Hidden Enemy

Caution! It is absolutely necessary to read all of the I Am Number Four (aka Lorien Legacies) series if you plan to pick up Hidden Enemy, an anthology of novellas 7-9 in The Lost Files. Here’s a handy reading list for those new to the series:

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read through The Fall of Five, turn back now! (Also, I’m not going do much explanation of back story. If you’re not already familiar with the series, you’ll probably be lost.)

If you’ve read my post on The Fall of Five, you probably know I was a tad frustrated with how things ended. If you read the actual book, you likely share my frustration. Well, in Hidden Enemy, we get a little more information on what made Five the person he came to be.

The first story, Five’s Legacy, gives readers a look at Five’s early life. We see him with his ailing Cêpan (guardian/trainer), Rey, as they move from place to place in an effort to stay healthy and evade the Mogadorians. Five is not happy with his life of isolation, and he’s sure the other members of the Loric Garde are together and training without him. His legacies (special powers) haven’t manifested yet, and he’s getting a little tired of waiting. Finally, though, when things seem most hopeless, Five begins seeing evidence that his legacies have arrived. He’s telekinetic, and he can fly. Those powers will serve him well as he tries to make a new start. That new start will, unfortunately, deliver him right into the hands of those that Rey tried so hard to protect him from. Five is insecure and vulnerable, and certain people know just how to take advantage of that. They play on Five’s feelings of powerlessness and promise him a future that looks brighter than anything he could have imagined. The price? He’ll have to turn his back on his own people…

Return to Paradise, the second novella in this book, is told from the perspective of Mark James. You may remember him as the jock who made Four’s life miserable. He was also Sarah’s ex-boyfriend. Well, you may also remember that he had a rather huge change of heart during the battle at the end of I Am Number Four. This story picks up during the aftermath of that battle. Mark can’t really go back to how things were before. He knows too much now. How can he be expected to care about partying when evil aliens are bent on enslaving humans and destroying the planet? He knows more is going on than the public is aware of, and the only person who he can talk to is Sarah, a girl who is still maddeningly hung up on her alien boyfriend, the guy who dragged them into this mess. Mark also does some investigating of his own, and he discovers that the Mogadorian threat goes deeper than he realized. Can he, a mere human, do anything to stop this? And what will happen when Four returns to town and Sarah goes missing? Is there any way Mark can help Sarah and the Lorien cause?

Finally, in Five’s Betrayal, we return to Five’s story. He’s now in the “belly of the beast,” so to speak. He’s becoming more powerful by the day, and he’s earning the notice and respect of the very beings he was always taught to despise. Five is studying war tactics and Mogadorian history, and he knows that the Loric Garde have no chance to best their enemies. His solution? Join the enemy and gain more power than he ever thought possible. The Mogadorians have given Five more attention and freedom than he ever enjoyed as one of the precious Garde, so he’s willing to do whatever it takes to stay in their good graces. Even if that means sacrificing the only friend he has left in the world…

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The highlights of this anthology were, obviously, the first and last novellas. They shed some light on the character of Five and let readers know why he made the decisions he did. I still don’t like Five, though. I think he’s a self-indulgent cry baby. (Maybe I’m being too harsh.) He allowed others to prey on his weakness, and he lost all ability to think for himself. He fell victim to Mogadorian propaganda and didn’t question the line of bull he was being fed. It was all I could do not to scream at him the entire time I was reading his story. (I may be reacting so strongly to this because I read the book during election season. It’s way too easy to see the parallels.)

At any rate, I’m now more than ready to dive into the next full-length novel in this series, The Revenge of Seven. It’s sitting on my coffee table right now, just waiting on me to pick it up. After I finish one more read-in-progress, I’ll journey once more into the fight between the Loriens and the Mogadorians. From what I’ve heard, there will be just one more book after this one, so I’m sure The Revenge of Seven will illicit the same response that The Fall of Five did. I’ll likely want to hurl it across the room at the end. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Red Thread Sisters

I can see the finish line in the distance. Last night, I read my 18th nominee for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Only two more to go!

My latest SCCBA nominee is Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock. It is a short but powerful book that could encourage young readers to explore their differences, appreciate families of all types, and examine the true meaning of friendship.

 “An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.” ~Ancient Chinese Legend

Wen has spent the past several years in a Chinese orphanage, but her life is about to undergo a drastic change. She has been adopted by an American family, and she’s leaving her best friend in the world, Shu Ling, behind. Wen promises that she’ll do whatever it takes to find a home for Shu Ling, but that may not be so easy when Wen is trying to adjust to a new family and an unfamiliar country and language.

