The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner


The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner
(Bloomsbury Kids – September 12, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Bloomsbury Kids for the advance copy of this novel for review purposes.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

Review

Messner has given us a compassionate and necessary middle grade story about the reality of homelessness for many children today. This story has a unique premise with the geocaching theme and I love that while the main character is in 8th grade he will be relatable for students both much younger and much older than he is. I would love to get this book into the hands of all teachers and administrators who struggle to understand how difficult school can be for children without a stable home life, and who make well-intended but thoughtless comments about the homeless population.

Highly recommended as a purchase for middle school classrooms and libraries.

(Note: Apparently this title was available as an ebook since 2014, but I had not heard of it until now. It is new in hard copy format on Sept 12, 2017).

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Ranger Games by Ben Blum

This photo is of the advance reader copy I had – the finished copy cover version is below!

Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable CrimeRanger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime by Ben Blum
(Doubleday Books – September 12, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Incredibly analytical and family-oriented, this 400-page account of a 90 second crime reads as a detailed account of military training combined with a psychology textbook and memoir.

Thank you to Doubleday Books for providing me with an advance copy of this title for review purposes.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Alex Blum was a good kid with one unshakeable goal in life: Become a U.S. Army Ranger. On the day of his leave before deployment to Iraq, Alex got into his car with two fellow soldiers and two strangers, drove to a local bank in Tacoma, and committed armed robbery.

The question that haunted the entire Blum family was: Why?Why would he ruin his life in such a spectacularly foolish way?

At first, Alex insisted he thought the robbery was just another exercise in the famously daunting Ranger program. His attorney presented a case based on the theory that the Ranger indoctrination mirrored that of a cult.

In the midst of his own personal crisis, and in the hopes of helping both Alex and his splintering family cope, Ben Blum, Alex’s first cousin, delved into these mysteries, growing closer to Alex in the process. As he probed further, Ben began to question not only Alex, but the influence of his superior, Luke Elliot Sommer, the man who planned the robbery. A charismatic combat veteran, Sommer’s manipulative tendencies combined with a magnetic personality lured Ben into a relationship that put his loyalties to the test.

Review

RANGER GAMES did the impossible – it held me in suspense about a crime I absolutely already knew the outcome of, and kept me invested in the intricate account of a family I have never met and will never meet. Due to a personal/family experience, I have an incredibly strong interest in accounts of military training and experiences, and this story of a teen boy 100% dedicated to joining the Army Rangers from a young age really hit home for me.

Ben Blum wrote this book in such a way that readers will learn a great deal about psychology and the military, but in a narrative format that adds heart and purpose. While Alex Blum is the focus of this book, he is really the backdrop for a look into the Army Rangers that we don’t often read about, but without judgement or condemnation – a look that will definitely lead me to reading more on this topic, as well as the topic of brainwashing and personality-altering trainings and organizations. Ultimately, though, this is a story of redemption and the power of family in a time of moral breakdown.

RANGER GAMES is lengthy and so very detailed (at times repetitive), but I very highly recommend it for nonfiction readers who are interested in military and psychology. I won’t stop thinking about it for a long time (especially the way the story ended up), and my husband was trying to steal it from me the entire time I was reading! I can’t wait to hear what he thinks of it.

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The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy


Can you tell it’s back-to-school season in this book blogger’s world?! It hit me like a brick, but I’m hoping to get back on track soon! I’ve still been reading like crazy, but not all reviews have made it from Goodreads to the blog, so connect with me there to make sure to stay current on ALL of my reviews! KidLitExchange has been keeping me busy too!

The Boat Runner
by Devin Murphy
(Harper Perennial – September 5, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Description (from Goodreads)

A DUTCH SEAFARER, TURNED SMUGGLER.

In the tradition of All The Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale, comes an incandescent debut novel about a young Dutch man who comes of age during the perilousness of World War II.

Beginning in the summer of 1939, fourteen-year-old Jacob Koopman and his older brother, Edwin, enjoy lives of prosperity and quiet contentment. Many of the residents in their small Dutch town have some connection to the Koopman lightbulb factory, and the locals hold the family in high esteem. 

On days when they aren’t playing with friends, Jacob and Edwin help their Uncle Martin on his fishing boat in the North Sea, where German ships have become a common sight. But conflict still seems unthinkable, even as the boys’ father naively sends his sons to a Hitler Youth Camp in an effort to secure German business for the factory.

When war breaks out, Jacob’s world is thrown into chaos. The Boat Runner follows Jacob over the course of four years, through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep within the secret missions of the German Navy, where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life—and his life’s mission—forever. 

