Friday, July 22, 2016

Arc Review: The Curse of the Were-Hyena by Bruce Hale

The Curse of the Were-Hyena by Bruce Hale. Monstertown Mystery, Book 1. 204 p. Disney/ Hyperion, July, 2016. 9781484713259. (Review from arc courtesy of Blue Slip Media.)

Carlos and his bff and fellow comic nerd, Benny are rocking fourth grade because they have Mr. Chu, the coolest of the cool teachers, one who doesn't mind jumping on desks and dressing in costume to make his lessons interesting. Only, ever since he got bitten by a weird dog, he has been acting stranger and stranger. In addition to growing hair on his bald head, he has taken to alternately growling and giggling and can sometimes be downright scary. Carlos and Benny decide they need to do some research and so, after school, they head to the...comic book store! The proprietor is a former lady wrestler who is now confined to a wheel chair and who takes Carlos' and Benny's concerns very seriously.

Bruce Hale has a keen eye for humor and action aimed at the middle grade readers, especially reluctant middle grade readers. Hale has a mystery series (Chet Gecko) and a spy/ thriller series (School for Spies) under his belt. With this new horror/ mystery series, he seems poised to write something for every kind of reader. 

A nicely diverse cast of characters people the pages. There's plenty of action, humor, red herrings and plot twists to keep the pages flying and the reader guessing. The Monstertown Mysteries series is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Just gory enough to satisfy the young reader who wants scary.

Friday Memes: Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder. 240 p. Capstone Press, August 15, 2016. 9781623707491.

Publisher synopsis: After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she's ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother work to build a new life, Wren struggles to discover the person she's meant to be without her father by her side. Along the way, she must cope with the difficulty of forgiving those who don't deserve it and discover what it means to be a family-and the secrets and lies that can tear one apart.

First line: This one was still intact. No innards splashed out or bloody tire tracks on the asphalt. (Prologue)

It wasn't the crash that killed my dad when his plane went down over the Atlantic. (Chapter 1)

Page 56: But to attract Carrie's light, I had to get to school early so she could copy my homework.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Bird & Squirrel on Fire by James Burks

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles we can't wait to release.

Bird & Squirrel on Fire by James Burks. 128 p. Graphix. January 31, 2017. 9780545804295.

Publisher synopsis: It's been a long, crazy trip arount the world. Now the duo is back in their beloved forest, and Bird wants to throw a party! But Squirrel isn't in the mood to celebrate. his house needs a good cleaning, the river has been dammed up by a pesky beaver, and the forest animals are jittery about a growing menace. Will the dam dry out the forest?  Will the mysterious new danger ruin the party/ Will Bird finally convince Squirrel to let go and just have a good time? Find out in their hilarious new adventure. 

I adore these graphic novels and can't wait to read the next installment. I learned of its release through the author's FB page. Pre-ordered!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set Outside the U.S.

This week's TTT theme over at Broke and Bookish is Books Set Outside the U.S.

I'll start with the one I am reading right now: 

(Afghanistan) Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy. Unabridged audiobook narrated by Arianna Delawari. Scholastic Audio, 2013.

Publisher synopsis: Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan; a good relationship with her hard stepmother; and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her--"Inshallah," God willing.
Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the Afghan poetry she taught her late mother. And the Americans come to her village, promising not just new opportunities and dangers, but surgery to fix her face. These changes could mean a whole new life for Zulaikha--but can she dare to hope they'll come true?

(England) The Name of the Blade by Zoe Marriott. Candlewick Press, 2014.

Publisher synopsis: When Mio sneaks the family’s katana — a priceless ancestral sword —from her parents’ attic, she just wants to spice up a costume. But the katana is much more than a dusty antique. Awakening the power within the sword unleashes a terrible, ancient evil onto the streets of unsuspecting London. But it also releases Shinobu, a fearless warrior boy, from the depths of time. He helps to protect Mio — and steals her heart. With creatures straight out of Japanese myths stalking her and her friends, Mio realizes that if she cannot keep the sword safe and learn to control its legendary powers, she will lose not only her own life . . . but the love of a lifetime.

(Scotland) Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray. Unabridged audiobook narrated by Bruce Mann. Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2010.