Wen’s new life in Boston is much more difficult than she could have imagined. She misses her best friend desperately, and she remains distant from her new mom and her little sister, Emily. It’s also hard to make friends at school when she’s so different–and when she can’t understand many of the words spoken around her.

Eventually, though, Wen does make a very good friend…but how can Wen be totally happy with her new life when she knows that Shu Ling is counting on her to find a forever family?

Young Wen becomes determined to help her best friend, but time is running out. In a matter of weeks, Shu Ling will no longer be eligible for adoption. What can one eleven-year-old girl do to make sure her friend, a disabled thirteen-year-old in a Chinese orphanage, is adopted by an American family?

Well, Wen will discover that she’s capable of quite a bit, but will her efforts be enough? Will she find a home for Shu Ling in time? Will these “red thread sisters” ever see each other again? If not, can Wen ever be truly happy with her new life in America?

Read Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock to see just what one young girl will do to ensure the happiness of her best friend…and herself.

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Red Thread Sisters is a great book that is sure to pull at the heartstrings. I think every reader will root for Wen to connect with her new family and find a home for her best friend. The book may even make people stop and think about how they treat those who come from different backgrounds than their own. Maybe they’ll be a little more empathetic after reading this book. Maybe they’ll learn to focus on what connects them instead of what sets them apart.

Any teachers looking to use Red Thread Sisters in their classrooms are in for a treat. The author has an amazing teacher guide on her website that connects this book to so many areas of study. (It even has the Common Core standards addressed by the book included.) If any of my upper elementary or middle grade teacher friends are looking for a new novel study–and you don’t want to do all of the legwork yourself–consider Red Thread Sisters and this wonderful resource (linked directly for your convenience).

If you’re interested in learning more about Red Thread Sisters and Carol Antoinette Peacock, check out the author’s website. You may also want to take a peek at the book trailer below. I know I’ll be using it when I promote this book to my students!

The Quilt Walk

When I first picked up The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about reading it. (I wouldn’t have read it at all if it had not been one of this year’s SCCBA nominees.) I’ve never been a fan of westerns, thanks in part to being forced to watch shows like Wagon Train, The Rifleman, and others over the course of my life. My dad loves these shows, and he’s tried to develop an appreciation in me. It hasn’t worked.

Anyway, upon realizing that The Quilt Walk was about a girl moving west with her family, I was reluctant to start reading, but I persevered (because I had to), and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The main character was relatable, the action moved fairly quickly, and I was invested in the book’s outcome. I wanted the people on this journey to arrive safely at their destination and get a happy ending. (Spoilers: Not all of them did.) This book, which I didn’t initially want to read, grabbed ahold of me, and I found myself liking it more than I was prepared to.

The year is 1864, and Emmy Blue Hatchett has just learned that her family is leaving their safe home in Illinois to strike out for a new life in Golden, Colorado. While Emmy Blue is excited about the possibility of adventure, she doesn’t want to leave everything she’s ever known behind…and she knows her mother feels the same way. But they accept their new circumstances, and Emmy Blue, her parents, and her aunt and uncle set off for Colorado.

The family has to leave many things behind–and think of creative ways to take along what they need–but just before they leave, Emmy Blue is given some fabric pieces by her grandmother. Emmy Blue is not exactly happy with this gift. Unlike the other women in her family, Emmy Blue has no interest in quilting. She doesn’t understand the appeal of making perfect stitches and putting scraps of fabric together, but her mother convinces her to take her grandmother’s gift and put it together on their long trek to Colorado.

As Emmy Blue begins piecing her quilt together, often walking while she stitches, she takes in her surroundings and gets to know the people around her. She has long conversations with her father and mother, she makes a new friend when they join up with a wagon train, and she questions some of the cruelty she sees around her. She encounters dangers she never expected, she learns to set up camp and lead a team of oxen, and she even finds herself enjoying her quilt walk just a bit. On this long, perilous journey, Emmy Blue Hatchett is growing up and discovering just how strong both she and those around her really are.

Eventually, Emmy Blue and her family arrive at their destination…though not without some changes. Emmy Blue is a different person than the girl who left Illinois. Her quilt walk may be done, but her journey through life is just beginning.

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When I return to school tomorrow (UGH!), I plan to share this book with several of my teachers. I think The Quilt Walk is a welcome addition to studies on Westward Expansion, especially considering the book is loosely based on an actual event in Colorado history. (More information about that is available in the author’s note.)