Epic in scope and featuring a thrilling narrative with precise, elegant language, The Boat Runner tells the little-known story of the young Dutch boys who were thrown into the Nazi campaign, as well as the brave boatmen who risked everything to give Jewish refugees safe passage to land abroad. Through one boy’s harrowing tale of personal redemption, here is a novel about the power of people’s stories and voices to shine light through our darkest days, until only love prevails.

Review

A stunning debut with a completely original and riveting take on the European WWII genre.

Thanks to Edelweiss, the publisher and the author for allowing me to read this digital ARC.

A month ago, I declared that I would be DONE with European WWII novels given that they were all seeming the same and I was completely burned out on them. Enter Elise Hooper, the author of THE OTHER ALCOTT, urging me to try this one, as she had been on an author panel with Devin Murphy at ALA and that I’d love it. I contacted Murphy and he had his publisher provide me with a digital ARC. And OH MY GOODNESS I am so glad I found this book! I will be shouting it from the rooftops as the newest must-read WWII novel for the following reasons that make it fresh, original, and necessary:

1) Set in Holland, NOT France, Germany or Poland
2) Male narrator
3) Maritime premise
4) NO ROMANCE – I’m sick of romance sweetening up the horrors of death and war
5) An eerie look into Nazi mentality and the ease at which they indoctrinated youth
6) Hope within the devastation
7) A very relevant message about refugees

I have already put this on hold at my public library for my husband, since I told him he MUST read it. He’s excited about it, and I can’t wait to hear what he thinks of it.

The only thing I wish for is an author’s note describing how much of the story is based on fact, since I rely heavily on these pieces to help me in further reading on the topics. I am hoping there is one in the finished edition, otherwise I will be searching it out piece by piece! EDITED TO ADD THIS NOTE DIRECTLY FROM THE AUTHOR: There is an authors note essay in the back of the final version all about how and why I wrote the book.

Required reading for lovers of historical fiction and WWII narratives.
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Halfway Normal by Barbara Dee

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Halfway Normal by Barbara Dee
(Aladdin – September 5, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Completely original and heartbreakingly honest, this novel about a girl re-entering middle school after cancer is a required purchase for middle school libraries and classrooms.

Thanks to the author for providing me with an advance copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

I first learned about this book from a post on the Nerdy Book Club blog back in February 2017, in which Dee talks about her motivation for this book (her son’s cancer experience) and I KNEW I had to read it. It is just as wonderful as I expected it would be! Re-entry into real life after being out for an illness is an experience that all too many kids have to deal with, but very few of us are able to even remotely understand what that experience is like. Enter HALFWAY NORMAL.

Norah is such a relatable character, with her love of Greek mythology and doodling and completely understandable preteen angst. And that’s even before you add in the cancer thing, which she does NOT want to define her. But how can you be normal when the world is so dangerous for your health and your parents are trying to protect you? Dee has captured the middle school world so very perfectly, and is able to write about cancer so realistically due to her own experiences as a parent.

Librarian note: Excellent representation of diversity in race/culture/sexuality in a completely natural way.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s a required purchase for all middle school libraries and classrooms, and a must-read for middle school teachers, administrators and guidance counselors.

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The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper


The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper
(William Morrow – September 5, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeously-written required reading for fans of LITTLE WOMEN, THE OTHER ALCOTT is the “rest of the story” we have all been waiting for since childhood.

Thanks to the author for providing me with an advance copy of this novel for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

There are two types of people in this world – those who have read Little Women, and those who haven’t. And there isn’t a category for those who have read but didn’t love it, because those people simply don’t exist! For all of us in the first category, THE OTHER ALCOTT takes us into the “real” (but fictionalized by Hooper) adult world of the Alcotts, where Louisa is seeing success from the publication of LITTLE WOMEN (although she resents having to write such juvenile fare) and her younger sister May is desperate to be independent and work on her budding career as an artist. She isn’t happy about Louisa using her as a basis for the character of Amy and is reeling from critical reviews of her drawings in LW. May is the narrator of this novel, which takes us from 1868 to 1880 and is a sweeping epic including travel throughout England and Europe.

I can honestly not believe that this is a debut title from Hooper – the research is absolutely breathtaking in its thoroughness and I actually messaged her asking if she is an artist because I couldn’t imagine anyone other than a professional artist being able to write about art the way she does. There is an excellent Afterword and Discussion with the Author telling of Hooper’s motivation for the book’s inception, as well as an incredible amount of detail about the real Alcotts and art during this time period. Hooper also tells us exactly how much of this story is based on fact and which parts have been embellished for the story. There is a Discussion Guide included as well.

