Jan 172019
 

As we head into another cold, blustery, and possibly snowy weekend, it is important to remember to stock up on books as well as food. What type of books do you favor in the winter? Today’s list includes a little something for everyone. Take a look.

 

Settle in for a creepy winter tale set in Vermont. With shifting timelines, this novel explores just how far some people will go to resurrect their lost loved ones. And just what that might mean for others in the community.  You’ll warm right up as you dive deeper into the blankets to hide (I am firmly in the “chicken” category. This was just enough creepy without being straight up horror). There were a few characters who weren’t needed in the overall story arc, but nothing is perfect.

Since flu season is upon us, you most likely have enough Kleenex around the house and are therefore prepared for this novel. At least physically.

“The Last Time We Say Goodbye” looks at the aftermath of a teen suicide. The effects of a young boy’s death on his parents, sister, friends, and classmates are profound and heartwrenching. This is a very nuanced look at a broken family.

A stubborn and independent young girl left mute in the face of tragedy and neglect meets an ornery Shetland pony.  “Dirt” becomes Yonder’s only friend in a world where her life is ransacked by bullies and social workers. Yonder is made of stern stuff; however, and watching her character develop from a somewhat passive participant in life to a take-charge hero out to save her pony is inspirational. This book has an Accelerated Reader level of 6.0; however, the cover and writing feel more geared to a younger audience.

“Wordy Birdy’s friends can’t get a word in edgewise. This little book explores the importance of listening. And who could resist such great illustrations? The faces of Wordy Birdy’s friends say as much as Wordy Birdy herself.

 OVERDRIVE AUDIOBOOK

In “Finding Langston”, we are introduced to life in post-WWII Chicago by Langston who is a recent arrival from Alabama.  Bullied by the boys at school and spending a lot of time alone at home while his father works, Langston feels adrift and isolated. He yearns for the land and family he left behind just as he yearns for the mother who died. One day he comes across the library. A place where he is welcome, unlike the libraries back home. This luminous and beautifully told tale promote a love of poetry, literature, and libraries. It would be a wonderful way to introduce diverse authors and the “Great Migration”. At times, this story is laugh-out-loud funny and at other times it will just break your heart. https://www.overdrive.com/

 

Jan 102019
 

 

“Sweet Little Lies” is the first in the Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis.  Humor, friendship, family angst, and love fight it out for top billing. Pru and Finn, the main characters, share a troubled background as both lost their parents and are striking out on their own. Prudence works on a tour boat in San Francisco Bay and Finn is trying, with the “help” of his irresponsible brother, to keep O’Riley’s pub afloat.  If you like contemporary romance, it is well worth your time.

Into every life, a little rain must fall. This is the first in a new Christina Dodd series called Cape Charade.  The storyline was a little convoluted; however, it did deliver in the suspense department. Unfortunately, it lacked the chemistry and humor usually found in Dodd’s books.

The rain continued to fall in this book.  A teen girl becomes extraordinarily ill at camp and becomes hospitalized.  While she is undergoing procedures galore and a life-changing illness, she meets Conner and his dog Verlaine. The first part of the story is well written and an eloquent portrayal of the anger, depression, and fear of the protagonist; however, halfway through it loses its way and becomes overly sentimental and schmaltzy.

 

     After a somewhat lackluster week of reading, I wasn’t looking forward to reading a book about Fairies.  I was wrong!  This was magic! Haven is the home of Fairies including wish granters like Ophelia. This is a parallel world fantasy and there isn’t much in the way of world building because most of the novel takes place in “our” world. The characters are simple but fantastic and the plot and the story line are good. This was much more fun and adventurous than I had anticipated. A great moral lies at its heart without the story ever feeling “lecture” like. Add a little bit of magic to your life, read this one. 

“The Big Umbrella” by Amy June Bates does more with a few words and illustrations to portray community, kindness, and inclusion than many adult books I have read on the subject.  This little gem is definitely worth sharing with your child.  Like the big umbrella, you too will end the book with a smile.

