Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman
2014 by Disney-Hyperion
ISBN – 9781423148036
Genre – Science Fiction
Age – Middle School
Nick and his family just moved to Colorado Springs from Florida after a horrible house fire killed him mom. They move into an old Victorian house that was inherited from an old aunt. Nick is quick to pick out the room in the attic, when all of a sudden a toaster hits him in the head sending him to the hospital! When he returns he discovers a whole attic full of junk. What a perfect reason to have a garage sale! Despite the fact that he thinks no one will buy anything, people seem to flock to his sale offering way more than he is charging for the items. Its like they are drawn to them. But when a strange and official looking man shows up and offers him lots of money for the leftover items, he decides to investigate further. It turns out that each of the objects has special powers ranging from telling the future, to reanimating the dead. Then he find out that he is living in famous inventor, Nicola Tesla’s old house. That’s when things get hilariously strange!
This is one of the most enjoyable books for middle school aged readers that I have ever read. It is funny, it is creative, it is smart, did I mention it was funny? This book had me laughing out loud, a lot. I liked all of the characters, really all of them. There was heart, humor, strength, and weakness in each one of them, which just made them feel real. They were vulnerable and insecure despite how awesome they all were. I like that this book is smart enough to teach kids something by reading it, and interesting enough to make them want to investigate further. Who wouldn’t be curious about Tesla’s work in the field of science after reading about some of the neat inventions in this book? I know that it wasn’t particularly poignant or moving, but not every book has to be, especially for this age group. I can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy!
The Devil on Trial: Witches, Anarchists, Atheists, Communists, and Terrorists in America’s Courtrooms
2008 by HMH Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780618717170
Genre – Nonfiction
Age High School
Throughout the history of America, our justice system has faced certain evils that has put its rules to the test. This book examines a few of these situations including “Witches, Anarchists, Atheists, Communists, and Terrorists.” In some of these cases justice has not been preserved in the terms that our system was built on, and in other cases our system went above and beyond to fulfill the duty prescribed.
I thought that this book was quite interesting for the most part. I liked seeing the evolution of how our justice system dealt with inherent evils or what our country seemed to fear at that moment in history. Some sections were incredibly engaging, but I felt like the section on witches and communism could have been a bit better. At times the writing seemed to be a bit stagnant, but overall I thought that information was put forth in an interesting and educational manner.
The Book of Lost Things
2006 by Atria Books
ISBN – 9780743298858
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Middle School
David’s father remarries shortly after his mother dies, then his dad’s new wife has a new baby. He spends most of his time in his new room of his new house mourning his loss, when strange things begin to happen. First, it all seems like a dream, when he sees a strange man lurking around. Things begin to seem more and more real, until one day he sees a soft spot in the garden that transports him into a strange new world! In this world he finds many mysterious creatures, some evil and some good, but he can’t seem to find his way back home. He then learns of a book that the king possesses that will show him the way home. So he begins his long and dangerous journey through this new land. While many of the strange creatures in this new land do not want him to return home, everyone seems to have different motives.
This is the second time that I have listened to this book. It was good the first time, but I wasn’t very good at concentrating on audiobooks, so I thought I’d give it another try. First of all, the narrator is amazing. He made me feel immersed in the story. The story also felt very real and very believable. Amidst a terrible tragedy, and a world completely changing around him, David must try to make peace with everything that is happening to him. This wonderfully odd story is about a boy who matures through a great and terrifying adventure. He meets friends, and he meets enemies, and sometimes he doesn’t know which is which. I love how brave David is throughout the whole book. I love that he is the kind of brave that still gets scared. He has great instincts and because of all of this, he truly lives an experience that he will never forget. It is uplifting and heartbreaking all at the same time.
Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting
2009 by Scholastic Press
ISBN – 9780545130493
Genre – Nonfiction
Age – High School
This is the story about how WWI began and how during an amazing holiday, the soldiers decided not to fight each other. Not only is this a story about the good will and holiday spirit of many soldiers, it is also the story of how WWI came to be, and why WWI never had to be. It tells the story of international tensions before and after the war. It shows how these tensions and the brutal fighting shaped the beginning of the 20th century and many years past. I thought this book did a great job of giving basic information about the overall time period. It was full of interesting facts, and amazing pictures. Some of the instances described in this book almost needs to be seen to believed! It was easy to read and comprehend. Overall a worthwhile read.
The Young Elites
2014 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780399167836
Genre – Fantasy
Age – High School
When the blood fever swept through the nation, most people who were infected died. Those who did not die were left with a mark, and called mafettos, they were seen as abominations. However, some of these people were left with special powers, and were known as Young Elites. Adelina, her mother, and her sister were all infected. The disease took her mother, made Adelina a malfetto, and left her sister untouched. One night, Adelina hears her father sell her off as a mistress, and decides to run away. During his attempts to catch her, Adelina unleashes unknown special powers that kill her father. While awaiting execution for the murder of her father, a group of Young Elites come to her rescue. Will she be able to fit in with the group and help put an end to the evil reign that shuns malfettos?
