Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds

Atheneum, 2017. 306 pages.
Starred Review

Will’s brother Shawn just got shot. And Will is sure he knows who did it.

And there are three rules Shawn taught him:

No crying, no matter what.

No snitching, no matter what.

If someone you love
gets killed,

find the person
who killed

them and
kill them.

So Will takes Shawn’s gun and sets out to kill the person who killed him.

He gets in the elevator on the 8th floor. And on each remaining floor someone new gets on… someone who’s dead.

The first dead person in the elevator is Buck – a brother even older than Shawn. He knew the Rules, too, and taught them to Shawn.

In fact most of the people who show up on this elevator lived by the Rules. The thing is: They’re dead now.

This is a novel in verse (and artistic, well-crafted verse), so it’s quick reading. It does pack a punch.

jasonwritesbooks.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Full of Fall, by April Pulley Sayre

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Full of Fall

by April Pulley Sayre

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2017. 40 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve got a new favorite Autumn storytime book.

Full of Fall tells about the changes in a forest in Autumn – with stunning photo illustrations and simple but not trite rhyming verse.

Here’s an example of the text for two spreads, with appropriately shaded brightly colored leaves under these words.

Hello, yellow.
Greetings, gold.
Oh – it’s orange!
Red, be bold.

The book begins with the start of fall as the leaves change –

One leaf,
Another leaf.
Colors surge.
Meet the trees!
Their shapes emerge.

(Had you ever noticed that when a forest of trees change to different colors, it’s now easier to see the shapes of individual trees?)

And ends with leaves fallen, on the forest floor, and geese flying overhead.

As with so many Autumn books, the last page foreshadows the coming of winter – with a photo of snow falling on colored leaves.

The text is simple enough for a baby storytime, but the photos and concepts are interesting enough for a preschool storytime.

The large photos make this book extraordinary – but the well-chosen words make it readable. There are two pages at the back that explain some of the science shown in the pictures, for use even with school age children.

AprilSayre.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Turtles All the Way Down

by John Green

Dutton Books (Penguin Random House), 2017. 286 pages.
Starred Review

At the start of this book, Aza’s best friend Daisy asks her a question that changes her life. “Didn’t you go to school with him?”

Aza asks who Daisy is talking about – and it’s Davis Pickett, the son of a billionaire. Aza and Davis went to “sad camp” together years before after Aza’s father died and Davis’s mother died. They were friends back then, but that was a long time ago.

Well, Davis’s father was about to be arrested for bribery, but the night before the raid, he disappeared. There’s a hundred thousand dollar reward for information leading to his return. Daisy is determined that Aza should revive that acquaintance so they can get the reward.

Aza does remember a motion-sensitive camera the family used to keep in the woods by the river. And Aza still has her canoe. It turns out that Davis was feeling lonely and might even be glad to see her.

That’s the outer story. But the inner story is laced all through with Aza’s obsessive thoughts about her health and about bacteria and about all the things that could kill you.

This is a well-written story of a girl with obsessive-compulsive disorder and what it means for her life and her friendships. And the outer story – the mystery of the missing billionaire and the budding romance with the billionaire’s son – is compelling and fascinating as well.

Now, I have to say that whenever I read a book by John Green, I hear John Green’s voice in my head, reading it. This is because I’ve watched many of his video blogs, so I’m used to hearing him talk. But it’s also because all of his characters talk like he does, using big words with quirky ideas and connections. However, I really enjoy listening to that kind of nerdy talk – so it works for me.

But I haven’t communicated how much this book pulls you in. Who knew that “hearing” obsessive-compulsive thoughts would be so compelling? You feel the frustration, the lack of control, along with Aza. I think what ripped me up most inside was when she gets a glimpse of how her friends see her.

But bottom line, this is a hopeful and uplifting book. Aza will overcome. So surely the reader can, too.

johngreenbooks.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Earthly Remains

by Donna Leon

Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017. 308 pages.
Starred Review

I have long meant to read a Donna Leon Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery. Her books are set in Venice – and who can help but love Venice? I finally got my hands on an advance reader copy – and I like to bring those on vacation – so I finally got one read, and think I will have to read some more.

