‘The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen’ by Katherine Howe


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Katherine Howe delivers a wonderful story that melds the past and the present in “The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen.” The story begins in the present in New York with a college film student and a séance. When a mysterious girl appears, the ghostly intrigue begins.

Wes, the film student, meets Annie Van Sinderen, and right away there’s something not quite right about her. He also meets Maddie, a girl who seems quite the opposite of Annie. Where Annie is quiet and elegantly dressed in an old-fashioned dress, Maddie is tattooed and dressed in combat boots.

Maddie loves to eat while Annie can’t seem to bring herself to eat anything. And while Maddie knows her way around the city, everything seems new and surprising to Annie. Of course, it comes out that Annie is a ghost searching for a ring she has lost. Somehow, the ring is important to her.

Along the way on this adventure, Howe introduces many supporting characters who are well developed as well. Wes’ gay roommate adds clever and witty dialogue to the story, and Herschel’s Jewish beginnings and Annie’s Dutch family add to the historical New York element.

Howe handles the transitions from modern day to Annie’s life in the past effectively, and she handles explaining the changes that happen to Annie’s past effortlessly. The changes to the past because of what Annie learns in the future affect more than just the past, although that isn’t apparent until almost the last page. This is a lovely story that will charm and delight young adult readers who enjoy fantasy and historical fiction.

Please note: This review is based on the hardcover copy of the book provided by the publisher, Putnam, for review purposes.

‘Rosie Revere, Engineer’ by Andrea Beaty: Wonderful picture book with purpose


Rating: 5 stars

“Rosie Revere, Engineer” by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts is a picture book that is not only inspiring but also humorous with fabulous rhyming text.

There are so many things to love about this book it’s difficult to list them all. The rhyme is extremely clever and kids will love to follow along. The messages are very important ones for young children and not-so-young children alike.

Rosie loves to build things. She collects discarded items and build fantastical creations for her friends and family. But when her uncle laughs at one of her inventions (a hat to keep pythons away), she realizes that she will be laughed at for her imagination.

Until, that is, her Aunt Rose arrives. Aunt Rose was a riveter on airlines (think Rosie the Riveter) and her only wish unfilled is to fly. But she knows that will never happen. Rosie thinks about it and wonders if she could build something to let her aunt fly. But she thinks about her cheese hat (the anti-python hat) and tells herself no.

“But questions are tricky, and some hold on tight, and this one kept Rosie awake through the night. So when dawn approached and red streaks lit the sky, young Rosie knew just how to make her aunt fly.”

Her creation flies for just a minute and then crashes to the ground. When her aunt starts laughing, Rosie is totally disgusted with herself for allowing herself to believe that she could create something great. But her aunt then teachers her (and all readers of this book) that failing is not a bad thing. It’s just a first try.

The motto is clear with the words “Life might have its failures, but this was not it. The only true failure can come if you quit.”

Girls can build things and aspire to be engineers! First tries are often (usually) flops. Use this book to teach about how many light bulbs didn’t work before Edison created one that did. Teach about Einsteins saying, “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.”

The illustrations are also genius. They are bright and colorful and highly stylized. The characters in the story have wonderful expressions and the use of graph paper as endpapers is brilliant.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Abrams, for review purposes.

‘Talker 25: Invisible Monsters’ by Joshua McCune: Great young adult fantasy


Rating: 5 stars

“Talker 25: Invisible Monsters” is the second book in this fabulous fantasy series. The first book in the series “Talker 25” is a young adult book about dragons. And if you don’t like dragon books, this series will convert you.

The action takes place in a future world where dragons appeared almost overnight. No one knows where they came from — even the dragons don’t know. Melissa Callahan is the protagonist. Her father is a dragon specialist, and he is famous for being the one to discover that dragons can’t see the color black. So soldiers, cars, planes, everything is black in this world. At the beginning of the first book, Melissa learns that she can talk to dragons. She hates dragons because her mother was killed when trying to lead a dragon away from her family’s house. She saved her family but died in the attempt.

Color becomes very important. Blue dragons can’t fly. Red and green dragons can fly, but green dragons also like to eat people. They are notoriously vicious and unpredictable. In this second book in the series, Melissa has escaped from what is basically a forced-labor camp in Antarctica, where she and other prisoners were forced to lure dragons into traps so the government could kill them. At the same time, the government was torturing and testing the dragons they caught so they could learn more about the dragons in order to better be able to fight and kill them.

Melissa, or Talker 25 (her name there), has her work cut out for her in this story. Her good friend and “sister” Allie was captured by the evil Diocletians, a group of humans whose mission is to kill humans in retaliation for the killing of dragons. The group uses green dragons in their efforts.

