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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Book Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 2,310
26. Voyagers Giveaway


Voyagers: Project Alpha by D. J. McHale

About the Book: Earth is in danger! Without a renewable source of clean energy, our planet will be toast in less than a year. There are 6 essential elements that, when properly combined, create a new power source. But the elements are scattered throughout the galaxy. And only a spaceship piloted by children can reach it and return to Earth safely. First the ideal team of four 12-year-olds must be chosen, and then the first element must be retrieved. There is not a mistake to be made, or a moment to lose. The source is out there. Voyagers is blasting off in 3, 2, 1…


GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: I was thinking the other day about trends in middle grade lit and I realized that science fiction and stories set in space are becoming more popular. Add that to the multi-platform trend of middle grade books written by various authors (think 39 Clues, Spirit Animals) and you've got a winner. I know that I have an audience of readers ready to go crazy over Voyagers. I mean, what's more exciting than the idea that only kids can save the world and they have to go into space and have adventures in order to do so? In some ways, Voyagers could be likened to Star Trek for tweens if kids were sent on a mission. 

The books are action packed, part mystery, part science fiction, part adventure and they are lots of fun. The cast of characters is also diverse. I really love Piper, who is in a wheelchair, yet demonstrates that that won't stop her from traveling in space and being part of the team-she can do what everyone else can. (If you're a savvy reader, you'll figure out from the cover of book 1 who gets chosen for the mission, but there are still surprises along the way, so don't worry!) 

The additional elements on VoyagersHQ.com are engaging and fun. I love the videos of the possible candidates and the quiz-kids really get a chance to feel like they're part of the Voyagers mission. 

The series is fun and exciting and sure to be a hit with middle grade readers who are fascinated by space-and can also be a good intro into science fiction for young readers. 


Want to win The Voyagers Experience prize pack?




THE VOYAGERS EXPERIENCE prize pack
Get the full Voyagers experience! One (1) winner receives:
·         The first two books in the series;
·         Branded iPhone6 case and home GadgetGrip button to deck out your device while experiencing the Voyagers app.

Giveaway open to US addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Random House Children’s Books.

FIll out the form below to enter! One entry per person. Contest ends 11/22

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27. Burn by Paula Weston

Suddenly, Gaby remembers everything.

For a year she believe she was a backpacker chilling out in Pandanus Beach. Working at the library. Getting over the accident that killed her twin brother.

Then Rafa came to find her and Gaby discovered her true identity as Gabe: one of the Rephaim. Over a hundred years old. Half angel, half human, all demon-smiting badass and hopelessly attracted to the infuriating Rafa.

Now she knows who faked her memories, and how—and why it’s all hurtling towards a massive showdown between the forces of heaven and hell.

More importantly, she remembers why she’s spent the last ten years wanting to seriously damage Rafa.

Enjoyable, epic and vividly realised, Burn is a satisfying conclusion to the Rephaim series; a series which, I believe, has become stronger with every instalment. It takes well-worn concepts in paranormal fiction (there are a lot of fallen angels in YA) but still manages to offer a fresh perspective and solid mythology. I think the setting in particular is wonderful in this novel; it incorporates international locations while still having a distinctly Australian edge.

I have a little trouble reviewing paranormal fiction, largely due to the fact that I read a great deal more on the contemporary end of the spectrum and tend to prefer stories set in the real(er) world; I worry that I am not, perhaps, the ideal audience, due to my low tolerance level for melodramatic supernatural creatures and over-long series. I need not have worried this would be the case with Burn; this novel is fast-paced and melodrama is kept to a minimum. Nothing is excruciatingly drawn-out as I think can be a temptation for writers with series that feature extensive casts of characters with complex histories. The ending is hopeful, and though a bit sentimental for my tastes, it's a fitting conclusion.

If you enjoy paranormal YA/novels about fallen angels, and are looking for your new favourite series, this one is well worth checking out. (Now that the final novel has been published, there's no painful wait for the next instalment - nothing to stop you from binge-reading the entire series in one go, if you like.) If you read the first book in the Rephaim series and aren't sure whether to pick up the next, do. Burn is my favourite novel in the series; I especially loved the cinematic battle scenes toward the end. This is exactly the sort of paranormal YA I love, and I look forward to seeing what Paula Weston writes next.

Burn on the publisher's website.

