‘S.T.A.G.S.’ by M. A. Bennett Is a Thrilling Young Adult That Will Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats

stags

In “S.T.A.G.S.” by M. A. Bennett, the reader is introduced to the life of the rich and elite through the eyes of a scholarship student who attends a posh British boarding school.

Greer MacDonald, a middle-class girl, is the one token scholarship student attending the $50,000 a year private school attended by Britain’s ultra-wealthy, ultra-upper-class teens. Also attending the school are others who don’t quite fit in with the snobbish students,  especially the group of power students, the Medievals, who practically run the school.

Continue reading

7 Fabulous Choices in Children’s Picture Books for Black History Month

With the increase in diversity in children’s books, there is a plethora of wonderful books for children of all ages that are perfect picks for February and the celebration of Black History.

“Dream Big Dreams: Photographs from Barack Obama’s Inspiring and Historic dreambigdreamsPresidency” by Pete Souza, the former chief official White House photographer, is a beautiful book filled with touching and insightful images of a president who could be solemn when the occasion called for it, caring when compassion was needed, loving with his family, and fun when children were involved. The images show a man who wasn’t afraid to be real with people and to show them that he cared. The photographs show a man who radiates confidence and charm. It’s a really lovely book. (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers)

Continue reading

Ten Perfectly Poignant Picture Books for Valentine’s Day

It’s not too late to get the perfect Valentine’s Day present for your favorite picture book reader. Here are ten picture-perfect choices.

Dog lovers who are book lovers know that almost no one writes nonfiction dog books IMG_3995like Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, author of “Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and People Are Perfect Partners.” This small picture book is aimed at older picture book readers, although younger readers will love the beautiful photographs by William Muñoz. The book is filled with all the nonfiction features teachers love to teach, like Contents (Part One: A Perfect Partnership; Part Two: The Science of Love; and Part Three: Sharing Our Lives), Resources for Young Readers (books, websites and videos with more information), Source Notes and Additional Sources (a bibliography of resources used for the information in the book), and an Index. Within the book’s pages is information ranging from how dogs differ from wolves and how they may have parted ways in the past to how dogs help us now by being our best friends, guiding us, protecting us, providing us with therapy, and just loving us. It’s a beautiful, completely true love story. (Crown Books for Young Readers)

Continue reading

‘The Piper’s Apprentice’ Is the Last Novel in ‘The Secrets of the Pied Piper’ series by Matthew Cody

pipersapprentice

Matthew Cody’s books are much beloved by middle grade readers and with good cause. Like his latest trilogy, “The Secrets of the Pied Piper,” all his books feature fabulous characters, thrilling plots, and some really good writing.

In “The Piper’s Apprentice,” the last book in the series, Cody does what is all-too-often missing from last books in a series, he manages to include enough information about what has happened that the reader isn’t lost by reading this book without having just reread the first two books. And if the reader is reading all three books in a row (lucky reader!), he or she will not even notice that bit of extra information that keeps someone who read the second book in the series a year ago from feeling lost.

Continue reading

‘Truly Devious’ by Maureen Johnson Is a Thrilling Mystery

truly devious

“Truly Devious” by much-loved young adult author Maureen Johnson is a fabulous novel. It begins as a mystery about a murder that took place over 80 years ago at an elite private school in Vermont.

The novel is really two stories combined into one mystery. There is the decades-old mystery of Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter, who disappeared while on a car ride. The wife’s body was found, but there has been no trace of the three-year-old daughter, and what happened to her remains a mystery. The kidnappers did contact Ellingham, demanded a huge sum of money, and escaped with the money.

Continue reading

‘Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow’ by Jessica Townsend Is a Fantasy Trip Through a Magical Country

nevermoor.jpg

“Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow” by Jessica Townsend is a middle grade fantasy about Morrigan Crow who, at the start of the novel, is fated to die before her eleventh birthday. She is a “cursed” child, whose very presence brings bad luck to those around her.

Her mother is dead, and she lives with her extremely horrible father, her emotionally distant stepmother, and her grandmother. Only her grandmother even marginally appears to feel affection for Morrigan. In one terribly sad scene, Morrigan hears her father talking about how it would make more sense to educate his hunting dogs because Morrigan will not live much longer.

But Morrigan’s life changes when she is allowed to attend a kind of graduation ceremony at which children are given bids by different entities to enable them to continue their education. To everyone’s surprise, include Morrigan’s most of all, she gets four bids. She ends up with Jupiter North, and they make a daring escape from the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, who are set to kill Morrigan, and go to Nevermoor.

The story is filled with lovely fantastic ideas. Morrigan lives in Jupiter North’s hotel, the Deucalion, which contains myriad mystical rooms. One room is the Smoking Parlor. Townsend describes it:

“The Smoking Parlor wasn’t a room where guests were allowed to smoke pipes and cigars, to Morrigan’s relief, but in fact a room that emitted great rolling clouds of colored, scented smoke that seems to pour from the walls themselves. This afternoon it was a murky green sage smoke (‘to promote the art of philosophization,’ Jupiter told her), but a schedule on the door informed her that later that evening the smoke would change to honeysuckle (‘for romance’) and, late at night, to lavender (‘to aid the sleepless’).”

There is the brolly line, where it’s necessary to have an umbrella to ride. There is the secret room that Morrigan is able to unlock with her special umbrella, gifted to her by Jupiter North. There is Jupiter himself, a sweet and kind man who is half father-figure and half friend and mentor, but also extremely mysterious. He disappears for long stretches of time on various missions and appears, often at the last minute, when necessary.

Other characters include a human-sized cat, Fenestra, who is the main housekeeper at the hotel and Frank, the vampire dwarf. Her best friend is Hawthorne, and he is competing in the trials as well.