The series is not for the faint of heart. At times, it’s gruesome and heartrending. Descriptions in the first book about the torturing of dragons could give some tenderhearted readers nightmares. It’s pretty graphic. In the second book, there’s just as much violence.

But the story? Fabulous. It’s truly a hard book to put down. The action and emotion are nonstop. By the end you will love dragons — at least red and silver ones. But don’t bother reading the second book unless you’ve read the first one. In fact, this reader reread the first book so as not to miss one reference or detail. Loved every second of it.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Greenwillow for review purposes.

‘Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse’ by Curtis Jobling: Middle grade fantasy


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

There’s nothing better than starting a book that is the first in a new series that you know you’re going to enjoy. “Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse” by Curtis Jobling is one of those books. Many young readers were hooked on his extremely popular “Wereworld” series. This series is just as filled with adventure and even more accessible to a wider range of readers.

In “Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse,” the only thing missing is the “Van” from “Van Helsing” (the legendary vampire killer). For obvious reasons, the “Van” was omitted from the family’s name during the Second World War (too German sounding). So now, Max Helsing, the protagonist in the series, is the last of the line. He is being raised by the same man who raised his father and his grandfather.

The story opens as Max is about to turn thirteen. The reader learns that Max has been a monster hunter for years, and that he has a soft heart. Many of the monsters he “hunts” are not evil. He is able to help them, and many of them live in their house-turned-apartment-building. There is the family of pixies living outside the front door and the Iron Golem who has his own apartment.

On Max’s thirteenth birthday, something very unexpected happens. Even the most benign monsters — like his new hellhound puppy named Eightball — turn on Max and try to kill him. His best friend is a girl named Syd, who likes to build things and is a whiz with all things mechanical. One of the neighbors is a ten-year-old kid named Wing Liu. He’s obsessed by all things monster, and even though Max assures him they don’t exist, Wing Liu doesn’t necessarily believe him. There is also the rival British monster killer, Abel Archer, whose priorities are a bit different than Max’s. His philosophy is that the only good monster is a dead monster.

Max finds out that the reason even friendly monsters try to kill him is that he has been “marked.” By whom and for what reason are part of the mystery that Max must uncover during his adventure. While trying to stay alive, he must figure out what is behind his “marked” status and how to stop it. He has loyal friends, and his kindness does not go unrewarded. When Archer tell him, at the end of the story, that befriending monsters is “going to get you killed,” Max responds, “If my monster friends hadn’t helped me as much as my human ones did, I’d probably be ghoul chow.”

A monster series with a heart. Actually, many hearts become important in this story, including the heart of a very wicked vampire. And although the book has an ending of sorts, the beginning for the next part of Max’s adventures is effectively included. His colorful and clever friends (human and monster) are sure to be involved. Stay tuned.

The book also include fabulous drawings of the monsters by Jobling (who is also an illustrator).

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Viking Books, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘A Dog Wearing Shoes’ by Sangmi Ko: Fabulous picture book for kids of all ages


Rating: 5 stars

This fabulous picture book, “A Dog Wearing Shoes,” by Sangmi Ko, is unbelievably based on a true story. Her niece found a lost dog wearing shoes. After the dog’s owner was found, her niece went on to adopt her own dog. The author has two adopted dogs of her own.

Ko’s love of dogs is readily apparent from the beautifully created illustrations in black and white except for the dog’s shoes – bright splashes of yellow, and other bits of yellow, always relating to the dog. The expressions on the faces of the girl (who finds and rescues the lost dog) and the lost dog are priceless. Every emotion is wonderfully displayed.

The story is simple and sweet. A girl and her mother find a lost dog. Mini, the girl is convinced that the dog didn’t have a home, but the mother cleverly points out that the dog was wearing shoes — a sign that someone loved and cared for the dog. But the dog had no collar.

When the dog is unhappy, Mini decides to take him to the park. The dog is very well trained and can follow all sorts of commands, but when Mini throws a stick for him, he runs away. Bereft, she searches high and low. Finally, they find the dog at the animal shelter and animal control building and bring him home. By that time, Mini has realized that he probably does have a family who misses him and wants him back.

Mini and her mother post yellow posters all over the neighborhood, and the dog’s family does show up, overjoyed to find their lost family member (The girl attired in a yellow shirt). The next scene is the mother and Mini back at the Pet Adoption Center and Animal Control. This time they are there to adopt (and rescue) a dog of their own. And in the last scene, Mini and her own dog have their own splashes of happy, joyful yellow.