Readers my age may enjoy making connections between this book and that favorite computer game, Oregon Trail–which I never managed to make it all the way through. I always ended up with dysentery or something.

Another connection I had with this book was quilting. Now, I’ve never learned to quilt–to my great regret–but my great-grandmothers were excellent quilters, and they gave their creations to their families. Some of my most prized possessions are quilts made by my great-grandmothers. (My favorites are my Holly Hobbie and Strawberry Shortcake quilts, along with a very special one that includes both Jose Cuervo and Jingle Bells fabric scraps. I think I treasure that one because it’s so weird.) Who knows? Maybe this book will inspire a whole new generation of quilters. I could even take it up one of these days. Stranger things have happened.

The Quilt Walk is a book I’d highly recommend for any upper elementary or middle grade classroom or library. It’s a great book that tells of life in the “Wild West” and what that life may have been like for a young girl. Young readers may find it interesting to compare and contrast Emmy Blue’s experiences with their own. They may just find they have more in common than they thought possible.

If you’d like more information on The Quilt Walk, a 14-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee, and author Sandra Dallas, visit her website.

Published in: on August 11, 2014 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fourteenth Goldfish

On August 26th, The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm will be released. (Once again, I was lucky enough to read an ARC courtesy of NetGalley.) Well, let me go ahead and tell my librarian friends who work with upper elementary and middle grade readers that this books is a must purchase for your collections! The Fourteenth Goldfish is highly entertaining, delivers an important message, offers opportunities for further research, and shows readers just how cool science can be. I’m hoping to use this book as a read-aloud with several classes in my school this year, and I’m already looking forward to the discussions it will generate.

Things were so much simpler for Ellie in elementary school. She didn’t have to worry about where to sit in the cafeteria, losing her best friend, or all the other changes middle school brings. Well, soon Ellie will have one more change…and this one will rock her entire world.

One day, Ellie’s mom brings home a strange yet oddly familiar boy. He bears a striking resemblance to her grandfather, but Ellie doesn’t know of any long-lost relatives who would just show up all of a sudden. So who is this odd, crotchety, young boy?

Well, as it turns out, this boy actually is Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin. Through his research with jellyfish, he seems to have found the “cure” for aging, and this seventy-six year old man now looks like a teenager. (He still acts like an old man, though.) Melvin shares his discovery with Ellie and enlists her help in retrieving the research that he’s sure will win him a Nobel Prize.

Ellie is intrigued by her grandfather’s work, but, the more she learns about science and what happens after important discoveries–like Oppenheimer’s work on the atomic bomb–the more she wonders if Melvin’s breakthrough is a good thing. Does the world really need a cure for aging? What would be the consequences if such a thing were available?

As Ellie explores the scientific possibilities with her grandfather, she’s also coming to grips the changes in her own life. Maybe it’s okay that she’s letting go of old friends and making new ones. Moving on is a part of life, right? Now, all she needs to do is convince her grandfather of that…

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Like I mentioned previously, I really want to use this book as a read-aloud, particularly with my fifth grade students. My school’s major focus this year is science, and I think The Fourteenth Goldfish could really serve as a catalyst for some intriguing conversations and inquiry-based science projects with my students.

Science aside, The Fourteenth Goldfish also teaches readers important lessons on moving forward, even when things don’t go the way we want them to. Ellie’s relationship with her best friend just wasn’t the same when they reached middle school. Was she sad about this? Yes, but she worked to make new friends who shared her interests. That’s something even adults–like myself–can learn from. Ellie’s grandfather also needed to learn the importance of moving forward instead of looking back, and I think Ellie definitely helped him with that.

If I haven’t made it perfectly clear already, I adore The Fourteenth Goldfish, and I think this book is a necessary purchase for any school or public library that serves upper elementary and middle grades. I hope my students (and teachers) love it as much as I do!

For more information on The Fourteenth Goldfish or other fabulous books by Jennifer L. Holm, check out the author’s website or Twitter.

To learn a little more about The Fourteenth Goldfish from Jennifer Holm herself, check out this cool video on YouTube. Enjoy, and believe in the possible!

Published in: on August 2, 2014 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Let’s Get Lost

A couple of days ago, Let’s Get Lost, a novel by Adi Alsaid, was released to the world. I began reading a NetGalley review copy of the book last week, and I finally finished it last night. To be perfectly honest, this book didn’t immediately capture my attention, so I found it easy to put it down and move on to something else. Once I made up my mind to sit down and read Let’s Get Lost, however, I wanted to know more about the central character, Leila, and her interactions with others on her journey north. The relationships she formed told us just as much about Leila as they did about the people she encountered.