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28. In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker

Three years ago, Alice's identical twin sister took a gun to school and killed seven innocent kids; now Alice wears the same face as a monster. She's struggling with her identity, and with life in the small Australian town where everyone was touched by the tragedy. Just as Alice thinks things can't get much worse, she encounters her sister on a deserted highway. But all is not what it seems, and Alice soon discovers that she has stepped into a different reality, a dream world, where she's trapped with the nightmares of everyone in the community. Here Alice is forced to confront the true impact of everything that happened the day her twin sister took a gun to school ... and to reveal her own secret to the boy who hates her most.

This is the weirdest book I have read all year and I have read some weird books this year (weird books are my favourite books). The majority of this novel occurs in a dreamscape. Literally. Not a metaphor. This dreamscape that Alice finds herself in fills, every night, with the nightmares of the people of her town. These appear in bubbles which, if popped, release nightmarish creatures and dream-versions of real people into the dream realm. I really love the concept (dream realms are my favourite realms) and the setting is vividly expressed. It's creepy and atmospheric and surreal.

I think what's really extraordinary about this novel is the way it so smoothly incorporates the bizarre and the realistic. It's both fantasy and contemporary; everything that happens in the dreamscape is inextricably linked to Alice's real life tragedy. I think writing about youth and crime requires a bit of gumption; it's so easy to mishandle or accidentally glorify terrible things in fiction, seeing as so much of the experience of a novel is dependent on the reader. I don't believe that people who write for teenagers have some sort of duty to protect or educate children, and I think any story that is agenda-driven is bound to fail, but glorifying violence is never a good look. In the Skin of a Monster features a protagonist whose twin committed a mass murder, and is predominantly about how Alice (and other people affected) comes to terms with this; considering the profoundly difficult subject matter, I think the themes of grief and loss and trauma are all explored frankly but still tactfully. I had a few little niggles with plot points that didn't quite ring true to me, but ultimately I was impressed; an awesome concept, really well-executed. It definitely offers something different, and that's a very welcome addition to YA fiction, in my opinion.

It's surprising and engaging and original. It's a dark novel, but there's still a hint of hopefulness at the end (I wasn't too depressed after I finished reading). One for older YA readers. Definitely worth a look if you enjoy both fantasy and contemporary YA.

In the Skin of a Monster on the publisher's website.

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29. Orbiting Jupiter

I read Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt the other night.  I could NOT put it down.  The pages turned themselves.  Then I got to the end.  And threw the book across the room.

I can't tell you much about the book, really.  The advance press tells you all you need to know about the story. 

 There is this.  Married to a caseworker who spent most of his working life in Children and Youth,  I hate books with social workers in them, because most social workers are portrayed as uncaring.  The social worker in THIS book is freaking awesome.  Really, she's wonderful.  Thank you for that, Gary D. Schmidt.

Foster parents also get a bad rap.  These foster parents are so wonderful.  Thanks again, Mr. Schmidt.

Indeed, there is so much about this book that I loved.  I still threw it across the room.  Read it please and tell me if you agree I had the right to do that.


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30. Review: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick absolutely wrapped around my heart and turned me into a snowcone of happiness and sprinkles. It successfully kidnapped my attention and held it! And I am so impressed right now, because usually I’m a contemporary snob, but My Life Next Door ticked all the boxes of awesome. It had a checklist of my […]

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31. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

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About the Book: After an accident leaves Samantha homeless and fatherless, she's not sure what to do. It's Missouri, 1849 and her dreams of being a musician are not going to be easy-she's a girl and she's Chinese American. Without a place to go, she's invited to a local hotel run by her landlord. But he has other plans for Samantha in mind-namely working in his brothel. Samantha fights back and finds herself needing to escape and fearing for her life. She meets a slave who works at the hotel named Annamae, who is also planning to run. So together they disguise themselves as boys and set off on the Oregon Trail to find Annamae's brother and and a new life for Samantha. As Sammy and Andy, they meet up with a group of cowboys who become unexpected allies. But if they knew the truth, the group could be in trouble-Annamae and Samantha are both wanted by the law. A powerful story of friendship and family.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: Who knew the world needed a YA Western? It's not a genre I get asked about regularly (although here in Missouri I do get asked this question once in awhile). Stacey Lee knew we needed an amazing girl powered YA Western featuring a diverse cast of characters and lots of keep you up reading adventure-and I'm so glad she did!

