Thursday, August 22, 2019

#tbt: Slob by Ellen Potter

Image: Penguin/ Philomel
Slob by Ellen Potter. 208 p. Philomel Books/ Penguin Young Reader's Group, May, 2009. 9780399247057. (Own.)

It isn't often that I get to use this word, but happy penultimate Thursday of the summer, TMS Readers! Yes, we have one more Thursday of summer before I get to see your smiling faces! I also get to use the word penultimate four more times! 

Thanks to Samaaya for recommending Slob by Ellen Potter for #tbt. Twelve-year-old Owen Birnbaum is the fattest kid in school and bullied about it, even by his gym teacher. Worse yet, someone is stealing the Oreos out of his lunch each day. Owen is also a genius inventor. He'd like to invent a television that shows the past as well as a device to catch his Oreo thief. Something happened two years ago that he needs to see. While this is a sad book, it is also laugh-out-loud funny. Owen is a character you won't soon forget. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

He's Ba-ack! Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy

Image: HarperCollins Publishers
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. 384 p. HarperCollins Publishers, May, 2018. 9780008248789. (Review of finished ppb courtesy of Harper360.)

Twelve-year-old Stephanie Edgley is standing at her uncle's graveside when she notices a figure wearing a trench coat, hat and scarf standing under a tree away from the crowd. This was curious on such a hot day. It got even curiouser when, later, she escapes to the study at her uncle's huge home to avoid all the disingenuous "mourners" to find herself face-to-face with the gentleman. It seems Stephanie's uncle spoke of her often to him. And, after a brief exchange of pleasantries, he disappears abruptly. 

Days later, she has to accompany her parents to the reading of her uncle's will where she learns that she has inherited the bulk of her uncle's fortune as well as his home. The strange man was also named in the will and Stephenie learns his name—Skulduggery Pleasant. Soon after, Skulduggery rescues Stephanie from an intruder. It is then she discovers that the trench coat, hat and scarf were disguising the fact that he is a skeleton!

It seems that the horror stories Stephanie's uncle wrote were inspired by true events. He and Skulduggery often worked together to solve mysteries and now, Skulduggery was going to find her uncle's killer. Stephanie does not intend to be left on the sidelines. She is in for one heck of a ride!

The voice captivates from page one. Stephanie is just a terrific main character— smart, brave, not easily rattled and quite, quite stubborn as Skulduggery quickly learns. She's also dryly hilarious. The banter between her and Skulduggery had me laughing out loud often. The action is fast, furious and quite violent as the bad guys here are called The Faceless and their leader, Serpine are after a scepter with which he will rule the world. So stakes are high.

It was so much fun to revisit Skulduggery Pleasant! I cannot recall when or how I came upon it. The book was originally published in 2007. I probably read a review. I was neither blogging or on Goodreads then; but the book stuck with me. I am pretty sure I read it with my ears, but might not have, though I did read books 2 - 5 with my ears. I had to send to the U.K. for books 3 - 5 as I couldn't find them here. The audiobooks, narrated by Rupert Degas, are spectacular. Degas' deadpan delivery and distinct character voices compliment this intense tale. 

Skulduggery Pleasant was Landy's debut and he followed it up with eight additional sequels followed by a second series. I have a bit of catching up to do! Readers who love horror and fantasy will gobble this up and be back for more, so make sure you have the rest of the series on standby.

Waiting on Wednesday: Bird & Squirrel: All or Nothing by James Burks

Bird and Squirrel: All or Nothing by James Burks. 128 p. Graphix/ Scholastic Inc., April 21, 2020. 

Publisher synopsis:
Squirrel helps Bird overcome his biggest challenge yet -- FAMILY!

The dangerous Horned Toad 500 cross-country race is coming up and Bird's father has always won it. But when his dad gets injured, Bird reluctantly joins the race to save the family honor. While dealing with the scorching desert heat and dirty tricks from another team, Bird and Squirrel are put to the ultimate test of endurance and sportsmanship. Along the way, the duo learns that, win or lose, having good friends and family will always get you to the finish line.