I haven’t read any others, but I was quickly involved in this book. The Commissario gets himself in a situation where he’s given medical leave to take a vacation.

He goes out into the laguna to a villa of a family friend of his wife. He does daily rowing with the old caretaker, who it turns out was a friend of his father. But after some time together, rowing and caring for the old man’s bees – the old family friend turns up dead after a storm.

Guido is enough involved to want to figure out what happened. One thing leads to another….

I enjoyed this book very much. I expected Venice and got the laguna where I’ve never been – but the writing was wonderfully descriptive and atmospheric. But I loved the characters. Guido Brunetti has been around and understands people. I like his curiosity that won’t simply let this rest.

I will say I wasn’t completely happy with how things turned out. When I read a mystery, I expect to see justice done, and there was more than one instance that seemed to be coming up short. But – it’s all presented with Guido Brunetti’s pragmatic awareness of what can be done and his philosophical attitude about what people are really like. And it all makes for enjoyable reading. I think I’m going to be looking for the first book in this series and get some history with these characters whom I liked so much.

groveatlantic.com

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

Me and Marvin Gardens

by Amy Sarig King

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2017. 243 pages.
Starred Review

Obe Devlin has loved animals for a long time and looks for animal tracks down by the creek. The creek has been part of his family’s land for generations – but unfortunately they lost most of their land in his great-grandfather’s day. And recently, the farmers who replaced their family have sold the land to developers. But the Devlins still have the creek.

And then Obe discovers an animal no one’s ever seen before. It’s not a dog; it’s not a pig. It has a strange half-hoof. And it eats plastic! Maybe it’s a pollution solution! It’s slimy to touch, but it’s friendly and comes when Obe calls. He finds himself making friends with the animal – and Obe needed a friend, because his best friend has started playing with kids who have moved into the new houses and make fun of Obe.

Obe names the creature Marvin Gardens (his dad loves Monopoly). But then he discovers that Marvin’s poop is horribly foul smelling and apparently toxic. It’s brightly colored like the plastic Marvin eats, and turns grass brown and creates holes in the land. When some kids step in Marvin’s scat and it eats through their shoes and anything they walk on – there’s going to be trouble.

What should Obe do? Who can he trust? Will anyone believe him that he’s found a new species? And how can he protect Marvin if anyone else finds out about him?

This book is wonderfully written with lots of different pieces coming together. Obe’s family are characterized beautifully and realistically. We find out slowly what happened between Obe and his former best friend, and we see him develop a new friendship. We completely understand his worries about getting out to see Marvin, and why he’d be reluctant to tell anyone. Especially we see how Obe’s learning to be a scientist and an environmentalist, and how he’s just the right person to discover this new species and learn about it and protect it.

Here’s the part where Obe first sees the animal’s tracks:

I kept shining my flashlight around the bank. And then I saw the track. I was sitting right next to it.

If I was Bernadette, I would have just taken out my phone and snapped a picture of it, but I was eleven so I didn’t have a phone or even a decent camera. I tried to take a mental picture.

It had toes and a central pad, but also had a hoofed edge. It was part dog and part pig or something. It made no sense, this track. I tried to picture the foot that could have made it. I looked for others, and when there were no others, I figured someone must have been playing a joke on me. Tommy knew about my pocket guide to animal tracks. He was with me when I found my first beaver track downstream. That was the first day he called me Creek Boy.

CREWAHARKKKLTKELTH!

The noise made the hair on my arms and legs stand straight up. Maybe the hair everywhere. My heart beat fast and I thought it was Tommy and his friends because I didn’t believe stories about monsters or ghosts. But it wasn’t Tommy.

The animal was five feet from me, half in the creek, half on the bank.

It was definitely not a dog.

It was definitely not any animal I ever read about in Ms. G’s class or in any other class or in any book.