I highly recommend this title to fans of LITTLE WOMEN (or those interested in literary and art life in the late 1800s), and I also think it will be a very popular book club selection. I also can envision it being a really fun read for a mother-daughter book club with daughters reading LW and mothers reading THE OTHER ALCOTT! Bravo to Hooper for this stunning debut.

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Patina by Jason Reynolds


Patina
by Jason Reynolds
(Atheneum/SimonKids – August 29, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A perfectly written follow up to Reynolds’ middle grade smash hit GHOST, this title is narrated by Patina, another member of the Defenders Track team.

Thank you to Atheneum/Simon Kids for providing me with a review copy of this book – all opinions are my own.

I’ll start by saying to please read GHOST first, or encourage the kids/students in your life to read GHOST first. Of course, you CAN read PATINA first, and the story won’t be ruined, but then GHOST will be ruined for you and I 100% guarantee you that after reading PATINA, you’ll want to have read GHOST. So, if you haven’t read it yet, go grab yourself a copy of GHOST, settle in, read it, then come back to PATINA.

In GHOST, Reynolds introduced readers to a middle school boy nicknamed Ghost, who ends up joining the Defenders track team. It is an excellent story – go read the summary and reviews of it – I gave it 5 stars. It ends with Ghost running a track race……and seriously just ENDS. You finish the book not knowing how the race ends, and it is excruciating!

Patina picks up where Ghost left off, with Ghost’s race. This time, however, Patty (Patina) is narrating the story as another member of the Defenders. I absolutely fell in love with Patina, maybe even more than I fell in love with Ghost. I’m not sure if it’s because as a female protagonist it’s easier to relate, or if Reynolds just wrote her so exquisitely that it was inevitable, but I LOVE this character. You learn quickly that her family life is pretty complicated and she’s struggling a bit to assimilate to a fancier school and living with her aunt and uncle. As she describes being a caretaker for both her sister and her mother (I won’t tell you why – go read the book!) I could relate to her even as a 30-something adult – caretaking is a universal issue and it is heartbreaking when kids have to fill that role.

Patty is achingly sincere and sweet, but she has a tough side that comes out as a defense in certain situations, sometimes getting her into trouble. As she tries to reconcile her new academy school with her old public school, and describes the neighborhoods in the city she lives in, readers can tell just how aware of class she is. Race too, for that matter. Patty ain’t no junk, as she says, but running may be the only way to prove that.

This series is required for middle grade libraries and classrooms – my students just loved Ghost last year and have been eagerly awaiting Patina’s story. When I took my own kids to see Reynolds speak at a local library last winter, they were SO excited to hear him talk about the continuation of the Defenders team story – I can’t wait to see who the next Track book is based on! And there had better be a next book since this one ends……….just like that.

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The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw
(Sky Pony Press – August 2016)

Thank you to the author for providing a copy of this book to #kidlitexchange for review purposes – all opinions are my own. I did already have a copy in my school library as well.

Haunting and impeccably written for a middle grade audience, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM is a required purchase for middle grade libraries and classrooms. This story follows 12-year-old Yuriko and her family in the time period surrounding and including the August 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima at the end of Word War II. In addition to the storyline involving the war and bombing, Burkinshaw has included storylines involving friends and family secrets that provide richness and entertainment. Burkinshaw draws on the true experiences of her mother’s experiences as a child in Hiroshima for this book, making it an even more unique and compelling story for young and adult readers alike. Included in the back pages are an afterword that explains the genesis of the book, as well as a glossary of the Japanese terms used throughout the story and a list of statistics about Hiroshima.

THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM would be an amazing middle grade read aloud, and has possibilities for countless lessons surrounding the topics in the book. Just one example of this is propaganda – included as chapter headings in the book are headlines from news stories and propaganda posters being used in the city during this time period – this information is also woven within the book and provides excellent backstory to the political situation in Japan during this time period.

Burkinshaw also has a discussion guide for the book that can be requested on her website and provides Skype visits to classes reading the book.

I can not recommend this book highly enough – Yuriko and her family will linger with readers as evidence of the impact of the horrific atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the true nature of the devastation on residents of the city and surrounding areas.

GIVEAWAY

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The author is hosting an amazing giveaway now as well – you can enter here! Winners will be chosen on Thursday, August 31 2017 (US and Canada addresses only).

 

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
(Algonquin – August 2014)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Description from Goodreads

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Review

Okay, so I’m not really going to review this – I’m just going to gush over it. I was told I HAD to read it by commenters on my Instagram post about Zevin’s latest title Young Jane Youngso I immediately got it from the library. And……….

I LOVE THIS BOOK SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO MUCH and want to give it 10 STARS. I read it in less than half a day. What the hell was I doing in 2013 when this was published??? This is my new absolute favorite book about books – I read a library copy and am now going to be purchasing myself a copy for my “forever” shelf. I love the characters, I love the setting, I love the amazing commentary on books and literature, I love the dry humor, I love the HEART, I just love it all. If you were as lost as I was and missed this book, go get it NOW.