At first glance, Under A Painted Sky might be a hard sell to readers. Like I said, it's not every day I get asked for the western genre or even historical fiction. But there's one way to sell this book-have readers just open it up and read the first chapter-or even the first two chapters. The book starts with such a bang and within just a few pages, our main characters have met up and are off on the trail. There's not much waiting around for the adventure to start-it's there from page one. And it never stops. Each chapter brings a new setback on the trail, a new hardship, a new adventure, a new crisis to overcome. The details of trail life are hard and brutal (and eye-opening for readers who might be very familiar with this period in history) But it's not all dreary. There is lots of humor injected into the story as well. I love Annamae and her various quips and the cowboys can be a jovial bunch.

The thing I loved most about Under a Painted Sky, aside from how fast paced the plot is, is how diverse the cast is. Sammy and Andy meet up with cowboys who are from Texas and one of the cowboys, Petey, is from Mexico. Along the trail they meet up with people who have come from all over-a group from France, a gang of boys from Scotland. I listened to this book on audio and this is where I really fell in love with the audio-the narrator does an excellent job with all the various languages and accents.

I will admit that Sammy is a bit too perfect at times. She has overcome a lot of odds in a society that is against her and while that makes her a strong character, it also felt a bit too perfect. She can speak many languages so she can translate along the trail, she can play the fiddle (mostly seen as a man's instrument), she is well educated. I liked that she fought against expectations, but at times it felt a bit too much for the novel overall. Sammy could always save the day.

The friendship that develops between Andy and Sammy is the strongest relationship overall. They develop a strong and powerful bond and it's a beautiful picture of female friendship. They have been through something very hard and it's not going to get easier from here-the road ahead of them is still full of many trials and tribulations. Yet through it all they grow close to each other and find family in each other. I loved seeing two strong female characters in this book and I enjoyed reading about both of them.

The cowboys-Petey, West, and Cay-add another element to the novel both of drama and fun. Cay is the most lighthearted-always joking, flirting with various girls they might meet up with, and having fun along the way. Petey and West are more serious with West having the most difficult background and prejudices to overcome. His story is handled deftly. Sammy develops feelings for West, but as she's keeping her true identity a secret from the boys, the romance isn't very angsty. And since they have bigger things to deal with-like surviving-there's not much dwelling on the idea of a starcrossed romance. There is still romance in the book, but it's not the main plot point and I felt that it was well done and added a nice depth to the novel without feeling out of place. The focus is on Andy and Sammy, their friendship and the overall trip to California.

I absolutely loved this book. I've been suggesting to everyone and couldn't stop talking about it after I read it. I even got Mr. GreenBeanSexyMan to read it (which is huge!) and he enjoyed it. (He loved that there wasn't much angst in it as well) I would recommend it on audio, as the narrator does a wonderful job, but reading it is just as enjoyable-I couldn't wait to get through the last disc and finished the last 80 pages by reading it myself. I can't wait to see what Stacey Lee has in store for us next-I'm sure it will be wonderful! Even if you think you don't need a YA Western, give Under A Painted Sky a try-you might be surprised to discover a book in a genre you never knew you enjoyed.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from audiobook checked out from my library and finished book received from publisher


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32. The Cut Out by Jack Heath

Fero isn't a spy.

But he looks exactly like someone who is: Troy Maschenov - a ruthless enemy agent.

But what starts as a case of mistaken identity quickly turns into a complicated and dangerous plan. Fero is recruited to fight for his country. He will have to impersonate Troy, enter enemy territory, hunt down a missing agent and bring her home in time to prevent a devastating terror attack.

Fero is in way over his head. Hastily trained, loaded up with gadgets and smuggled across the border, he discovers the truth about espionage.

Getting in is easy. Getting out alive is hard.

The Cut Out is set in Besmar and Kamau, two small countries wedged between Ukraine and Russia. I was not 100% sure that these were fictional countries, so I may have scrolled around on Google Maps for a bit, thinking perhaps there's some basis in reality. Which I think speaks highly of the attention to detail and authenticity when it came to the setting. Either that, or my total inability to distinguish between fiction and reality. It requires some suspension of disbelief to buy that a fourteen-year-old who has been picked up off the street would be sent off on a secretive mission within a matter of hours, even in a foreign (and fictional) country; it becomes clear why this occurs at a later point, but in the meantime I was very concerned for Fero's welfare. Maybe I'm getting old.