Big thanks to my co-worker Amanda for booktalking this book – I finally got around to reading it, and was very glad I did!

as-king.com
scholastic.com

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at an ALA conference.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Hello Goodbye Dog, by Maria Gianferrari, pictures by Patrice Barton

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Hello Goodbye Dog

by Maria Gianferrari
pictures by Patrice Barton

Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Hello Goodbye Dog is about Zara’s dog Moose, who loves Hellos and hates Goodbyes.

In fact, Moose hates Goodbye so much, he breaks out and follows Zara to school, where he gets a Hello!

Moose escapes more than once. Each time, Zara is able to get him calm and quiet by reading aloud to him. But then, he inevitably hears “Goodbye” and puts on the brakes. Each time, it takes progressively more people to get Moose to leave.

After an eventful day, where Moose finishes up by playing tag in the cafeteria when he hears the dreaded “Goodbye,” Zara has an idea. This is where the book won me over completely – Zara brings Moose to therapy dog school!

Moose becomes the Class Reading Dog and is now welcomed by all the people who tried to get him to leave before.

There’s an author’s note at the end about therapy dogs and read-to-the-dog programs.

But besides being good advertising for read-to-the-dog programs, this book tells a lovely story. The art shows Moose being so friendly and eager all along. There’s a progression and a lilt to the story, which will help beginning readers. I love that Zara’s in a wheelchair, and this isn’t commented on except to note that Moose is extra good with wheelchairs.

A nice story about a dog who loves Hellos, loves his girl, and loves to hear stories.

mariagianferrari.com
patricebarton.com
mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of All’s Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

All’s Faire in Middle School

by Victoria Jamieson

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 248 pages.
Starred Review

This graphic novel is every bit as delightful as the author’s earlier one, Roller Girl. In fact, I liked it a little better, since I’m more familiar with Renaissance faires than I am with roller derby.

Imogene and her family have always been involved in the Florida Renaissance Faire all her life. Her father is an actor who plays the evil lord of the dragons, and her mother runs a craft store. Impy has always been homeschooled at the faire, along with her annoying little brother – but now she’s ready to go to middle school.

The middle school part of the story doesn’t have any big surprises – making friends and figuring out how to fit in, tough teachers, and eventually Impy has to face some not-very-nice things she does to please the so-called friends. All that makes a delightful parallel to the Renaissance faire, where Impy has a more responsible role this year as an actual cast member – her father’s squire.

Of course, the two worlds intersect when the leader of the mean girls has her birthday party at the Renaissance faire.

I’ve read other books about homeschooled kids adjusting to school, but this one’s a graphic novel, so it’s extra colorful (literally), and all the Renaissance faire parts make for great images.

And make no mistake about it, starting middle school is a whole lot like going on a quest and fighting dragons.

victoriajamieson.com
penguin.com/kids

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Now, by Antoinette Portis

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Now

by Antoinette Portis

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve said before that some of the best sermons are found in children’s books. This book speaks loads about contentment and joy and living in the present.

Here’s how it begins:

This is my favorite breeze.

This is my favorite leaf.

This is my favorite hole
(this one)
because it is the one
I am digging.

And that’s how it continues. The simple yet beautiful pictures (I love the way she draws the breeze!) show a girl with light brown skin enjoying each favorite thing on a double-page spread.

The one variation is when her boat goes into the storm drain, and we read, “That was my favorite boat.” No sadness or crying, just enjoying this moment.

The book winds up like this:

And this is my favorite
now
because it is the one I am having

with you.

The final picture is of the girl in her mother’s lap reading a book, so there’s a nice self-referential element.

This book just makes me smile!

And the next time I go for a walk around my lake, I’m going to be saying things to myself like:
This is my favorite breeze.
That is my favorite flower.
That is my favorite bird….

What a lovely concept to share with children!

mackids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli

Friday, September 8th, 2017

The Upside of Unrequited

by Becky Albertalli

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2017. 340 pages.