Hudson is a kid preparing for the most important meeting of his entire life. He’s got a shot at a full scholarship at Ole Miss, and tomorrow is the big day. But a lot can happen in a day. When Hudson is working in his dad’s garage, a girl brings her car in for a little work. Almost immediately, Hudson is captivated by this newcomer. Her name is Leila, and she’s unlike any girl he’s ever met. She’s traveling to see the Northern Lights, and Hudson is awed by her bravery, her ability to take life as it comes, and to do what she wants. He wishes he could do the same. While she’s in town, he does. He decides to live a little before his big interview. Hudson shows Leila the town he loves, he shares pieces of himself with her, and he begins to reevaluate what he really wants. Is he ready, though, for the fallout of his night with Leila and what it could mean for his future?

Bree meets Leila on a lonely stretch of highway in Kansas. Bree is a runaway who lives for the next adventure, the next surge of adrenaline. She thinks she’s met a kindred spirit in Leila, the girl who took pity on a poor hitchhiker. Bree introduces Leila to the thrill of shoplifting, auto theft, and, eventually, spending some time in a jail cell. Through all this, Bree reveals her story to Leila, who wants to do whatever she can to help this girl find whatever it is she’s looking for. Is she really looking to run away, or is she trying to find her way home again?

Elliot, a young man in Minnesota, just told his friend, Maribel, that he’s in love with her…and was essentially shot down. This is not how his prom night was supposed to go. It was supposed to end like all the great romantic movies, with the girl revealing that she’s always loved him too, and then they have a dramatic kiss and live happily ever after. Yeah…not so much. Instead, Elliot is getting hammered and doing stupid stunts in the middle of the street. And that’s were Leila runs into him–literally. After a mild run-in with Leila’s car, Elliot unloads his troubles on this strange girl. Leila, in turn, vows to help Elliot win the girl he loves. What follows is a night reminiscent of a John Hughes film. Every time Elliot thinks he’s finally done something to win his Maribel’s affections, he’s rebuffed. It’s just when he’s all but given up that he has a glimmer of hope…and it’s all thanks to Leila, a girl he’d never met before this night but one who gave him the push he needed to follow his heart.

Sonia is a young woman struggling with her feelings. She’s in a wedding in British Columbia this weekend, but she’s very conscious that someone is missing from this important occasion. Sam, the boy she loved so much, passed away months ago, and his absence is weighing on Sonia. It’s Sam’s sister getting married, and his family that has taken Sonia in as one of their own, but how would they react if they knew she was moving on? Sonia doesn’t want to risk losing Sam’s family, but she knows that Jeremiah–who happens to be the best man in this weekend’s wedding–deserves more than she’s currently giving. The pressure gets to be too much for Sonia, and she needs some time alone. That’s when she meets Leila, a girl who takes pity on Sonia (who is now a tear-streaked mess), and what follows is a quest to reclaim Sonia’s life, save a wedding, and finally acknowledge that it’s okay to love again.

Leila has met quite a few interesting people on her journey to see the Northern Lights. She’s helped people–simply by caring about them–and she may have even experienced the beginnings of love, but it’s now time to see the Lights that she’s been so focused on. As she waits for the Lights to appear, she finally reveals her true reason for this long journey…and it’s not something that most people can fully grasp. Will the Northern Lights–in all their majestic glory–finally make things right for Leila, or will she discover that what she’s looking for has been within her reach all along?

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Let’s Get Lost is a good read for those interested in travel, meeting new people, and throwing caution to the wind. I am definitely not one of those people, but I still enjoyed the book a bit. It was just a little difficult to understand the appeal of so much spontaneity.

I would say that this book is more suited to high school/YA collections than those for middle grade readers. It does include some alcohol/drug use, law-breaking, a little profanity, and a fair amount of disobeying (or outright ignoring) parents and other authority figures. (I think I was bothered more by the lack of respect for parents than by any of the other “bad” stuff in this book. Of course, I’ve always been a rule-follower. On the other hand, many of the adults in this book were almost completely out of touch with what was going on in their kids’ lives. Many young people will be able to relate to that.)

I know summer is winding down for most people, but Let’s Get Lost would be a great read if you’ve got a road trip ahead of you. It may just inspire you to slow down and get to know the people you meet along the way.