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The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas


The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
(Flatiron – August 29, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stunning, sweeping, mind-bending – this is a doorstop of a novel that touches on the very deepest core of motherhood and womanhood, while simultaneously showcasing the best short stories I have ever read…….as part of the story.

Thanks to Flatiron for providing me with an advance copy of this book for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

“I viewed the consumptive nature of love as a threat to serious women. But the wonderful man I just married believes as I do―work is paramount, absolutely no children―and now love seems to me quite marvelous.”

These words are spoken to a rapturous audience by Joan Ashby, a brilliant and intense literary sensation acclaimed for her explosively dark and singular stories.

When Joan finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she is stunned by Martin’s delight, his instant betrayal of their pact. She makes a fateful, selfless decision then, to embrace her unintentional family.

Challenged by raising two precocious sons, it is decades before she finally completes her masterpiece novel. Poised to reclaim the spotlight, to resume the intended life she gave up for love, a betrayal of Shakespearean proportion forces her to question every choice she has made.

Epic, propulsive, incredibly ambitious, and dazzlingly written, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a story about sacrifice and motherhood, the burdens of expectation and genius. Cherise Wolas’s gorgeous debut introduces an indelible heroine candid about her struggles and unapologetic in her ambition.

Review

Honestly, when I think of this book, I think of Joan Ashby being the author. Which is insane, because Joan Ashby is the protagonist. But. Intellectually I understand that Cherise Wolas wrote this – I mean, I KNOW that. But Joan Ashby as an author within this book is so superbly talented and we are so deep inside her head and we read SO MUCH of her work within the book, that when I look for this book in stores and the library I will surely be looking under “ASH” and not “WOL”. And that, my friends is masterpiece. Wolas has managed to deliver us into a fictional reality that transcends the boundaries of ordinary fiction – I have stopped myself a few times from trying to add Ashby’s books to my TBR list in Goodreads or ordering them on Amazon.

But wait. There’s definitely more to this story than just Joan’s stories. There’s the most honest and cutting and brutal commentary on motherhood that I have ever read – a commentary that isn’t a comfortable one, but is one that I am so happy has been exposed. There’s also the look into the very essence of being a writer and needing “a room of one’s own” – and I can surely relate given that I am attempting to write this review while being interrupted by 3 children as I sit in in the middle of a house in which I do NOT have a room of my own! There is also betrayal. And a marriage. And travel. And self-discovery. And so many things I adored.

As you can see, I can’t really review this. I just loved it. I want to buy Joan’s books. Or maybe I need Wolas to just write so. much. more. Highly highly recommend to anyone who writes. Or who loves literary fiction. Or who is a mother. Or who has a mother. So, basically EVERYONE. Read. This. Book.

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Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
(Starscape – August 29th, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful message about the the power of speaking up in this middle grade novel for book lovers and librarians!

Thanks to the author for providing me with an advance copy of this novel for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

It all started the day Amy Anne Ollinger tried to check out her favorite book in the whole world, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from the school library. That’s when Mrs. Jones, the librarian, told her the bad news: her favorite book was banned! All because a classmate’s mom thought the book wasn’t appropriate for kids to read.

Amy Anne decides to fight back by starting a secret banned books library out of her locker. Soon, she finds herself on the front line of an unexpected battle over book banning, censorship, and who has the right to decide what she and her fellow students can read.

Reminiscent of the classic novel Frindle by Andrew Clements for its inspiring message, Ban This Book is a love letter to the written word and its power to give kids a voice.

Review

As a school librarian, I am surely more than a little prejudiced in loving this story so much – a story of a parent getting a huge number of books removed from the school library without following proper procedure because the school board is bending to her will. AND a story of a student fighting back by creating a library of banned books in her locker to share with her classmates. I love the storyline of Amy Anne struggling to find her voice and actually speak up about things that bothered her, and finding her place in her chaotic family.

I do wish that the story would have been based on 6th or 7th graders, however, rather than 4th graders, given the higher level of the text and the locker premise. I feel like the lockers would resonate more with the middle school crowd rather than elementary and increasing the age of the students would allow the story to be appreciated more fully by a much wider age range of students. This story would definitely be appreciated by middle schoolers, but due to the 4th grade setting, most will probably stay away. In addition, some of the racial references, while I understand their intention, felt a little clunky.

There is also a great Common Core-aligned discussion and activity guide included at the end of the book.

Highly recommended for school libraries and classrooms, and a definite read aloud for 4th and 5th grades.

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