I listened to “The Feather Thief” by Kirk Wallace Johnson on audiobook through Overdrive. Who could guess the story of a flutist and fly-tier who steals a bunch of rare bird carcasses from a natural history museum in England could be so interesting? This is a story of opposing values and needs. The author needed something to give him respite following a harrowing ordeal and a nerve-wracking, stress-inducing program to bring Iraqi refugees to the United States. A police officer had to prioritize solving more violent crimes over this one. The thief wanted to make some cash to provide him with the things he thought he deserved. The collection he stole had been obtained for the museum by someone who was self-taught and wanted to provide not only financial security for himself but also knowledge to his nation. This was one of the most buzzed nonfiction books of 2018.

 

 

 

Jan 032019
 

Start your new year off right with this fabulous series by Louise Penny.  Set in a tiny village in Canada named Three Pines, you will come to love the recurring characters and the fabulous writing.  Glass Houses happens to be the thirteenth in the series.  I don’t start Louise Penny books unless I have the time to finish them the same night and if I don’t have the time….well, I finish the book anyways.  This mystery required a suspension of belief at the start of the novel when a mysterious grim reaper figure shows up at Three Pines and stands in the village square for a couple days during the winter. Hmmm…..  How easy is it to stand still in the bitter cold?  And not need to use the facilities (although, granted, this would perhaps kill some of the mystery). However, once the murder happens and ties into the larger picture of Canadian criminal intrigue, the story rolls along gracefully.

My New Year’s Resolution is to put Words We Don’t Say by K.J. Reilly into the hands of every Teenager I know. Utilizing humor and an occasional use of “texting”, this novel portrays the real grief a teenage boy deals with as well as the way he has isolated himself from others. He still attends school and does community service; however, he only shares his real feelings through texts that he never actually sends.

The main protagonist in Soar has courage, wit, and is a heart transplant recipient. The plot is fantastic. A town obsessed with winning finds out the high school baseball boys have been pumped full of steroids after one of the boys dies. Jeremiah can’t play his beloved baseball due to his heart condition but he decides to “coach” the currently nonexistent middle school team. Dealing with bullies and negative comments becomes a way of life. This is a winner all the way around! Characters, plot, and writing are all wonderful.

Charlotte wants a pet. Any kind of pet will do.  Charlotte’s parents get her a pet rock. Humorous illustrations show Charlotte trying to walk her rock (more of a boulder really) and trying to feed her rock the broccoli she doesn’t intend to eat herself. Fun and charming.

Check The Soul of an Octopus out of Overdrive on audio book. I am a confirmed land lover but this engaging story of a journalist who becomes obsessed with an octopus at an aquarium in Boston was fascinating. This obsession leads her into an investigation of the life of the octopus and the differing personalities they express as well as deep relationships with those who work and volunteer with the octopuses at the aquarium. All of the things I never knew I needed to know about octopuses….did you get that? 🙂

 

 

 

Dec 282018
 

Ms MacNeal’s “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary” shows a Britain divided and awaiting the bombing of England by Nazi forces. The IRA and the Fascists are cooperating with the Nazis in a bid to bring down the old empire. Maggie Hope, a woman of English citizenship who was raised in America, is Churchill’s secretary. She has advanced degrees in mathematics and cryptography; however, she isn’t a welcome addition to Churchill’s staff and between Churchill’s idiosyncrasies and the old boys’ network, Maggie Hope is beginning to believe her talents would be better utilized elsewhere until she uncovers a chilling conspiracy.  This novel offers a rather different WWII perspective and there is a bit of bite to the story.

 

“Billie Standish Was Here” is an eloquent portrayal of true friendship, loyalty, and shared trauma between an eleven-year-old girl and an elderly woman. A very sensitive story of lessons learned and secrets kept. These characters were so real that I expect to miss them for a good long time.