For more information on Let’s Get Lost and author Adi Alsaid, check out the author’s blog, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Published in: on July 31, 2014 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

After a much-needed break from blogging, I’m back at it with one more nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. (In case you’re wondering, I’ve now read ten of the nominees. Halfway there!)

It took me a little while to get into Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, but, once I did, I didn’t want to put the book down. (I imagine that most library/book nerds will be able to relate.) It reminded me of The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman and my absolute favorite children’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. (Even the characters in the book recognize the similarities between their situation and Charlie Bucket’s adventures in Willy Wonka’s candy factory.) While the kids in this book are competing for a fantastic prize, they’re also learning a lot about the power of books, their new (and totally unbelievable) town library, and how to work as a team.

Kyle Keeley loves games of all kinds, and his favorites are the creations of the amazing Luigi Lemoncello, an eccentric genius who just happened to grow up in Kyle’s hometown.

Kyle’s town has been without a public library for years, but everyone is excited that a new library is about to open–and that excitement only grows when it’s revealed that Mr. Lemoncello himself designed the new building. Kyle is sure that the library is awesome–even though he doesn’t like to read all that much–and he is determined to be one of the first people to see just how cool it is.

An essay contest will determine which twelve seventh-graders are invited to a lock-in at the new library. Even though Kyle’s essay efforts are a bit rough, he is selected to spend the night in the greatest library the world has ever known! Filled with holograms, a Wonder Dome with changing scenes overhead, hover ladders that reach the highest shelves, state-of-the-art technology, and books galore, the library is more than any of the kids ever dreamed…and so is the contest that led them here.

When the lock-in is over, these twelve kids are presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. They may extend their stay and play the most exciting game of their lives, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library! Whoever finds the escape route from the library within the next twenty-four hours becomes Mr. Lemoncello’s spokesperson for all of his gaming products! Kyle doesn’t even need to think about whether or not he’ll stay. (Not everyone feels the same.) This is more than he ever dreamed of, and he’s in it to win it. (He’s not the only one.)

During this exciting day, Kyle teams up with some friends–old and new–and uses knowledge of books, the library, games, and Mr. Lemoncello himself to find a way out of this most unusual library. Will they be able to escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library before time runs out? Before someone else beats them to it? And what will they learn along the way?

Play the game along with Kyle and company and see if you can figure out how to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library!

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As thrilled as I am that this book is a Children’s Book Award nominee for my state, I honestly believe that many adults will appreciate this book more than younger readers will. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is filled to the brim with literary allusions, and part of the fun of reading it–at least for me–was thinking about the books or authors that the characters were alluding to. I don’t know if many of my students are well-read enough to pick up on all of these tidbits…but their teachers may be. (This could result in a giggle or two if teachers–or librarians–decide to use this book as a read-aloud…which I recommend.)

Like the character of Kyle Keeley, I predict that many kids who read this book will find themselves making a list of books they need to read. From Sherlock Holmes to Harry Potter to the works of Dr. Seuss, Kyle encountered many wonderful stories in the library, stories full of fun and adventure that added to his enjoyment of his experiences in the library. Kyle wasn’t much of a reader before this contest, but that definitely changed in a very short time.

I think librarians who read this book will likely be insanely jealous of Mr. Lemoncello’s fantastic library. I know I am. I imagine many of us would have libraries like this one if we were blessed with unlimited funds. (If I ever win the lottery, I may just make this happen in my town. Of course, one does have to play the lottery to win it.)

It might be kind of fun to have students who read this book come up with a design for their own dream library. I wonder what they would include. Probably something very different from what I envision, but this could be an intriguing–and informative–activity with interested students. (This would be a creative way to see how we could improve library programs. We may not be able to build new buildings, but we can always do something.)

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a captivating read that illuminates the power of books, libraries, teamwork, and fun in learning. It is a must-read for all who love children’s literature and those who believe that libraries–and librarians–can truly change lives.

For more on author Chris Grabenstein, check out his website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 7:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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This Journal Belongs to Ratchet

This morning, I finished reading yet another of the nominated titles for this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award. The book was This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh. As the title suggests, this book is written in a journal format, and each entry tells readers a little more about our main character, Ratchet. (Her real name is Rachel, but no one calls her that.)

If you’ve worked with elementary or middle grade readers, I likely don’t have to tell you how popular books in diary/journal format are. I can’t keep books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, Dear Dumb Diary, or even Dear America books on the shelves. These books are quick, entertaining reads that kids tend to devour. I predict that This Journal Belongs to Ratchet will be no different.