There are many messages in this story. There is the theme of sacrifice, which Mini learns by realizing that the lost dog wants her family back, and that Mini must give up the dog for the dog’s happiness (and because it is the right thing to do). Readers will also see the danger of allowing dogs to be anywhere without a leash — like Mini’s lost dog, many dogs run. Yet another message is that there are many wonderful dogs (and cats) waiting in shelters for homes.

Of course the biggest message is that Mini and her mother stopped to rescue a lost dog. Too many people would have driven past a stranded dog. But stopping and saving the life of a dog (or cat) is the right thing to do. It’s what children learn in school — the difference between being a bystander (just watching as the dog runs by) or an upstander (helping catch and rescue the scared, lost animal). And we all want the future generation to be upstanders, not bystanders.

This would be a fabulous gift for children of any age. It’s also a great book for the school library or classrooms. This is a book that has it all — riveting illustrations and a fabulous story.

Please note: this review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Schwartz & Wade, publishers, with the another copy kindly donated to my classroom by the Glassberg family.

‘Red Queen’ by Victoria Aveyard: Fabulous new young adult fantasy


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard is about a world where humans have divided into two groups. One group has silver blood, special abilities and all the power. The other group has red blood, no special abilities and none of the power.

The Reds, as those with red blood are called, serve as the lower class. They are the workers, the soldiers, the poor. They have no hospitals, no freedom and no apparent possibility of improving their lives.. Mare grows up in a household with many sons, and she has one sister, Gisa. Gisa is a talented seamstress, and it’s her skill that will make her as successful as a Red can get.

When Mare’s best friend is conscripted, she will do anything to help him not go to war. The cost is horrendous. While Mare is a skilled pickpocket and thief, she cannot steal that amount of money from the Reds. So Gisa takes her to the Silver enclave, where Gisa works, where Mare can try to pocket more substantial stolen goods. When they must leave before Mare gets a chance to pick anyone’s pocket, Gisa makes an attempt. She is caught, and the punishment is to break the bones in her hand. Gisa will not be sewing anymore.

Mare accidentally meets the king’s son, and he gets her a job in the palace. There, she is found to have a special skill — the ability to control electricity — unheard of in Reds. To hide the fact that a Red has an ability, they make Mare a noble Silver who was recently discovered living among the Reds when her parents died.

In the meantime, a group of Reds wants a rebellion. They are called the Scarlet Guard and they are planning a revolution. The problem is that they don’t have any special abilities to use against the Silvers. With Mare in the palace, engaged to the younger prince, perhaps they now have a weapon against the cruelty and tyranny they are trying to overthrow. Aveyard has Mare give a speech to the Reds that was written by the Silvers. It’s a speech telling the downtrodden how well they are being treated by the Silvers (they are not). In it, Mare says that the Silvers, in their generosity, gave the Reds “the right to work.” (Interesting use of those words when currently, many politicians espouse the “right to work,” which really means the right to work for low pay and no rights. Just like in the book.)

The story is engaging from the first page. Mare is a character with depth. She’s far from perfect, but she is likable nonetheless. She loves her family and is loyal to her friends. And when she decides to do something, she dedicates herself to doing it right.

The twists and turns that the plot take are beautifully executed, and there’s a cliffhanger ending of sorts. Readers will be begging for the author to finish the second book in the series quickly.

A minor quibble is the overuse of the word “smirk.” Perhaps more of an editing lapse, “smirk” is used in “He smirks sadly at me…” and “…I can’t help but smirk with him.” There are many creative words to depict a smile; unfortunately “smirk” seems to be a popular one with many current authors.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by HarperTeen for review purposes.

‘None of the Above’ by I. W. Gregorio: Young adult book about a difficult topic


Rating: 5 stars

“None of the Above” by I. W. Gregorio forces its readers to think about many issues. The story is about Krissy, a girl who is elected Homecoming Queen at her high school. She is popular, she has a boyfriend, and two best friends. But throwing a shadow over her wonderful life is the fact that her mother died a few years ago of uterine cancer.

After attempting sex with her boyfriend, Krissy realizes that something is wrong and she goes to her friend’s gynecologist for an exam. During the exam, her doctor realizes that Krissy doesn’t have the standard female equipment. She incorrectly tells Krissy that she is a hermaphrodite (an archaic term not used by doctors at this time).

Krissy, understandably, is confused, bereft and depressed. Is she a boy? She has two internal testicles but she also has breasts and a female figure. She is a talented runner and hurdler — but is that because she is really a boy? What does she tell her boyfriend? Her friends?

When word leaks out, Krissy is bullied and she stops going to school.