An indomitable narrator views her family situation with a sense of humor. “Someone to play with? When you’re the youngest of nine kids, you aren’t a player. You’re the ball”. Annie has problems at school…she’s dyslexic. She has problems in church…she doesn’t always believe. And she has problems at home…her Mom loses her temper sometimes and attacks her children. A sweet, but not naive, look at a family who will need to decide just how much they want to stay together. “Snow Lane” addresses some serious topics but does so in a gentle manner and the resolution is hopeful. 

 

Your heart will melt for this little dog looking for his forever home. The story is told in letter form as the dog writes letters to prospective families. Too adorable to believe.

Check out the digital audio book of “The Stranger in the Woods” by Michael Finkel on Libby.  Finkel details the time the decades Chris Knight spent alone in the woods of Maine. He survived from stealing from other residents of the lake area the necessities he needed to survive the frigid Maine winters.

Dec 202018
 

The first in a new romance series.  Each of the employees at an animal rescue center may just find love in their inbox.

A killer hurricane, two stranded teens, and a struggle for survival pack this book with plenty of punch. The teenagers are complex and “real” as they each struggle with grief, loneliness, and problems much bigger than they can deal with alone.

 

A humorous look at what it takes to make a “slacker” into a young activist and leader. The plot is a little thin but the characters are fun and interesting. This book is a 2018-2019 Golden Sower nominee.

 

This little picture book is an inspirational ode to being kind. It breaks down all of the many simple ways kindness can be practiced in real life. The illustrations have a great diversity of age, religion, and culture. A very sweet introduction to the quality of kindness.

 

Dec 142018
 

The Christmas Town by Donna VanLiere starts out the list on a sentimental, hopeful note. That note won’t last long so please enjoy it while it does. This little story reads like a Hallmark movie. Everybody is just a bit too good to be true. However, if ever there is a time for mawkishly sentimental fluff, Christmas would be that time.

Well, I told you the sweet, sentimental reads wouldn’t last. Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow is packed with characters so alive you expect to run into them at the grocery store. Unfortunately, about 25% of those characters are up to no good. Annabelle’s school life goes down hill when Betty moves to town. Betty is a bully who enjoys hurting and tormenting those around her and when she lays the blame for an awful injury at the door of a transient vet suffering from PTSD, Annabelle decides enough is enough. Set in the WWII era, this book’s plot is full of palpable prejudice against “others”. This book is an Accelerated Reader book with a reading level of 4.9; however, I would recommend it to 6th grade and up as the subject matter is somewhat dark. A 2018-2019 Golden Sower Nominee.

Adults who are seeking a way to explain the terrorist attacks of September 11th to a Middle Grade audience should check out Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. A complex and nuanced look at the event and the fear, trauma, grief, and loss it caused. This little novel gets extra points for diverse, believable characters. Accelerated Reader reading level is 3.3.

A young girl doesn’t understand why her father can’t hold a job, why he is so anxious and why it causes him distress to find out she is studying the terrorist attack of September 11. She doesn’t understand why her sweet Muslim friend stays indoors each year on the anniversary of the attack. As she learns more about the events of that horrible day, she begins to understand how the events of one day can shape an individual, a school, a city, and a nation.

If you haven’t watched the sensational Scottish Grammy reading The Wonky Donkey on youtube, you are missing out! A clever narrative of a most unusual donkey walking up the road. Repetitive, humorous lines and fantastic illustrations keep kids and adults laughing.

Dec 062018
 

84 Charing Cross Road and Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff. The holidays are stressful.  Sit down and pick up one of these two little gems.  84 Charing Cross Road is a compilation of very short letters written between an American writer and her very English rare bookseller in the late 1940’s/early 1950s. Companionship and humor abound. It is perfect for a quick read. Q’s Legacy should be read after “84” as it details Hanff’s literary career and the making of “84”. The perfect present to yourself this holiday season…a little rest and relaxation with friends.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt.  This is an emotional roller coaster ride of a novel.  Joseph is a troubled 13 year old who wants nothing more than to be able to find his baby daughter. An incredibly intense novel about the power and cost of love. This is an AR book with a reading level of 4.4; however, the content is definitely geared towards teen readers.