While it's fast-paced and action-packed and all those adjectives an adventure novel for young people should be, I think it also explores themes that are relevant in the real world with quite a lot of nuance and subtlety - like how conflicts change depending on your perspective, and how information is manipulated by the media (I was reminded of 1984, and how the country they were at war with, and had always been at war with, changed on a regular basis). Having read Jack Heath's novels since 2008, I think it's clear how much he has developed as a writer - even though he continues to write in the same genre, there's nothing stagnant about his work. I think it can be a risk in any genre for certain writers, once finding success, to keep producing the same novel every year; that's not the case here.

I think a lot of kids go through a phase of wanting to be a spy - as a ten-year-old I loved the Max Remy: Superspy series (I met Deb Abela, the author, when I was fifteen, and I almost fainted), and was obsessed with spies and codes and eavesdropping. The Cut Out would especially appeal to these readers. It has some very intense scenes, so I'd recommend it for upper primary readers and up; I think my twelve-year-old self would probably enjoy it most, but it depends on the reader. It certainly appeals to me as a twenty-one-year-old reader, too.

I'm very much looking forward to the sequel to The Cut Out, and seeing where Fero's story goes next. Mainly I hope there's more twists. The twists are the best part.

The Cut Out on the publisher's website.

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33. Review: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Fans of the Impossible Life is an exceptionally magnificent YA contemporary and I AM SO HAPPY! I felt totally caught up in this book. I wanted to laugh and cry and maybe howl (because heartbreak) and I definitely ended up craving pizza. I am a fan of this book. (Get it?! Fan…because…okay, never mind.)   ABOUT THE BOOK: Fans […]

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34. Another Day by David Levithan

Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin. She’s even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

But one morning everything changes. Justin wants to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning.

Confused, depressed and desperate for another great day, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Until a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with—the one who made her feel like a real person—wasn’t Justin at all.

Another Day is a companion novel to Every Day, which I loved, and features the same events told from the perspective of love interest Rhiannon. You can read Another Day even if you haven't read Every Day, in fact, I think you should read Another Day first.

Basically it's about a person, A, who wakes up every day in a different body, who falls in love with a normal human being, Rhiannon. Which is problematic. It's a compelling concept but A's perspective is naturally the more interesting one, seeing as Rhiannon is consistently the same person. And a person who is frustrating in her inability to stand up for herself, even if she does seem like an accurate reflection of a real sixteen-year-old. She's likeable, but she never really seems to be in charge of her own story, instead having her life controlled either by her boyfriend Justin, or by mysterious (ghosty?) A; I would've preferred a story where she realised she was perfectly okay on her own, without a boy, or a genderless spirit, having to love and validate her. But that's just the sort of story I would like, and what the story actually is is still engaging. It evokes obsessive teenage romance very well. It's certainly very readable, conversational in tone while still being well-written.

Rhiannon is a well-developed character in her own right; this isn't a shameless money-grab Fifty Shades of Grey as-told-by what's-his-name or gender-flipped Twilight, but an engaging story in it's own right, offering a different perspective of the events. It explores gender and sexual orientation in a really interesting way; things that couldn't, to the same degree, be explored from A's perspective. It's definitely worth reading, and it functions wonderfully as contemporary YA with a paranormal twist, but it pales a little next to Every Day, which I thought was a real stand-out. The story I really wanted to read was what happens after the end of Every Day, rather than the same events from Rhiannon's perspective... fortunately that sequel is going to be published.

That said, this is an enjoyable novel with an authentic teenage voice, and it's pretty tricky to stop reading it. I'd recommend it to fans of both contemporary YA and paranormal YA; it combines the two wonderfully. The concept is brilliant. If you liked Every Day, you'll like this, and vice versa. And I really, really want to know what happens next.

Another Day on the publisher's website.

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35. Review: This Shattered World (Starbound #2) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Since I recently reviewed These Broken Stars in all its incredible starry glory, I feel like we need a follow-up review of the sequel: This Shattered World! Because these books are EXCELLENT. And the third book (Their Fractured Light) comes out in December! SO SOON. I am anticipating it greatly by flailing and also planning […]

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36. THE SCORPION RULES by Erin Bow (Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster)

I've been a fan of dystopian YA long before it became a trend, and confess I had been turned off the genre because of so many jumping on the bandwagon. THE SCORPION RULES by Erin Bow (Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster) however, has such original and multi-layered world-building plus I find the main antagonist (Talis) so fascinating that I can't WAIT for the next book in the series. THE SCORPION RULES is a breath of fresh air for fans of dystopian YA.