Publisher synopsis: Ross is dead, and Blake, Sim, and Kenny are furious. To make it right, they steal Ross's ashes and set out from their home on the English coast for the tiny village of Ross in southern Scotland, a place their friend had always wanted to go. What follows is an unforgettable journey with illegal train rides, bungee jumping, girls, and high-speed police chases--all with Ross's ashes along for the ride. As events spin wildly out of control, the three friends must take their heads out of the sand long enough to answer the question: What really happened to Ross?

Keith Gray is an award-winning author from the United Kingdom, making his U.S. debut with this action-packed and darkly humorous novel about friendship and loss.

(England) Half Bad by Sally Green. Half Bad Trilogy #1. 432 p. Penguin Young Readers Group, March 2014.

Publisher synopsis: In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and sixteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his seventeenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, Half Bad is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.

(England) Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher. 272 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, November, 2013.

Publisher synopsis: Dear Mr. S. Harris,
Ignore the blob of red in the top left corner. It's jam, not blood, though I don't think I need to tell you the difference. It wasn't your wife's jam the police found on your shoe. . . .

I know what it's like. 

Mine wasn't a woman. Mine was a boy. And I killed him exactly three months ago. 
Zoe has an unconventional pen pal—Mr. Stuart Harris, a Texas Death Row inmate and convicted murderer. But then again, Zoe has an unconventional story to tell. A story about how she fell for two boys, betrayed one of them, and killed the other.

Hidden away in her backyard shed in the middle of the night with a jam sandwich in one hand and a pen in the other, Zoe gives a voice to her heart and her fears after months of silence. Mr. Harris may never respond to Zoe's letters, but at least somebody will know her story—somebody who knows what it's like to kill a person you love. Only through her unusual confession can Zoe hope to atone for her mistakes that have torn lives apart, and work to put her own life back together again.

Rising literary star Annabel Pitcher pens a captivating second novel, rich with her distinctive balance between humor and heart. Annabel explores the themes of first love, guilt, and grief, introducing a character with a witty voice and true emotional resonance.

(Africa) The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John.

(Various countries in Europe)Vango: Between Earth and Sky by Timothee de Fombelle. Brilliance Audio, October, 2014. 

Publisher synopsis: In a world between wars, a young man on the cusp of taking priestly vows is suddenly made a fugitive. Fleeing the accusations of police who blame him for a murder, as well as more sinister forces with darker intentions, Vango attempts to trace the secrets of his shrouded past and prove his innocence before all is lost. As he crisscrosses the continent via train, boat, and even the Graf Zeppelin airship, his adventures take him from Parisian rooftops to Mediterranean islands to Scottish forests. A mysterious, unforgettable, and romantic protagonist, Vango tells a thrilling story sure to captivate lovers of daring escapades and subversive heroes.

(Australia) I am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak. 368 p. Random House Children's Books, February, 2005.

Publisher synopsis: Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.
That's when the first ace arrives in the mail. That's when Ed becomes the messenger. Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?

(England) The Marvels by Brian Selznick. 672 p. Scholastic Inc., September, 2015.

(Ireland) Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan. 304 p. Candlewick Press, August, 2014.

Publisher synopsis: In a heart-pounding, atmospheric ghost story, a teenage boy must find the resources within himself to save his haunted twin brother.

After their nan accidentally burns their home down, twin brothers Pat and Dom must move with their parents and baby sister to the seaside cottage they’ve summered in, now made desolate by the winter wind. It’s there that the ghost appears — a strange boy who cries black tears and fears a bad man, a soldier, who is chasing him. Soon Dom has become not-Dom, and Pat can sense that his brother is going to die — while their overwhelmed parents can’t even see what’s happening. Isolated and terrified, Pat needs to keep his brother’s cover while figuring out how to save him, drawing clues from his own dreams and Nan’s long-ago memories, confronting a mystery that lies between this world and the next — within the Grey. With white-knuckle pacing and a deft portrayal of family relationships, Celine Kiernan offers a taut psychological thriller that is sure to haunt readers long after the last page is turned.

(Australia) Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. 419 p. HarperCollins Publishers, March, 2010

Publisher synopsis: In this lyrical, absorbing, award-winning novel, nothing is as it seems, and every clue leads to more questions.