Morrigan must vie for entrance to the Wundrous Society, an elite society where once accepted, one’s life of comfort is assured. Everyone who is trying to be accepted in the society has a knack, or skill, that they will use during the trials. Of the many hundreds vying for entrance, only nine will be accepted.

Morrigan is also worried about failing the trials because Jupiter brought her to Nevermoor illegally, and if she fails, she will be deported and then found and killed by the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow. Other residents of Nevermoor make much of the fact that Morrigan is an illegal, an unpleasant reminder of current political times in real life.

The trials are all different, and Morrigan seems to win at least one of them purely by chance. But the twist at the end explains several of the mysterious things that have happened to Morrigan throughout the almost 500-page novel.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Little, Brown and Company, for review purposes.

‘Unearthed’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner Is a Thrilling Young Adult SciFi Ride

unearthed4

It’s being billed as a cross between Indiana Jones and Star Wars, and “Unearthed” by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner comes close. It’s the story of a future Earth when climate change has destroyed much of our planet. Scientists on Earth find a message from an extinct alien race that explains how to build a portal to Gaia, another planet, where the astronauts find a piece of technology that powers a clean water supply for all of Los Angeles. Then the astronauts are killed while exploring one of the temples there.

Continue reading

Three Lovely Children’s Picture Books Celebrate Animals

 

Three wonderful picture books — each in its own way celebrating nature, the joys of a pet, and the companionship of animals.

“Please Please the Bees” by Gerald Kelley is the story of Benedict the bear. He loves honey and gets three jars of honey delivered to his lovely home each morning by bees. He eats his toast with honey, drinks his tea with extra honey, practices his violin, bakes his honey cake, knits, runs errands, and drinks one last cup of honey tea before bed. It’s a very fulfilling life until one morning there is no honey. The bees are on strike, and Benedict learns that sometimes, nature — and bees — need a hand. Clever illustrations provide hints of what is to come, with Benedict living in a house where the plants have all died.  Benedict and the young readers of this story learn about what bees need to produce honey, and all live happily ever after. The story is charming, humorous, and important. The illustrations are lovely in watercolor and other media, and the fact that the texture of the watercolor paper is used for much of the white space keeps the illustrations rich and engaging.

Continue reading

‘How to Disappear’ by Sharon Huss Roat Is a Beautifully Written Story of the Invisible, the Individual, and the Power of Social Media

howtodisappear

“How to Disappear” by Sharon Huss Roat is a book that once begun, is difficult to put down. It starts innocuously enough with the story of a girl with severe anxiety. Vicky can’t function at high school and must disappear into the stall of the bathroom when she just can’t bear going to class and facing others. Since her best friend moved away, she’s been trying to disappear completely, since that’s easier than actually talking to people and making new friends.

Continue reading

‘Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Ship of the Dead’ by Rick Riordan is the Third Book in this Wild Fantasy Adventure Series

shipofthedead

Rick Riordan knows his Greek gods, as has been proved with the “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard” series. He also does an amazing job writing a series about Norse gods and Valhalla, the place where those related to the gods go if they die a noble death. Kind of like Camp Half Blood but with different rules.

The main character in this series is Magnus Chase, the son of Frey, the god of healing. In this story, Magnus and his friends must journey to Jotunheim and Niflheim to reach the evil god Loki’s ship before he can leave with his warriors and start Ragnarok, the end of the world.

Over the course of the story, the reader learns that Samirah, the Muslim Valkyrie, is fasting during the day because of Ramadan. Magnus’ good friends Hearth and Blitz must travel on their own adventure, and Hearth must face his very evil father, whom he finally vanquishes with Magnus’ help. Magnus also learns more about Alex, his gender fluid friend. In the last book, “The Hammer of Thor,”  Riordan had hinted that Magnus felt more than friendship toward Alex, about whom Magnus seems to instinctively know which pronoun (he or she) is appropriate to use at what time. In this book, that hint is resolved so there are no uncertainties left.

In the end, of course, Magnus and his team save the world from the end of the world, but the fun is in watching how he does it. Jack, his magic singing sword, is ever-present and ever humorous; Samirah continues to reflect well on the Muslim community; and Magnus, with his self-deprecating narration, continues to enchant and charm readers of all ages. Riordan should be given much credit for his inclusion of many diverse characters and lifestyles in this series.

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy fantasy, adventure, and humor. Readers should have read the first two books in the series prior to beginning this voyage. Begin with “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer.”

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

‘Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court’ by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

kareem

“Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court” is a marvelous autobiography by one of the greatest basketball players who ever graced the court. Watching him play was a privilege for any true sports fan because he appeared to be graceful and athletic, ultra-competitive, always under control — and in control — and a true champion. He and his teams won an almost unbelievable percentage of their games at every level — high school, college, professional.

Continue reading

‘Prince in Disguise’ by Stephanie Kate Strohm: Lovely YA RomCom

price

“Prince in Disguise” by Stephanie Kate Strohm is a lovely retake of every novel (or fairytale) in which a prince tries to find true love by going about in disguise so that someone might fall in love with him for his own person, not the fact that he is a prince.

In this sweet retake, the main character Dylan’s older sister has fallen in love with a Scottish lord through the arts of a reality TV show called, of course, “Prince in Disguise.” While Dylan keeps reminding everyone that Dusty is not marrying a prince but rather a lord, no one cares. Dusty is everything that Dylan thinks she is not — beautiful, graceful, outgoing, sophisticated, and comfortable in front of the camera. Their mother is the star of a morning show on the local network, so she also is camera-friendly. Continue reading