This is a nice solid contemporary teen romance – or teen not-romance. I related to Molly, the protagonist, because I was all about unrequited crushes when I was 17.

Okay, maybe I didn’t have as many as Molly, who’s had crushes on 26 different guys. But I know the feeling of watching seemingly everyone else pair up, and wondering if it will ever be your turn.

The book starts out when Molly meets Mina, of all places, in the restroom at a club. Mina is exactly the type of girl who Molly’s twin sister Cassie falls for.

Sure enough, Cassie and Mina hit it off. But though Cassie has plenty of experience, she’s never had an actual girlfriend before. When it happens, Molly starts feeling left out.

And Cassie decides she’s going to get Molly a boyfriend. And she’s chosen Mina’s good friend Will, who is admittedly hot. But meanwhile, there’s this sweet geeky guy working at Molly’s new summer job. Cassie points out that while Molly has never been kissed, she’s also never been rejected. Maybe she needs to put herself out there? Cassie will make sure it happens!

This is all set during the summer of 2015, when the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal – and so Molly’s and Cassie’s two moms decide to get married. The family has a wedding to plan!

Like I said, I related to the plight of unrequited love. You don’t see it often enough in young adult books! Though my heart went out to Molly – because all of her friends were talking about sex – who had it and what it’s like, guys and girls both – just emphasizing that she seems to be the only one with no opportunity. It felt realistic for a modern teen – but I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that. So Dear Reader, be warned – this is a sweet teen romance, but there is a lot of talk about sex.

But this is indeed a sweet story. I loved the characters. I loved the joy of the girls’ moms when they could get married. (Living in Maryland, they drove past the White House to see it lit up with rainbow lights.) The twins had some other close friendships and I enjoyed the way those were portrayed, besides the pressure when everybody seems to have their own idea of who Molly should fall for.

And I do like the look at this question – Can anyone possibly fall for a girl whose own grandma calls her fat? Aren’t unrequited crushes much simpler?

beckyalbertalli.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of All the Way to Havana, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

All the Way to Havana

by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Mike Curato

Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2017. 36 pages.
Starred Review

I fell for this book because of the wonderful, lilting use of language and onomatopoiea. The story is of a boy and his family going for a drive to Havana.

We have a gift, and we have a cake,
and today we’re going to drive all the way
to the big city to see my new baby cousin
on his zero-year birthday!

But before they set out on their drive, they need to figure out why their old blue car isn’t making its usual noises: “cara cara cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck,” but instead sounds like “pio pio, pio pio, pfffft.”

Papá opens the trunk and lets me hand him
the heavy toolbox. Then he raises the hood
to show me all the rattling parts
that have been fixed with wire, tape,
and mixed-up scraps of dented metal.

The boy is involved in choosing tools and tinkering, twisting, and tightening – until “Cara Cara once again begins to sound like a chattering hen.”

The drive into town involves giving rides to neighbors – and a new set of noises. There’s a gorgeous and colorful spread as they come into town, driving on the curved road by the seawall, with many other old cars in all colors on the road along with them.

At the party, there fun and food with cousins, and then it’s time to come home again.

So we zoom and bump all the way back
to our little village, where we will soon
have a chance to
cara cara
taka taka
pio pio
clunk
sleep.

I love the Author’s Note at the back of the book. It adds depth to what is already such a lovely (for the eyes) and melodious (for the ears) story.

Due to a complex historical situation, many of the American cars on the island of Cuba are pre-1959 and so old that parts under the hood have been replaced many times, often with makeshift inventions. Despite more than half a century of poverty and hardship, the Cuban people remain so creative that they manage to keep machines of all sorts running long past the age when wealthier people would discard them. This simple poem about the island’s noisy old cars is intended as an expression of admiration for the everyday ingenuity of poor people everywhere who have to struggle, persevere, create, and invent on a daily basis, never losing hope. Undoubtedly, a boy like the one in this story would dream of modern cars and space-age inventions along with plans to keep his family’s antique car running smoothly.

margaritaengle.com
mikecurato.com
mackids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?