At age eleven, Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother. At fourteen, she ran away from boarding school, only to be tracked down and brought back by a mysterious stranger. Now seventeen, Taylor's the reluctant leader of her school's underground community, whose annual territory war with the Townies and visiting Cadets has just begun. This year, though, the Cadets are led by Jonah Griggs, and Taylor can't avoid his intense gaze for long. To make matters worse, Hannah, the one adult Taylor trusts, has disappeared. But if Taylor can piece together the clues Hannah left behind, the truth she uncovers might not just settle her past, but also change her future.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Non-Fiction Monday: We Will Not be Silent: the White Rose Student Resistance Movement that defied Adolf Hitler

We Will Not be Silent: the White Rose Student Resistance Movement that defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman. 104 p. Clarion Books/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May, 2016. 9780544223790. (Review from finished copy borrowed from public library)

Right up front, I will admit my ignorance of the White Rose Movement though it did ring some bells. The arresting cover photo caught my eye on the "New Non-Fiction" shelf at my favorite library and seeing that it was written by Russell Freedman just sealed the deal. Before I even cracked the cover, it went into my book order for the coming school year because anything by Freedman is basically an automatic purchase for me.

In 1943, Hans Scholl was a medical student at university in Munich. He was a former Hitler Youth and regularly needed to leave his studies in order to serve the German military in a variety of capacities, as did his younger sister, Sophie. While initially an enthusiastic participant, he soon became disillusioned with the lock-step order and demand for blind allegiance. An older brother was already serving in the military. He too was critical of Hitler. Scholl formed the secret society and, with the help of a professor, set about printing anti-propaganda leaflets which exhorted the German populace to wake up and take a stand against Hitler's atrocities. 

Succinct and exquisitely written in just over one hundred pages, Freedman weaves an inspiring tale of student activists. It is eerily timely considering the current political climate. He focuses on the Scholl family, specifically Hans and Sophie and their small circle of co-conspirators. He provides historical context. With each step the students take against Hitler, they take one step closer to being caught and tried for treason. Freedman's writing conveys that suspense. The bravery of the three that were captured, Hans, Sophie and Christoph Probst was quite moving. I read the final pages through tears.

Gorgeously designed with plenty of archival photos; meticulously sourced and with plenty of suggested books and films for further reading. We Will Not be Silent is a first-purchase that I cannot recommend enough. This one I will be booktalking frequently. I see a display featuring this, sitting next to The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose and Courage & Defiance by Deborah Hopkinson when we return to school.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Audiobook Review: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. Unabridged audiobook download. 9 hours, 19 minutes. Read by Philip Church. Listening Library, 2014. (Free download courtesy of

Because Grasshopper Jungle reviews indicated a mature audience and I work in a 5th through 8th grade middle school, my copy of it languished on my tbr since it pubbed. I wanted to read it, but kept moving more age-appropriate books ahead. I tend to read more mature YA books with my ears so when audiobooksync offered it (and many other fantastic titles) this summer, I marked my calendar. 

Toward the end of this past school year, two eighth graders, a boy and a girl, who are vociferous readers were combing my shelves in search of a book to read. It really became a long and rambling book talk as titles were recommended but one or both had already read them. Somehow Andrew Smith came up. The boy threw his hands over his eyes and staggered back saying, "Grasshopper Jungle! Oh my god! That book traumatized me! I am scarred for life!" He would not elaborate when I asked what he meant. The girl, an aspiring actress, with sophisticated and eclectic taste, rolled her eyes and asked me if I read it. When I responded that I had not but wanted to, she told me that it was intense and mature but pretty good. 

Two excellent readers. Two wildly different reactions. One ready. One not. I happen to know both fairly well. The boy had commented that other books "traumatized" him - usually books with themes of sexual identity. I think he may be struggling. It doesn't stop him from seeking more out.

After reading the mindf*ck that is Grasshopper Jungle, I get it. Crude, lewd, hilarious, complex, loopy, and brilliant. It's a story about friendship, first love, sexuality, politics, unethical scientific research, survival, and the telling of history. It's pretty bloody brilliant but not for everyone.

The new-to-me-narrator's performance was perfectly voiced and perfectly paced. 

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For review:

The Curse of the Boggin by D.J. MacHale. Library series, book 1. 256 p. Random House Children's Books, September 6, 2016. 9781101932544.

Publisher synopsis: There’s a place beyond this world, beyond the land of the living, where ghosts go to write their unfinished stories—stories that ended too soon. It’s a place for unexplained phenomena: mysteries that have never been solved, spirits that have never been laid to rest. And there’s only one way in or out.

It’s called the Library, and you can get there with a special key. But beware! Don’t start a story you can’t finish. Because in this library, the stories you can’t finish just might finish you.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you?