Find out more about the book on the Simon & Schuster website and on Erin Bow's website.

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37. Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

I had no idea what to expect when I read These Broken Stars (co-authored by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner) because I don’t read a lot of sci-fi. But WOW OH WOW. It was just incredible. It was exciting and sassy and flawless. I constantly hear it pitched as “The Titanic In Space” and basically […]

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38. Reading Journal: ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson

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39. Book Review: Next Move, You're Dead (The Next Move, You're Dead Trilogy Book 1) by Linda L. Barton

Description from Amazon Homicide Detective John Cooper has always followed the evidence to solve any case; that is until a mysterious caller begins to make him question that evidence. With the murder...

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40. Book Review: The Job by Craig Davis

Description from Amazon Joe B. enjoys the sweet life as a vice president at a huge conglomerate, Universal Whirligig. But along with the Big Boss' favor, he has also gained the notice of a bitter...

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41. Book Review: Jabberwocky by Daniel Coleman

Description from Amazon How can a boy succeed where an army has failed? Tjaden, a young man who aspires to be an Elite soldier, blames himself when Elora’s beautiful face is disfigured by a...

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42. See No Color (Review)

See No ColorThe title of Shannon Gibney’s debut YA novel, See No Color, has a resonance for people (like me) who were around in the 1980s — “Love See No Color,” was a popular motto, often emblazoned on T shirts, and generally seen (by white people, at least) as an idealistic goal: Color didn’t matter! We could all be color blind together and put the terrible past behind us!

Gibney’s book is a critique of that trope. The protagonist, Alexandra “Little” Kirtridge, is in a perfect position to examine it, as the African American adopted daughter of a wealthy white family. Her father is a former professional baseball player and still obsesses on the game as a father and as a coach. Alex is perhaps his favorite project, a high-school girl who plays on teams of boys and excels. The shared love for baseball anchors a wonderfully described father-daughter relationship, but that relationship begins to fray at the seams when Alex discovers her biological father has been trying to contact her for years and her adopted parents have kept his letters a secret. That plus a black boyfriend have Alex doing a little soul searching.

The Kirtridges say repeatedly that race doesn’t matter, and that they (the reader winces) never “saw” Alex “as black.” But of course, Alex is black, and begins to wonder what’s wrong with that, or why her parents would refuse to see it. She begins to realize that she’s been kept from her family and cultural history.

Gibney builds sympathy for the Kirtridges while showing readers how deeply flawed their reasoning is. They are kind, generous, loving parents; they are also wrong. Young adult fiction has been called “morally simple,” but here is one of many books that challenges that pert assumption (as does any book from Carolrhoda Lab). Real parents can be both lovable and frustrating, and Gibney illustrates that beautifully. Alex is complicated herself — her resentment of her parents’ biological children is conveyed with moving honesty. As a child from a well-off family, she also struggles with judging the more working-class family of her boyfriend.

Gibney is at her best describing family relationships, and I look forward to reading more from her. I happen to know that her second book is set in Liberia — an interesting direction to take after a debut novel about baseball and adoption. ;-)

 

 

 


Filed under: Miscellaneous Tagged: book reviews, see no color, shannon gibney

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43. CRUSH. CANDY. CORPSE. by Sylvia McNicholl (Lorimer)

For more info about Sylvia McNicoll, see SylviaMcNicoll.com.

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44. Jellyfish in the Sun

It's happening again!  Books with similar themes end up on my list right next to each other.

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is narrated by Suzy who can't believe that her oldest friend could just drown.  "These things happen" is NOT an acceptable explanation.  Suzy becomes convinced that a rare jellyfish is responsible for Franny's death. 

Suzy is a fact person who inundates the reader with math and facts about jellyfish and the people who study them.  But this book also chronicles the all too frequent trauma that occurs when one person outgrows another - as Franny outgrows Suzy by the end of 6th grade.  This relationship break makes Franny's death so much harder for Suzy to accept. 

Her search for someone who can understand the horror of jellyfish - as she sees it - leads Suzy to start out on a dangerous and possibly illegal journey.

Her parents, her older brother and an unexpected friend help Suzy to move into a life without Franny.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff    Ok.   In fifth grade, Trent killed someone during an ice hockey game.  Total accident.   Trent's parents and older and younger brother seem to think Trent should move on.  Trent's Dad, especially, has little patience for Trent's surly attitude.  Dad's new wife is expecting their first child any time now.  So, it was an accident. Get over it already.  (Not actual words from the book.)