Ratchet is looking for her life to change. This lonely girl–who is homeschooled by her father–wants to make friends, be more like other girls, and finally have something new in her life. Ratchet is sure that having a mother would make everything different, but there’s not much she can do about that. (Her mother died when Ratchet was just a little girl.) Even so, Ratchet works to make things change…hopefully for the better.

Ratchet explores her feelings through a journal. Now, this journal is supposed to be for a homeschool language arts assignment, but Ratchet knows her dad will never read it, so she pours all of her feelings onto the pristine white pages. She uses her writing assignments–poetry, freewriting, descriptive essays, letters, and many others–to describe her frustrations with her father. His obsession with saving the environment and looking insane at every town hall meeting, his insistence on homeschooling Ratchet, never buying anything new, always needing her help in the garage, and his refusal to talk about her mom.

It’s not easy being the daughter of the town joke, and Ratchet hates feeling embarrassed all the time. (Her dad may not care what others think of him, but Ratchet does.) She loves her dad, but she longs for more in her life. Things would be so much better if she just had one real friend, but the kids in the neighborhood always make fun of Ratchet because of her dad…and because both of them are always covered in grease from working on cars.

Things may be on the verge of changing for Ratchet, though. When her dad begins teaching a class at the community center on how to build go-carts, Ratchet begins using the lessons her father taught her to get closer to the boys in the class. They really seem to value her knowledge, and Ratchet feels good about helping them. In the process, she even makes a close friend, Hunter, a boy who used to be part of the crowd that teased her so much.

As Ratchet explores her life, her relationship with her dad, and her feelings about her new friendship, she gradually realizes that maybe it’s not so important to be “normal.” Maybe her dad has been teaching her the important things in life all along. Sure, he’s a little crazy sometimes–and he often makes her mad–but he fights for the things he believes in, he’s true to himself, and, most importantly, he’s always been there for Ratchet. Perhaps her dad isn’t so crazy after all.

Maybe what Ratchet really needs to change in her life is her own perspective. When she realizes just how lucky she actually is, she can do anything she sets her mind to.

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I often tell my students that normal is boring. Well, Ratchet is anything but boring. I don’t know of many kids who can rebuild an engine, change a tire, teach others to build their own go-carts, and be motivated enough to do school work without any help. Ratchet is a fascinating character, and I think many readers will find her journey of self-discovery inspiring and enlightening. I also believe that readers who see themselves as kind of different will see a kindred spirit in Ratchet. And who knows? Her story could even inspire young readers–particularly girls–to learn more about auto mechanics.

I think This Journal Belongs to Ratchet could be a very powerful teaching tool in elementary and middle grade language arts classes. I envision classes reading this book together and then writing in their own journals. Students could take Ratchet’s example, and write their own poems, essays, letters, and even modern-day fairy tales, using their own lives as inspiration.

All in all, I’m very happy that this book was chosen as a 14-15 SCCBA nominee. It’s an entertaining, thought-provoking book that could help readers explore their own difficulties, frustrations, and even victories through writing. I hope the students and teachers in my school feel the same.

This Journal Belongs to Ratchet is the first book by author Nancy J. Cavanaugh. To learn more about this author and future books, visit her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Guitar Notes

I am a firm believer in the power of music. And when I encounter a book that shines a light on that, I tend to devour it. That was definitely the case with Guitar Notes by Mary Amato.

This nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Junior Book Award focuses on Tripp, a young guitar player, and Lyla, a talented young cello player.

These two young people use the same school practice room on opposite days. Tripp is playing a borrowed guitar (his mom took his away) and is only concerned with playing for his own enjoyment. Lyla, on the other hand, is feeling some intense pressure to further her career as a world-class cello player. She’s got some big auditions coming up, and she’s supposed to be using the practice room to get her pieces absolutely perfect. Things change, though, when Tripp and Lyla begin leaving notes for each other in their little room…

At first, the notes are kind of snarky. Tripp thinks of Lyla as Little Miss Perfect, and Lyla sees Tripp as something of an oddity. The two trade barbs and, in the process, learn a little more about each other. Pretty soon, they are exploring a tentative friendship and challenging each other to really explore their musical connection. Lyla puts her cello aside for a bit and focuses on learning to play the guitar and writing songs with Tripp. These two young people bond through music, and they find a friendship that might just turn out to change their entire lives.