House Arrest by K.A. Holt. A twelve-year-old boy is placed on house arrest after stealing someone’s credit card to pay for his brother’s medication. Timothy takes care of his medically unstable baby brother while his mother works two jobs. Written in verse, this novel looks at the responsibilities and frustrations unique to his situation while he also deals with the “normal” twelve-year-old problems. Timothy is required to keep a diary during his probationary period and it is through this diary format that we follow his story.

I am Not a Chair by Ross Burach.  Nominated for the 2018-2019 Golden Sower Award. A giraffe is new to the area and would love to meet some new friends but everyone keeps mistaking him for a chair!  As giraffe struggles to find his voice, the reader laughs at all of the silly situations in which Giraffe finds himself. Great illustrations really help bring the story home.

All of the print books listed above are available at Loup City Library.

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices by Cheryl Willis and Wade Hudson. Available on Libby/Overdrive digital system. A compilation of essays, poetry, and music by multiple diverse contributors. An audio book aimed at children feeling scared and frustrated in this time of political extremes.  Only two hours long, this is a wonderful way to encourage tolerance and support those who feel anxious about their own safety. Beautifully done. If you listen to nothing else (although that would be a shame), listen to Prayers of the Grandmothers by Sharon M. Draper, read by Adenrele Ojo. This book is available in print but the best format, in my opinion, is to listen to the wide range of voices saturated with experience as they say it is going to be ok.

 

Nov 292018
 

 

While not specifically a Christmas book, this novel evokes all of the warm family feelings of the holiday.

Jillian has no one and no place to call home. Connor has too many ties to break free from his small hometown. Together they are perfect. A sweet, complex story about life and the people with whom we choose to live it. If you liked her Harmony series, you will love this book. Bonus: Sunnie and Reese are the BEST teen couple.

 

Cassidy died and came back. Following her return, she has been able to see ghosts. Indeed, her best friend is a ghost.
A spooky, engaging story of a ghost-saturated Edinburgh and the relationships of young teens teaming up to protect themselves from other world horrors. Edinburgh becomes a character in the novel with its history of castles, prisons, hangings, and plague.

A young girl from a broken home is sent to an aunt and uncle’s home in the country. She is tough and lonely but the people around her start to change her perceptions of the place. And then there’s the dog…a stray, just like her… This is heartwarming and hopeful. It was surprising to find the “fighter” the young girl and the “peacemaker” the boy. Howard gives Charlie gentle reminders on controlling her temper and the futility of allowing her temper to control her but never in a lecturing way. The humor and “goodness” seep off the page into your fingers and hopefully, into your heart.

Yes, I know. This makes two books (and two dog books at that) for the Middle Grade Group; however, there is no way I can choose one over the other here.

Timminy is very short for his age. He isn’t looking forward to moving to a new place, starting a new school where his father will be Assistant Principal, and running the gamut of new bullies. He receives Maxi, a Great Pyrenees puppy, as a bribe from his parents. It takes a while before the family figures out Maxi is deaf.
Abby, Timminy’s neighbor, is blind and brave. She doesn’t view Timminy’s self-pity with compassion but rather impatience. Another young woman has a debilitating muscular weakness leaving her dependent on crutches. These young people with disabilities aren’t portrayed as “saintly” or “self-pitying” but rather pragmatic.
There are no pat answers or lecturing tone in this story. Each character is unique and complex. The relationship between Timminy and his classmates and Timminy and his dog are heartwarming. 

 

I will have you know the School librarian just dumped this in my lap and told me to read it. Did she warn me that it would turn me into a soppy mess? No, she did not.