The story is beautifully told with many layers to the story. It’s not just about what is accurately called being “intersex.” It’s also about friendship, family, bullying, fitting in, and even homosexuality. The author brings up interesting questions. If one has testicles, but is for all intents and purposes a female, does falling in love with a guy mean that one is a homosexual?

The point Gregorio ends up making is that love does not depend on the chromosomes of the person you fall in love with so much as who that person is.

It’s a wonderful and wonderfully told story, but it’s not for the faint-of-heart. There is sex, cursing, drinking and much talk of sexual identity. So this is not a young adult book that would be appropriate for a fifth grader.

But for reading about gender identity. belonging, discrimination, and identity, this is a great book. Highly recommended for older middle school students and high school students. And teachers. And parents.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Balzer & Bray for review purposes.

‘Buddy’ by M. H. Herlong is sure to be a treasured book about a boy and his dog


Rating: 5 stars

“Buddy” by M. H. Herlong is a book about a boy and his dog. It’s a book about Katrina (the hurricane), love, and sacrifice. It’s a wonderful book.

Li’l Tee lives in New Orleans with his mother, father, little sister and baby brother in his grandfather’s house. They work hard and go to church every Sunday, and the church plays an important part in the book.

On the way to church one Sunday, they hit a stray dog with their car. Li’l Tee has wanted a dog since he was born, and he insists they take the dog to church. The pastor pleads for the dog, and the congregation responds. The dog, Buddy, goes to the vet and has his leg amputated.

Li’l Tee’s family takes him home to recuperate. Like many southern families, they keep the dog outside. Buddy lives in a shed, and Li’l Tee visits him often.

Over the next four months, Li’l Tee grows very attached to Buddy. When Katrina threatens, his family must leave town, and there is no room in the small car for Buddy. Thinking they will only be gone for two days, they put Buddy in an upstairs bathroom with a big bag of food and a bathtub full of water.

Because of the devastation, Li’l Tee and his family cannot return to New Orleans. No one is allowed in the city at all. Months go by, and they try to return to the house but are stymied because there is too much water in the area around their house to even get close.

The next time they try to visit, they manage to see the house. They see the large red X that means the house was searched, and they see the word “dog” written to indicate that a dog was rescued from the house.

Li’l Tee is relieved that his dog is alive but very despondent that he doesn’t know where. Things change when someone from church sees Buddy on TV. After his rescue, he had been taken to California and eventually adopted by a family there.

Li’l Tee’s efforts to get Buddy back, and the growing-up process that is a huge part of this story, are touching in the extreme. The story is well-written — the dialogue perfect, the characterizations perfect, the pathos perfect.

It is a book to read only when there is a tissue box nearby. And don’t start without it because once begun, this is a difficult book to put down.

This book would be a perfect read-aloud for a fifth or sixth grade classroom except for the fact that it would be difficult to read some of it without shedding a tear. Children will love this book — guaranteed. Adults will love this book — also, guaranteed.

Please note: this review is based on the advance reader’s edition provided by the publisher, Viking/ Penguin Young Readers Group, for review purposes.

‘Summer Secrets’ by Jane Green: Novel about drinking, relationships and family


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“Summer Secrets” by Jane Green is, especially for those of us who don’t drink much, a window into the life of an alcoholic. Cat doesn’t start off as an alcoholic, but the buzz she gets from liquor and the way it makes her feel (prettier, smarter, funnier) keep her coming back for more. While the black-outs she experiences when drinking are disturbing, they don’t compel her to stop drinking.

The story alternates mostly between London in 1969 and London 2014, with one quick trip to London 1969. There are visits to America along the way. Cat’s story is told in first person narrative and she spares the reader nothing. We learn about her one-night stands, the one-night stands she doesn’t remember, waking up in strange places after a night of drinking. She shares the story of her uncaring father — how he never seemed to love her and called her a “changeling” which she thought was good until she looked it up. And there’s the fact that she looks different than her parents — they are tall and thin and pale while she has warm olive skin and dark hair.

It’s difficult to hear about how Cat tries and then falls off the wagon over and over. Thankfully, Green spares us some of the details when the story skips forward more than a decade telling the “now” along with the “then.” The story is painful at times — just as the life of someone struggling with alcoholism must be quite painful at times. But the payoff, at the end of the story, is worth the pain.

Green writes beautifully about relationships, family and growing up — maturing and getting wiser. One of the themes could be “it’s never too late,” and maybe that’s a good thought for many people. It’s never too late to change your life. It’s never too late to find love. It’s never to late to say you’re sorry. Or as Claire Cook, another wonderful author, might say: It’s never too late to reinvent yourself.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover picture book provided by St. Martin’s Press for review purposes.