As so often happens, though, circumstances arise that try to drive these two friends apart. Other friends don’t understand their connection, their parents are rather clueless (and are often doing more damage than they probably realize), and both Tripp and Lyla are facing pressures that feel insurmountable at times. Music, though, continues to bring them together…even when things seem impossibly bleak.

Join Tripp and Lyla on this musical journey that will take them through friendships old and new, family drama, and even a bit of adventure. They will learn so much about each other, themselves, and the music that ties them together, and this bond will see them through good times and bad. Tripp and Lyla will see the true power of music, and they may just share that with everyone around them…

_______________

Guitar Notes really spoke to me as a musician. No, I’m not a guitar or cello player. (I had a brief interlude with the violin, but that resulted in people thinking I was torturing a cat.) I have, however, been a brass player since I was twelve, so I know a little something about how music can fill a person up, bring emotions to the surface, and make everything a bit clearer. That’s what I saw in Tripp and Lyla in this book. I think any musician, young or old, who reads this book will see what I did–two young people finally discovering their voices and realizing how much music really means to them.

Guitar Notes was, at times, an emotional ride. I laughed, I cried, I commiserated, and I even got angry. I couldn’t stand Annie, Lyla’s so-called best friend. I wanted to slap her every time she made an appearance. She was just so bossy. Kind of reminded me of one of my best friends in school. Ugh.

I also wasn’t a fan of Tripp’s mom through most of the book. I get that she wanted him to improve his grades, but taking music away from him to make that happen? No, no, no. If anything, that did more damage, and it’s been proven that music actually improves brain function. (Look it up.) Eventually, Tripp’s mom “woke up” and saw just how much the guitar and Lyla’s friendship meant to her son, but it took way to much for her to finally see the light. Just my two cents.

I highly recommend Guitar Notes to any reader–probably fifth grade and up–who has a passion for music. This book definitely has a place in upper elementary, middle, and even high school classrooms and libraries. I would also urge music teachers to read this book and recommend it to their chorus, band, and orchestra students.

I am thrilled that this book earned a spot on this year’s South Carolina Junior Book Award nominee list. It’s a wonderful book that shines a light on just what music can do in a young person’s life.

Mary Amato’s next book, Get Happy, also has a musical theme, and it will be out in October. Thanks to NetGalley, I’ll be diving into that one soon, so stay tuned!

For more information on Guitar Notes and other works by Mary Amato, check out her website.

The Break-Up Artist

Last night, I finished yet another uncorrected proof from NetGalley. This time, the book is The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel.  It is published by Harlequin Teen and is scheduled to be released on April 29th.

The Break-Up Artist features a girl, sixteen-year-old Becca Williamson, who’s over the whole love thing. In fact, after dealing with the fallout of her sister being left at the altar and seeing how single girls are treated at her school, Becca opens up her own business. She becomes the Break-Up Artist. For $100, she’ll use whatever means necessary to break up couples. Business is good for Becca, but things are about to get a lot more interesting…

Steve and Huxley are the school’s power couple, and nearly everyone is in awe of their relationship. Everyone except Becca–who has her own history with Huxley–and a mysterious “family friend” who wants to break up the twosome. This “friend” offers Becca $300 to break up Steve and Huxley, and, being the good businesswoman she is, Becca agrees. Not only can she make school bearable again for her fellow singletons, but she can make some serious cash and get a little revenge on her former best friend.

Almost immediately, things get complicated. It seems that this couple isn’t as easy to break up as Becca thought. Becca will have to infiltrate the enemy camp (the popular crowd) to really get things going. And Becca eventually makes progress, but is it really worth it anymore? When Becca witnesses some of the fallout of her machinations, she begins to question her role as the Break-Up Artist. Could there really be such a thing as true love, and do Steve and Huxley have that special something? Nothing is clear for Becca, and her own life isn’t making things any easier…

Becca’s best friend, Val, has recently started dating Ezra. Val went from being by Becca’s side almost constantly to being half of a couple who has zero problems with PDA. Becca feels cast aside, and that’s bringing up some bad memories and connections with her sister’s life. What’s going to happen, though, when Val’s boyfriend sets his sites on Becca? Becca knows Val and Ezra aren’t right for each other, but could Ezra be right for her? Is she willing to jeopardize a friendship for a guy?

Becca is about to learn that love is a complicated business, especially when her role as the Break-Up Artist is becoming harder and harder to handle. Will she be able to break up Steve and Huxley? What will she do about Val and Ezra? And how will she possibly be able to cope when everything starts to unravel? Find out when you read The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel.