This Odd Couple is hilarious. Can't wait!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson

Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson. Unabridged e-audiobook. ~5 hours. Narrated by Katie Koster and Christian Barillas. Scholastic Audio, June, 2019. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library. Finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

When I opened the hard cover of this epistolary novel, my heart sank a bit to find that it is told entirely in text messages. I don't love texting irl and my digital-immigrant eyes have trouble following long strings of text. Still, the premise intrigued. Luckily, I found it while browsing new e-audio additions in Libby. It was delivered to my phone after a brief hold. I found it quite entertaining. 

High school senior, Haley receives a text from a classmate in her AP history class regarding an upcoming assignment. He identifies himself as Martin Nathaniel Munroe II. The only problem is that there are two Martin Nathaniel Munroe IIs in her class and she hates one of them. Believing she is talking to the one she doesn't hate, Haley answers his question. He responds and the two begin to banter. Soon the bantering turns into full-fledged honest conversations as the two open up. Is it time to meet irl?

This was kind of fun. It was like eavesdropping. The challenge of the text format is that the only clues we have to these characters are what they say type to each other. There is no interior dialogue, no setting, and few extra characters weighing in to add dimension. All have is two smart teens getting to know each other in all its messy glory. 

Another challenge when texting or reading texts is the absence of emotional clues. Sure, we have emoticons, of which I am not fluent; but it can become tricky. The performance of these two new-to-me narrators helped with that. Haley was snarky and anxious and often hilarious. Martin was earnest. But then, perhaps the audio turned the book into a series of phone conversations? 

Either way, Technically, You Started It was an amusing experiment. I'm eager to book talk it when we return to school. I think my teens will love it. Not sure I'd jump into another text-only novel very soon, but interested in reading more from this debut author. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Middle Grade Monday and Arc Review: The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty

Image: Random House
The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty. 360 p. Random House Books for Young Readers, September 3, 2019. 9781524767617. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)

Middle Grade Monday features The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty. Eleanor Dross lives with her widowed dad and kid brothers. Her grandfather lives nearby and is a prepper, meaning he's a survivalist prepared for the end of the world. He has stockpiled supplies and trained his grandchildren to be prepared. Elle used to get a kick out of these drills, but lately, not-so-much. Until. Until she comes across a website posted by a former Harvard astronomer that posits that planet Earth is in the path of a huge asteroid. 

The only person outside of her family that Elle is interested in saving is Mack, her bff since kindergarten. Mack is blind. He's the yin to her yang. He's chill and positive, she is so-not and prone to cynicism. Still, their friendship works. Mack insists that Eleanor involve other students in their preparation for TEOTWASKI — the end of the world as we know it. They form a "nature club" and Elle shares survival tips with the members, which include her nemesis, Londyn. As the countdown to April and collision date nears, Elle must come to terms with the fact that Mack may be abandoning her to attend a boarding school for the blind. THAT would be TEOTWASKI for Elle. If the asteroid hits, Elle won't need to worry about that. If it doesn't, not only will Elle will have a bit of a credibility problem, she will not have her single friend to help her through it.

Middle school dialogue and situations ring true in this fast-paced, compelling novel. Readers will feel for Elle, but will understand how her prickly cynicism keeps classmates at arm's length. They might even discuss what makes for credible sources on the internet! An extensive collection of back matter discusses this topic as well as other large impacts in recorded history; definitions; details about survival preparation and legitimate resources for further reading. 

The World Will End in April is perfect for thoughtful readers who enjoyed the author's earlier, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl (which I LOVED) or stories about misfits, middle school and friendship. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

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:
Image: HarperCollins Publishers
Cracking the Bell by Geoff Herbach. 254 p. Katherine Tegen Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, September 10, 2019. 9780062453143. 

Publisher synopsis: Friday Night Lights meets Concussion in this powerful and important novel by Geoff Herbach, author of the Stupid Fast series, exploring the dangerous concussion crisis in football through the eyes of a high school team captain.

Isaiah loves football. In fact, football saved Isaiah’s life, giving him structure and discipline after his sister’s death tore his family apart. But when Isaiah gets knocked out cold on the field, he learns there’s a lot more to lose than football.

While recovering from a concussion, Isaiah wonders what his life would look like without the game. All his friends are on the team, and Isaiah knows they can’t win without him. The scholarship offer from Cornell is only on the table if he keeps playing.