This story felt very familiar to me, like Graceling perhaps. I get that it has a different premise, but somehow it doesn’t feel super original in my mind. On that note, I still liked the book. It kept me reading and wanting to know what happened. My biggest problem is that I didn’t like Adelina. In fact, I often found myself literally yelling at her as I read the book. I just don’t understand the stupid decisions she made, and I never felt bad for her because of these stupid decisions! She was overall just a horrible person in my brain. I did, however, like most of the other characters. I thought there was a good variety of good and evil, and some characters even had a healthy dose of both good and evil within them. I found the stories of each character to be quite compelling and even found myself sympathizing with the bad guy. The effects of self hatred can be staggering! Unfortunately in Adelina’s case, the effects of self importance can be as well.
One Big Pair of Underwear
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
2014 Beach Lane Books
ISBN – 9781442453364
Genre – Picture Book
Age – Preschool
Two bears fight over a pair of underwear. One bear gets to wear it, while the other bear is just left sad. Next, three yaks fight over two sacks of salty snacks. On and on goes this counting, tongue twisting, fun book. I really loved this one for lots of reasons. It allows the kids to participate in counting. It also allows adults to make fools of themselves by reading tongue twisters really fast and stumbling over their words, which in turn lets the kids laugh a ton. The pictures are bright, colorful, and hilarious as are the words. The best part is the super sweet lesson at the end. This is NOT disappointing at all!
The Last Wild
2014 by Viking Juvenile
ISBN – 9780670015542
Genre – Fantasy, Dystopian
Age – Middle School
After Kester’s mom died his dad had him sent away to a school for trouble children without a word of explanation. The world is in shambles after a virus began to spread killing all of the animals, except cockroaches. Six years later, Kester is unable to speak and is still wondering what happened to his wonderful family. Then a cockroach approaches him, and begins speaking to him. Amazingly enough Kester finds that he can communicate with him. He tells him that he must break Kester out to complete an important mission. Kester never imagined that he would be going to see the last surviving pack of animals, led by a majestic stag, and he definitely never imagined that he would be the only one that could save the animals, and help the world return to normalcy.
Let me just start by saying that I wanted this book to be better. I almost gave up because I just couldn’t get into it. However, in reading it for work, I kept on going. I am so glad I did, because the last 25% of the book was amazing. I just wish that the first 75% would have been just as engaging. Kester is a strange character, and I never really got to like him. I felt like he wasn’t very strong in any aspect. I like the animals so much more, and I am not really into talking animals in books. I couldn’t find a single character that I wanted to stand behind, except for one sick cat and a wolf. The story was imaginative, but for most of it I thought the execution could have been better. Really, there isn’t much bad I can say about it, except for the fact that it dragged. I just wanted it to be better, and it wasn’t. However, the end was great, and now I’m actually contemplating reading the second one.
The Secret Life of Squirrels
2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780316370271
Genre – Picture Book
Age – Preschool, Adult
Mr. Peanuts is an unusual squirrel. He likes to barbeque, read, and play the piano, however, sometimes he gets lonely. So he writes a letter to his cousin asking him to come visit, and soon Cousin Squirrel shows up. During this visit, Mr. Peanuts learns that lots of things are more fun when you have a friend.
Ok, a story of this nature without the squirrels might be construed as boring, however, this book is far from boring. I don’t even know where to start. First, I love the puns, for instance Mr. Peanuts loves to play Moonlight Sonutta on his piano. This book is filled with jokes that parents can chuckle at as well as kids. I love that at the end of the story, the author talks about her process as well as her friendship with the squirrels. Basically, she designs and builds the sets in each picture, then she puts peanuts where she wants the squirrels to explore, then she waits! Seems simple enough, but probably not so much. Many of the sets are intricately designed, and often times she has to wait quite a while for Mr. Peanuts to show up, not to mention get the right shot in the right light. I think this book is so creative, and so much fun!
Jewell Parker Rhodes
2010 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780316043076
Genre – Realistic/Fantastical Fiction
Age – Middle School
Lanesha is just starting a new school year, when the weathermen start to talk about the big storm headed her way to New Orleans. Her mother died while giving birth to her, and the rest of her relatives want nothing to do with her, so she lives with the healer who helped birth her. Mama Ya-Ya is known around the neighborhood to have special visions and healing powers. In late August 2005, she starts having strange dreams about the storm. She seems to be falling deeper and deeper into her dreams as Lanesha has to prepare for Hurrican Katrina for both of them, and hopefully she will be able to keep them both alive as well.
I wanted this to be a five star book, I really did. I even battled with not giving it four stars. I thought the idea was great, but it was filled with too much fluff to satisfy my needs. It was so filled with New Orleans mystical nuances, that it detracted from the story. The story should have been about an incredibly brave girl who had to fight to keep herself and her loved ones safe, instead it was about magic, mysticism, and my frustrations! Honestly, even without the magic, I’m not sure I believe Lanesha as a 12-year old character, she was almost too brave and strong. So, the positive, I loved the setting and the building of the setting. I felt the culture and the community of the place before the storm. I loved the suspense, and how just when it seemed to fade away it came back tenfold. I liked some of the characters enough to hope for them and root for them, but some I didn’t care enough about when tragedy occurred. I also liked the language. I thought it was very beautifully written. Here is where I contradict myself; I don’t feel like the writing would have been so lyrical without the magic and mysticism that I thought hurt the book. Honestly, I’m confused about my feelings on this one, and may change my mind after a little time.