_______________

Before I get into the issues I had with The Break-Up Artist, let me say that I did find it to be a relatable, entertaining read.  I sympathized a lot with Becca.  I’ve always been the single girl in a crowd full of couples. As a matter of fact, I’m one of only four single people at work. I’ve even been the girl who was pushed to the side so my best friend could spend all her time with the new boyfriend. I was also the woman who lost her best friend (a guy) because his new girlfriend couldn’t deal with her man having a female best friend.  All of it sucks…but I still prefer being single to being part of a couple. I just wish I had more single friends, so I can totally relate to the character of Becca.

Even though I did like this book, I did have a couple of problems with it that have hopefully been sorted out in editing.

  • The formatting was inconsistent. Why are we indenting some paragraphs and not others? Why are quotes not indented at all, and why do we change speakers in the middle of a paragraph?  It was difficult to follow sometimes, and I found myself rereading several passages to figure out just what was going on. Maybe this happened only in the digital galley, but it still made for a very frustrating read.
  • Let’s have some noticeable breaks in between scenes, please! It’s jarring to move from a school scene to Becca plotting in her bedroom with no indication that our location has changed. Just a space between paragraphs would be nice.  (This was done sometimes, but, again, consistency would have helped.)

If you decide to purchase this book for your personal, school, or public library, please let me know if the final product was more readable than the galley I read. Just a few changes would have made my reading of The Break-Up Artist a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I’m hoping it will be for you!

The Break-Up Artist is the debut novel for author Philip Siegel. To learn more about this author, visit his website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Published in: on April 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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Better Off Friends

It’s becoming pretty clear that I’m going to like any book that Elizabeth Eulberg writes.  I’ve now read four of her books–Prom & Prejudice, Take a Bow, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, and Better Off Friends–and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every single one. Last night, I finished reading Eulberg’s latest, Better Off Friends. This book takes aim at that age-old question: Can a guy and a girl really just be friends?

The two main characters in Better Off Friends, Macallan and Levi, have been friends since they first met in the seventh grade. In fact, they’re best friends. They have a special bond that seems to be unbreakable…even when Levi starts dating one of Macallan’s other friends. (As you can probably imagine, this doesn’t really end well, and Macallan is forced to choose between friends. Quite the pickle.)

As Macallan and Levi exit middle school and enter the exciting world of high school–dances, team sports, serious relationships–their strong friendship is tested. No one really gets the closeness between Macallan and Levi, and that leads to problems with boyfriends and girlfriends.

As this dynamic duo examines just why their other relationships fail, they’ll be forced to face how they really feel about each other. This is not exactly a comfortable process. In fact, at one point, Macallan escapes to Ireland for the summer just to avoid facing her feelings for Levi! Levi, meanwhile, is trying to balance being a guy’s guy with having a girl for a best friend…a girl who he may love as more than a friend.

Life is quickly becoming an emotional whirlwind for both Macallan and Levi. When mushy feelings are thrown into the mix, their friendship undergoes some changes. Sometimes, the two can’t even speak to each other without arguing. At other times, the two are inseparable.  Their newly-discovered feelings for each other–feelings that each one denies at one point or another–are quickly making a mess of everyday life, and something’s got to give soon.

Would becoming a couple change everything that is special about their friendship, or would it make them stronger than ever? Should Macallan and Levi explore their feelings, or are they better off friends? There’s only one way to find out…

_______________

Part of me wanted this story to steer clear of anything romantic. I think guys and girls can be just friends, and I think it would have been refreshing to see that play out. However…

SPOILERS!

That’s not what happened here. Love–and not the platonic kind–got thrown into the mix, and I’ll admit it made for a great read. I imagine every reader will wonder when Macallan and Levi are going to wake up and see that “The One” is right there in front of them. This struggle made for some tense moments, but I held out hope that these two would find some way to eventually be together.

I did have reason to believe things would turn out okay for Macallan and Levi. In between chapters, readers see conversations between these two–mostly reactions to what happened in the previous chapter or hints about what’s about to happen–so we know that, at the very least, they remain friends. That was definitely a comfort when their friendship hit a few low points.

If you’re looking for a fun, often hilarious, romantic, light read, I urge you to give Better Off Friends (and other books by Elizabeth Eulberg) a try. Even though the book doesn’t really answer the question of whether guys and girls can be just friends, it does show that sometimes the best relationships start with amazing friendships.

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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