Trent reacts to the guilt and the anxiety he feels by making sure he gets into trouble at school, and with his Dad.  He even refuses to enter into prank wars with his little brother.

Luckily, Fallon, a girl at school with a noticeable facial scar befriends Trent after she peeks into his Book of Thoughts and sees the pictures he draws there - pictures of what the boy he killed might be doing at that very moment.  Fallon wants Trent to draw a picture for her.

How Trent manages to make things worse and then how he manages to make them better - with the help of sympathetic outsiders - makes an engrossing and emotional read.

These books have totally different styles, despite their similarities - see below.  Jellyfish is awash with facts and musings on facts - the type of book that will lend itself to STEM curricula.  But there is an immediacy to Suzy's pain, even as she carefully plans her science report and her journey,  and her need to find explanations for her friend's death.

Sun, on the other hand, concentrates on Trent's emotional struggles.  Trent speaks in a matter-of-fact voice, referring to the accident almost casually.  And all the time he is seething and unable to see that he is till a worthwhile human being.  

Here is a list of other similarities:
New friends:  Both of the new frends have problems of their own that they seem to have overcome. 
Older brothers: Aaron - yeah, both of them.
Nice teachers:  Suzy likes her science teacher right away.  Trent hates everyone but his homeroom teacher really is pretty old.

Read 'em both, except you might want to read other books in between.  OK?


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45. Steal My Sunshine by Emily Gale

During a Melbourne heatwave, Hannah's family life begins to distort beyond her deepest fears. It's going to take more than a cool change to fix it, but how can a girl who lives in the shadows take on the task alone? 

Feeling powerless and invisible, Hannah seeks refuge in the two anarchists of her life: her wild best friend, Chloe, and her eccentric grandmother, Essie, who look like they know how life really works. 

But Hannah's loyalty to both is tested, first by her attraction to Chloe's older brother, and then by Essie's devastating secret that sheds new light on how the family has lost its way. 

Even if Hannah doesn't know what to believe in, she'd better start believing in herself.

I can't stop this amazing one-hit wonder from playing in my head while I'm working on this review (1999... what a year for music). Trouble is, that song isn't right for the tone of this novel. And now I'm trying to work out what song is right I've discovered that's an impossible task and I can't possibly find the perfect song.

You can't tell but I've just spent half an hour trying to find the perfect song to match this novel and it's just not happening. The best I can do is suggest a combo of One Crowded Hour by Augie March and Songbird by Bernard Fanning and hope that conveys it. Musically, rather than lyrically. It's got all this aching sadness, fairly heartbreaking in parts, but then that hope at the end. I guess I should write the review now.

Hannah is lovely: shy, uncertain and yearning, a character whom I think a lot of young readers will be able to relate to. Difficult family dynamics are explored with realism and subtlety, as Hannah's family crumbles around her. The characterisation is excellent - every character is unique and flawed, from Hannah's sweet and tortured dad, to her (understandably) rage-filled mum, to her out-there best friend Chloe. (I was furiously angry with her mother and brother, and their totally uncalled for meanness towards Hannah. Why would you be so awful? Hannah's a sweetheart, gosh.)

The unraveling of the mystery in Hannah's family, allowing Hannah to understand why things are so difficult between Essie and her daughter (Hannah's mum), kept me reading into the early hours of the morning. Essie is a wonderful character, and I could so clearly picture her and her house. Her story is the most compelling part of the novel, and reads as very authentic. It's incredibly tricky but important subject matter - single mothers being forced to give up their babies, something that occurred for decades in Australia's not-so-distant history - and is dealt with so well. Essie's narrative is at times harrowing, often heartbreaking, with a distinct and engrossing voice. It never feels like it's being educational, but I think it would be a great novel to study in school, and not just because of the historical content.

While there is romance (Hannah has a crush on her best friend's older brother, Evan), the romance isn't even really about the romance - it's about Hannah working out who she is and what she wants, instead of being a passive observer in her own life. I think it's a much more true-to-life depiction of teenage romance than a lot of YA. Similarly, her friendship with Chloe - and the subsequent breakdown of it - reflects the difficulties of real-life teenage friendships; where, sometimes, friends simply outgrow each other.

If you expect things to be perfectly resolved, you'll be disappointed; Steal My Sunshine is realistic in that it depicts the true messiness of life. Steal My Sunshine blends the historical and the contemporary perfectly. It's a novel with huge sadness and a lot of heartbreak, but it's ultimately hopeful. Immensely readable.