And without football, what would keep his family together? What would prevent him from sliding back into the habits that nearly destroyed him?

Isaiah must decide how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the sport that gave him everything, even if playing football threatens to take away his future.

Image: Candlewick Press
Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi. Illustrated by Corinna Luyken. 234 p. Candlewick Press, October 1, 2019. 9780763694937.

Publisher synopsis: Eleven-year-old Penny Rose has just moved to a new town, and so far the robots she builds herself are her only company. But with just a bit of magic, everything changes: she becomes best friends with Lark, has the chance to join a secret science club, and discovers that her robots are alive. Penny Rose hardly remembers how lonely she used to feel. But then a fateful misstep forces her to choose between the best friend she’s always hoped for and the club she’s always dreamed of, and in the end it may be her beloved little robots that pay the price. Quirky and wonderful, this illustrated chapter book from Carolyn Crimi and Corinna Luyken shows that making your own space and a true friend in the world is a kind of magic all its own.

When two science-savvy girls create an entire robot world, they don’t expect the robots to come alive. But life may be a bit more magical than they thought.

The Monster Hypothesis by Romily Bernard. 298 p. Disney/ Hyperion, December 10, 2019. 9781368028554. 

Publisher synopsis: Welcome to Bohring-home to 453 people, 2,053 alligators, and one monster curse.

Correction: home to 454 people, now that Kick Winter is living in the swamp Hollows with her Grandma Missouri, the town (fake) psychic. Bohring is anything but boring for Kick who has already blown a hole through the kitchen floor, befriended a chicken-eating gator, and discovered that the town's hundred-year curse is upon them.

It's the Bohring curse and all the kids are about to become monsters-or so the legend goes. People are worried-except for Kick. She knows there's a scientific explanation for everything, especially curses and monsters. But Kick is the new kid in school and she's determined to make a name for herself . . . by pretending to be psychic.

According to her calculations: one teeny-tiny life + (fake) psychic skills = popularity. But when kids start disappearing and glowing creatures start showing up, Kick's theory quickly evaporates in a puff of foul-smelling swamp gas. Can Kick use her (real) science smarts to prove the curse is a hoax? Or is it just-maybe-sort of-somehow possible the curse is here?

Purchased: Nothing!

If you leave a comment, I will definitely stop by and try to comment back - unless commenters have to sign onto Discus or Wordpress or FB or anything that makes commenting difficult and gives my data to miners. But, I will definitely check your stack!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Fact Friday and Review: Even More Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown

Image: Scholastic
Even More Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown. 54 p. David Fickling Books/ Scholastic Inc., July, 2019. 9781338349610.

When my now thirty-three-year-old son was six, he attended a Montessori elementary school after three years of Montessori preschool. Montessori groups grading and he was in a 1 - 3 class with a lovely teacher. Students in a Montessori elementary school get small group instruction and have a lot of leeway and time to explore and complete tasks. My son was a voracious reader. He decided that he would research an animal, sorry, don't remember what one, but it was tiny and lived in South America, to find out whether or not it was extinct. I remember his six-year-old self explaining to me how hard it was to prove something extinct. 

Okay now. So what does this have to do with my review of More Lesser Spotted Animals? Well, Max would've loved this book, for one. And so will your fact hounds. 

Humorous and conversational, Brown again swivels the spotlight from the A-list animals to point out the attributes of twenty-six lesser known but no less fascinating creatures. With some, such as the ribbon seal, there is so little known about the elusive creatures that its status could not be categorized! Hence, my flashback.

Each double-page spread features an animal or two and sometimes three. There's a full-page portrait, each marked with amusing cartoon eyes. An informal summary introduces each animal and text boxes contain their size, diet, habitat, status and an "AND," an unusual factoid, such as, [the Red River Hog] "noses through elephant dung for undigested seeds." 

Back matter includes a two-page glossary, which includes definitions of the eight tiers of endangerment status. There are no source notes or suggestions for further reading. The end-pages are very cute. Even More Lesser Spotted Animals stands alone is a great companion to Brown's earlier, More Lesser Spotted Animals. Even More stands alone, but after your students gobble it up, they will probably ask for More!