Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Review: The Living

The Living The Living by Matt de la Pena
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reader's Annotation:
A teen joins the crew of a cruise ship hoping to make some money over the summer, but experiences more than he bargained for when a tsunami sinks his ship and he has to survive shark-infested waters. He makes it to an island, but instead of safety, he is confronted with secrets and dangers that could potentially wipe out the world's population.

My Thoughts:
This is a fun, fast read. It started a little slow, and I had a hard time connecting with the main characters. But the action picks up a few chapters in and then I was hooked. The themes in the book are survival, friendship, and overcoming adversity.

My Recommendation:
4.5/5 stars
Grades 9+ (this is a tricky one, because my middle school students would love this story. There is some language and some romantic situations (not too graphic), but I was more concerned with the intensity of the violence with the shark attacks and the violent deaths of many people. I would put this on a HS shelf.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reader's Annotation:
A virus ends the world as we know it, killing 99% of the population within 48 hours. A small group of seemingly unconnected characters forges through the following 20 years, trying to make their way and find meaning in the new world.

My Thoughts:
A colleague referred to this as a "quiet dystopian novel", and I completely agree. I am a huge fan of dystopia, but the zombie apocalypse has been done and redone so many times. I found this novel to be a refreshing change. The focus really wasn't on the end itself, but rather the rising of the survivors. It emphasized relationships that connected those survivors and how we lean on each other in times of hardship. I can't say that I understood all of Mandel's devices or plot lines, though. I was confused by the interjections of the comic book plot. I know that somehow the comic book tied everything together, but that was a bit over my head. Still, I found this novel to be a refreshing change from the usual dystopian characters and plot lines.

My Recommendation:
4.5/5 stars
Grades 9+ (there isn't much content here that I find objectionable, it's more the depth of the plot line and characters that I think would be too meaty for my middle school students).

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Review: Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Refugees fleeing the advancing Russians meet and become fast friends. They travel together to a port city to escape on one of the boats, part of Operation Hannibal. The friends board the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff, hoping to find safety and new lives at the end of their journey.

My Thoughts:
I read Between Shades of Grey first, and I'm so glad I did. I love that the characters are connected, but also completely separate. This book is not as haunting (at least until the last few chapters) as the other, but I still liked it a lot. I was intrigued by the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff, something I never even heard of before this book.

My Recommendation:
Grades 8+ (intensity, veiled reference to rape, multiple accounts of deaths); 4.5 stars

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: When Light Left Us

When Light Left Us When Light Left Us by Leah Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk: The Vasquez siblings' dad leaves them unexpectedly, leaving a hole in their lives that they feel can never be filled. That is until they meet a shining figure named Luz in the canyon behind their house. Luz begins to fill all the spaces in their lives...Hank's hands, Ana's eyes, and Milo's ears. But when Luz leaves them, the siblings have no idea how to move on in a world where everything has changed.

My thoughts: Without trying to give anything away, this is a weird little book. In fact, the author self-describes it as such in her acknowledgments. It took me a good 3 or 4 chapters to really get into the storyline, but it was worth the patience. The constantly changing perspective takes some time to get used to, until you figure out what is meant by Ears, Hands, etc. Overall I liked this one because it is so different from anything else I have ever read.

My recommendation: 4/5 stars (language, mild adult situations); Grades 9+


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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review: Soldier Boy

Soldier Boy Soldier Boy by Keely Hutton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
How would you feel if you were ripped from your family at gunpoint, and forced to watch your parents and siblings be killed? Ricky was 11 when the LRA abducted him and his brothers and friends from their village. He and tens of thousands of other children were recruited into the LRA, a guerilla force in the Ugandan Civil War. Ricky and his brother Patrick stayed in contact during their years in the LRA trying to find a way back home.

My Thoughts:
Both beautiful and horrifying, Soldier Boy takes us behind the scenes of child warfare in Africa. This is a very heavy book that leaves very little to the imagination. Lots of violence and brutality, but it it done in a way that really forces the reader to think about injustice and powerlessness. I give this one 5 stars for its depth and importance.

My Recommendation
5/5 stars
Grades 8+ (heavy violence, veiled references to rape)

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Review: Solo

Solo Solo by Kwame Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thanks to @kidlitexchange for the advanced review copy of this book. Opinions are my own.** 4/5 stars
Grades 7+
Book Talk
Blade Morrison is NOT your typical 17-year old boy. He is the son of rock star parents, and is incredibly talented in his own right. He's got a gorgeous girlfriend and is on the cover of the tabloids. But after his mom dies, Blade's dad spirals into a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol that leaves Blade and his sister Storm pretty much on their own. Then Blade discovers that his dad isn't really his dad at all. Blade was adopted as a baby.

Blade begins the journey of a lifetime to Ghana, to meet his birth mother. Unfortunately, he does not go alone. His rock star dad decides to make the trip a family experience, including a giant tour bus and a reality television film crew.

Will Blade find his mother? Can the relationship between he and his father ever be repaired?

My Thoughts
I am generally not a big fan of verse novel, but I liked this one. The story moves pretty quickly, and I cared about the characters. I hated the names, though. I know, that sounds trivial. But Chapel? Storm? Blade? It felt a little...contrived. Still, I connected to Blade's struggle with his dad. I wanted his reunion with his birth mother to be successful. And I cheered for little Sia when she got sick. Overall, I would recommend this one to fans of Kwame Alexander's other verse novels or Jason Reynolds' books.

Little to object to here in terms of language or adult content, although themes of alcoholism and drug use are probably too heavy for elementary. I recommend for grades 7+ (or mature 6th graders).

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review: As You Wish

As You Wish As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


**Thanks to @kidlitexchange for the advanced review copy of this book. Opinions are my own.**
As You Wish
by Chelsea Sedoti
Posted 12/17/18
4/4 stars
Grades 8+
Book Talk
"The trick is to be boring. No one likes being bored, yeah? If a place is boring, you're not gonna stick around. You're not gonna ask any questions. That's the way we like it."
Madison, Nevada is about as boring as it gets. It's a dusty, desert town, the "fastest way to get from nowhere to nothing". At least, that's the way the people of Madison want you to think. But hidden behind the run-down buildings and sleepy facade is a secret. A big one. Everyone in Madison gets to make a wish on their 18th birthday. Just one wish, but it changes EVERYTHING.
Eldon is about to turn 18, and he is struggling with his wish. Should he try and wish his ailing sister back to health? How about money to help his family? The ability to leave Madison behind in his rear-view mirror? As an assignment from his teacher, Eldon begins interviewing locals about their wishes and the impact of those wishes on their lives. He realizes quickly that wishes aren't always what they seem, and that you better be very careful about WHAT you wish for and HOW you wish for it.
My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book. It reminds me a lot of the book "This is Not the End", in that teens are forced to make huge decisions that impact not only their lives but the lives of everyone around them. One of my favorite parts of this book was the desert setting. I've always been intrigued by the desert southwest, so I loved reading about growing up in a tiny town, isolated and surrounded by sand. I found the characters in the book to be believable, flawed, and interesting. Eldon is a pretty typical teen boy, and we see him smack dab in the middle of typical teen struggles. Merrill is his geeky best friend. Norie is the odd but loveable sidekick who brings a touch of religion to the story.
There is quite a bit of language in this one, and typical teen fare (drinking, drugs, partying). But the content isn't too adult, and I would recommend it for grades 8+.

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