Madeline Finn works hard at reading but it just never seems to get any easier. Then the librarian has her read to Bonny, the library dog, and little by little Madeline’s reading improves. Heartwarming with wonderful artwork.

Nov 062018
 

What is this prejudice we have against Nonfiction?  Many people won’t read it because they feel it would be like reading a text book or it is just too boring.  It doesn’t have to be that way!  Below are a few nonfiction selections that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat….

 

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is an amazing book regarding events about which previously I knew nothing. ??. Written in almost mystery genre fashion, this is an intense read about a widespread evil conspiracy which caused many Osage deaths in the 1920s.  Why?  Mineral rights. The Osage never signed away their mineral rights and when oil was discovered on their land, they became among the wealthiest in the world. Greed and hatred brought about the demise of many. 

 

Louis Zamperini remained “Unbroken” following his experience as a WWII POW of the Japanese. Once an Olympic runner, Zamperini’s bomber crashed into the Pacific where he was stranded until “rescued” by the Japanese. Following his release from the POW internment camp, Zamperini finds a reason to have faith again. A very well researched and well written book.

 

26-year-old Beverly Deepe reported on the Vietnam War as a freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. She reported from all over the country, moving freely and thinking independently of the military and diplomatic types. 

Ken Jennings’ Junior Genius Guide on the U.S. Presidents is a super fun way to share your love of history with your kids. Great illustrations and interesting blurbs of trivia make this a “go to” book. Did you know “George Washington almost missed the very first Inauguration Day?  He was short on cash and a friend had to loan him six hundred dollars so he could make the journey.” 

If you love true stories of spies, codes, and mayhem, this is the book for you!  Illustrations make learning about the Cold War fun and there are special projects throughout the book. Some of the information you will learn will be hair-raising!  For instance, “The Secret unlock code for the Minuteman missile during the Cold War was 00000000.” 

 

A very simple series of three vignettes. In 1920s Appalachia there was only folk medicine available to care for those inflicted with heinous injuries or epidemic disease. Into this maelstrom of illness rode Mary, a determined nurse, with big plans to bring vaccines, nurses, and a hospital to the area.

Now, please, go forth and read and enjoy Nonfiction!

 

 

 

 

Oct 022018
 

Kids seem to like this series. It is goofy. Lots of pages with few words and containing black and white illustrations. If they like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, consider this series too. There are now seven books in the series. This is an easy way to transition from the Easy Readers to Chapter Books without feelings of intimidation. Reading level of 3.8.

 

  An interesting take on the survival story. Ros, the robot, is stranded on an island. She is willing and able to learn survival techniques from the animals on the island.  Eventually, she becomes a mother figure to a goose but disaster strikes when other robots come to capture Ros and take her “home”.  This is better for your younger reader as there are a few plot holes with this one. Reading level of 5.1.

 

Field trips don’t get much worse than this!  On a visit to Carlsbad Caverns, students are separated from the adults when an earthquake sends them plunging into the earth.  Unfortunately, they find themselves in the midst of an underworld war and being attacked by mutant animals.  The students surprise themselves with their ability to work together and find the hidden strengths which will help them survive. This is a well told, fairly short, story that leaves you sitting on the edge of your seat. “A World Below” has a reading level of 4.7.

Tom Gates is a young, artistic boy who spends more time doodling in class and dreaming of his favorite rock band than he does worrying about turning in his homework.  You will laugh even as you shake your head at this well illustrated little book.  Reading level of 4.0.

Fitting in is hard to do. The kids of “Hello, Universe” have a hard time fitting in at school and at home.  “Psychics”, nerds, bullies, and a young girl with a hearing impairment try to find a place for themselves in an indifferent world.  When one of the kids goes missing, they will each need to harness their talents to bring him home. The author portrays the “outsider” well and utilizes myths and folklore in her story.  Winner of the John Newbery Medal. This book had a “fantasy” feeling to it as it portrayed unrealistic situations. Reading level of 4.7.