Steal My Sunshine on the publisher's website

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46. Unexceptional?

The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari is a welcome change.  No magical, undiscovered world-changing super-talented children here!  No half human, half immortal orphans!
Nope, this book revolves around two children so bland, so mediocre, so unremarkable as to be almost invisible to the world around them.

And that makes them PERFECT for the secret work that The League of Unexceptional Children does.

When the Vice-President is kidnapped in the middle of the night, Jonathan and Shelly are recruited to go undercover to find him before the VP can disclose the nation's most valuable nuclear codes.   Jonathan and Shelly don't actually need to go undercover.  They are so unremarkable that Jonathan's teacher thinks he's a new student almost every day.  No one even hears Shelly when she talks.

After a slow start involving an incompetent security guard and a short villain, the book turns into a spy thriller heavy on spycraft-ish talk and trappings and with more comic escapades than thrills.

To say much more will tell you almost all.  This is a quick fun read in which two ordinary kids fumble through saving the country.  They even compete with two superspy kids from Europe.

The best thing about this book - for me, anyway - is the way the characters of our heroes develop.  They may look and act boring to the world at large but, given a task that challenges them, they show some spunk, if not much talent.  Hmmmm, could there actually be a redeeming message in this silly book?  ....... Nope, probably not.

Key words:  Quick, Funny, Slapstick, Spies! 

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47. Booktweet: BONE GAP by Laura Ruby

What I just tweeted:

Just heard that BONE GAP made the 2015 National Book Award Longlist!

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48. Not-just-anybody

The Not-Just Anybody FamilyThe first time I read The Not-Just-Anybody Family, I knew I was reading genius. Betsy Byars uses exactly the right number of words to show her readers what is going on.   There was Junior on the barn roof; Maggie, his sister, was doing her toenails; Vern, his brother, was on the ground watching.  I have not picked up the book in twenty years but Maggie's lack of interest and Vern's almost ghoulish anticipation of a fall mixed with the hope that Junior really could fly are permanently imprinted in my brain.



Byars has won awards for several of her other books.  But for me, The Blossom Family will always be my favorite Betsy Cromer Byars titles.

So what is so great about Betsy Byars' books?  They are so accessible - which is a thing these days - accessibility.  They run the whole range from funny to heart-wrenching.  She writes for all ages but most impressively for that age group that can determine if a person becomes a life-long reader or not - middle grades.  Her characters are believable.  They get in trouble of all sorts.  They all learn something from their adventures - although not always what adults might want them to learn.

Herculeah Jones, Bingo Brown, Junior, Maggie and Vern Blossom, Cracker Jackson, Ant and his Brother, - these are just a few of the likable, quirky and totally normal kid characters that Byars created.

Pick up a Byars book next time you are in the library.  You won't be sorry.




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49. AWKWARD by Svetlana Chmakova needs to be in every school library

Just finished AWKWARD, an absolutely wonderful middle grade graphic novel by Svetlana Chmakova (Yen Press/Hachette, 2015). Omigosh, this needs to be in every school library. Why? Because it Svetlana does SUCH a great job at capturing the awkwardness of middle school personal interactions, especially for the insecure and shy. I wish this book had been around when I was that age, because it would have inspired me to take more risks, to not be so afraid of making mistakes when it came to social situations.

Free preview - Facebook Page - Publisher book page -  More about the author 

Thanks to my friend Susan Rich for the recommendation.

Synopsis:

"Penelope–Peppi–Torres, a shy new transfer student, wants nothing more than to fit in and find a place among her fellow artistically inclined souls. The last thing she wants is to stand out. So when she bumps–literally–into quiet, geeky, friendly but friendless Jaime Thompson, and is teased as the Nerder Girlfriend, Peppi’s first embarrassed instinct is to push him away and run. Though she later feels guilty and wants desperately to apologize for the incident, Peppi always ends up chickening out. She has no reason to speak to him, anyway, until she ends up bumping–figuratively and continually–into Jaime again! Will these two opposites ever see eye-to-eye, let alone become friends?"

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50. Review: The Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus #1) by Rick Riordan

I absolutely adored The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan! It’s the first book in his secondary series about Percy Jackson. The first series and I had a mildly rocky start. Oh don’t get me wrong! I love Percy Jackson and the middle-grade series was cute and quirky and fun. But it lacked punch. And, for me […]

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