzzles and mysteries will like this one, especially if they liked Framed! – the first in the series.

Vanished! – James Ponti

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The grim reaper does not ruin this party

denton little 2Denton Little was supposed to die in the last book, but he didn’t.  He doesn’t die in this one, either.

Surviving is complicated when there are government agencies interested in keeping the status quo, however.  There may be false identities, strange viruses, car chases, lies, secrets, a romance or two…

There’s some behavior that might be deemed inappropriate for younger readers (drug and alcohol use, sex, etc.) but if you can get past that, you’ll love this sweet, wild ride.  The voices of the characters are among the best-written I’ve come across in books for teens and/or young adults, because they’re so honest, quirky, sarcastic and funny.

A note:  If you haven’t read the first book, get it first.  You won’t find a lot of explanation and back story in this one, which I found refreshing but might be confusing if you’re trying to read it as a stand-alone.

Denton Little’s Still Not Dead by Lance Rubin (sequel to Denton Little’s Deathdate)

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“Sing, don’t cry, even if it is only in your soul”

singdontcryMy abuelo was not a cool musician who sang songs when he came to visit.  He was more of a pipe-smoking, western-reading, Wheel of Fortune kind of guy.  But I’m so glad Angela Dominguez had an abuelo who played the guitar and sang and knew the power of music.

Sing, Don’t Cry is a sweet picture book, highlighting the love of grandparents and grandchildren for each other, while also illustrating the power of the wisdom older people can pass on to younger ones.  Sure, when you’re a kid, you might not always remember to sing your way out of a crisis, but it’s a message that you could carry with you into your teen or adult years and be able to rediscover when you’re thinking about your abuelo or abuela and need a little boost.

Sing, Don’t Cry by Angela Dominguez

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Not for the faint of heart, definitely for the clever and daring

assassins curseBy the third book in a series, story lines sometimes wander a bit.  Either there’s just not enough personality in the lead character to keep things interesting or the story just becomes ridiculously complicated or unusually unbelievable.  You might think The Assassin’s Curse could fall under that umbrella, but Kevin Sands manages to keep everything moving along, even if there are a crazy number of conspiracies and puzzle clues and even royalty involved.  Heck, that’s what makes it so good!

Another thing about this one – it’s LONG, really long.  If I remember right, the second one in the series was also much longer than the average middle grade book, but it worked.  And so does this one.  Fortunately, I had a morning off and could read the last 200 pages in relative quiet.  There are a lot of characters and interesting tidbits about the Knights Templar and Paris to keep track of, after all.

If you missed the first two books, you might enjoy this one a bit more if you read them first, but I don’t think Christopher, Tom and Sally are characters you have to know in advance to follow what’s going on.  Set aside an afternoon, though, so you can really sink in and enjoy this one.  It’s a great escape and well worth any undone chores.

The Assassin’s Curse by Kevin Sands

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Power corrupts for young readers

4539e647-thelist-3d_0c70dk0c70di000001I love a good dystopian novel.  There’s something about worlds gone wrong that usually makes the one we’re in seem less awful. A friend currently reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood says it’s having the opposite effect on her, but I’m going to try to stay optimistic here.  Rock on, goodness!  Stay strong, light!

The List imagines a world where Noa, who has survived the chaos and ruin of the Earth’s human civilizations, has saved a group of people in a place called the Ark.  Is it creepy that this guy seems to think he knows what caused the ruin of the world and has to solve it all by himself?  Um, yes.  No democracy.  No choice.  Noa knows what’s best for everyone, and that might include some brutal behavior on his enforcers’ parts as well as some cruel and unusual punishment.

Letta goes along with a lot of Noa’s nonsense, because as apprentice to Benjamin the Wordsmith, she is a protector of words and will become someone important in the Ark.  The List, it turns out, is a list of the approved words – 500 of them or so.  All other words are forbidden, unless you are part of the ruling class, of course.

Being banished from the Ark could mean death—even if Noa’s enforcers don’t kill you—but Letta connects with some people living different lives outside and begins to see how different the world could be with more freedom.

It had kind of a slow start for me, but this would be great for fans of The Giver and other books by Lois Lowry, as well as those who love Lisa McMann’s The Unwanteds series.

The List by Patricia Forde

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When you’re scared of your underwear or losing your head or both

“Time passed and Bonaparte was so worried about school that his head fell off.”

Yikes.  But that happens if you’re a skeleton, I guess.  Fortunately, when you’ve got friends like Franky Stein and Mummicula, you’re probably likely to find a solution for your wandering bones.

And if you fear the dark or your glow-in-the-dark underpants, you can also problem-solve your way to peace and relaxation with a little time and thought and possibly a shovel.

Looking for funny Halloween books?  These might work.

Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown

Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler and Will Terry

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For all your Moby Dick picture book needs

mighty mobyI would have loved being a fly on the wall during the publishing meeting where this book was discussed.  Was this an easy sell, or did it take some convincing?  Was there really a need for a picture book about Moby Dick?

Perhaps not, but if you’ve got to have one, this is it.  Illustrated magnificently by Ed Young, and carrying snatches from Moby Dick, every page is a stunner.  To be honest, I like this version better than the original, which I must now admit I never read past the first three chapters and never plan to pick up again.  And the ending makes it more than a retelling of the original – I loved the wet feet on a bath mat – and almost makes me want to hear a sea chantey or follow up on the resources noted at the back.

Mighty Moby – Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young

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Jedi mind tricks and limited tragedy

superstarLester Musselbaum has a few struggles when he starts fifth grade.  He’s only been homeschooled up to now, so he doesn’t realize his awesomeness might not be seen as such by other kids.  He’s grieving–and his mom is grieving even more–the loss of his astronaut father.  He’s on the autism spectrum, although he doesn’t know it until later in the book.  He also has a name which seems tailor-made for bullies.  (As the book shows, we pretty much all have great names for bullies – they have an impressive creativity with words when they need to put someone down.  Unfortunately, this does not often carry over to most school subjects.)

Compared to a lot of books I’ve read and not written about lately, he’s got sunshine, butterflies, and free ice cream all summer.  Maybe this is why I liked Lester and not them.  Maybe it’s why when I thought, “This is not the book you’re looking for” after reading the inside flap, I was wrong.  I am so tired of middle grade books that pile on the tragedy.  (I have written about this. You can‘t just have one dead sibling; you have to lose at least two family members, have a sibling who’s got issues, and then find out you or your best friend are going to die or be disfigured while also fighting some other injustice.  I know.  I’m exaggerating.  I do that.)

Lester would probably appreciate the Star Wars reference, although Superman is more up his alley.  Lester tells the story and does a fine job of illustrating his world and the other characters in it without trying too hard.  He makes mistakes, a lot of them, and sometimes his words just aren’t going to be understood by others as you might mean things when you operate consistently from a scientific perspective.

This is a first novel from a Midwestern former teacher now living in the state to the north of us.  Yippee!  I can’t wait to see what’s next from her.

Superstar by Mandy Davis

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