Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
(Atheneum ~ October 24, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that I can hardly review, but just have to say……BUY IT. READ IT. SHARE IT.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Review

Amazingly powerful YA story in verse, including elements of magical realism. Reynolds pounds home messages about family, gun violence and life choices using terse lyrical language in this brief and timely volume that definitely requires acceptance by the reader of the impact of voices from beyond the grave to teach harsh life lessons.

Required purchase for high school libraries.

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Prince of Pot by Tanya Lloyd Kyi


Prince of Pot by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
(Groundwood Books ~ September 5, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Completely and utterly original, this YA captivated me from page one.

Thanks to House of Anansi Press for the review copy of this title.

Book Description

Isaac loves art class, drives an old pickup, argues with his father and hangs out with his best buddy, Hazel. But his life is anything but normal. His parents operate an illegal marijuana grow-op, Hazel is a bear that guards the property, and his family’s livelihood is a deep secret.

It’s no time to fall in love with the daughter of a cop.

Isaac’s girlfriend Sam is unpredictable, ambitious and needy. And as his final year of high school comes to an end, she makes him consider a new kind of life pursuing his interest in art, even if that means leaving behind his beloved home in the Rockies and severing all ties with his family.

For a while he hopes he can have it all, until a disastrous graduation night, when Sam’s desperate grab for her father’s attention suddenly puts his entire family at risk. 

Review

I have said again and again recently that I’m starting to rate more and more on originality and this book NAILED the quintessential feel of quality YA wrapped in a completely new storyline. I was fascinated with the premise of this book and couldn’t stop reading. It is a story with a TON of heart about secrets, family and growing up in a very, very unique setting. Anyone who has ever had to keep a secret or take care of an elderly relative will relate to this story so closely. Personally, growing up and living in rural wilderness areas make me able to relate to this one on many other levels as well.

I cried and I ached for Isaac as he tried to find his place in the world, but wasn’t left with a feeling of despair. And the BEARS. Oh, those bears.

Highly recommended for mature YA collections.

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The Floating World by C Morgan Babst


The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst
(Algonquin Books ~ October 17, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As dark and disturbing as Katrina herself, THE FLOATING WORLD takes readers into the most damaged neighborhoods of New Orleans, both during and after the epic storm, in this story of family, race and a city in crisis.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for the review copy of this title.

Book Description

A dazzling debut about family, home, and grief, The Floating World takes readers into the heart of Hurricane Katrina with the story of the Boisdorés, whose roots stretch back nearly to the foundation of New Orleans. Though the storm is fast approaching the Louisiana coast, Cora, the family’s fragile elder daughter, refuses to leave the city, forcing her parents, Joe Boisdoré, an artist descended from a freed slave who became one of the city’s preeminent furniture makers, and his white “Uptown” wife, Dr. Tess Eshleman, to evacuate without her, setting off a chain of events that leaves their marriage in shambles and Cora catatonic–the victim or perpetrator of some violence mysterious even to herself.

This mystery is at the center of C. Morgan Babst’s haunting, lyrical novel. Cora’s sister, Del, returns to New Orleans from the life she has tried to build in New York City to find her hometown in ruins and her family deeply alienated from one another. As Del attempts to figure out what happened to her sister, she must also reckon with the racial history of the city, and the trauma of destruction that was not, in fact, some random act of God, but an avoidable tragedy visited upon New Orleans’s most helpless and forgotten citizens.

The Floating World is the Katrina story that needed to be told–one with a piercing, unforgettable loveliness and a nuanced understanding of this particular place and its tangled past, written by a New Orleans native who herself says that after Katrina, “if you were blind, suddenly you saw.”

Review

This book is not an easy read. It’s not a page turner or a nail biter. It’s not a story of a strong New Orleans rising after a devastating storm and it’s not a story of a family coming together in a time of need. It’s a fiercely honest account of a family going through tortured times, both emotional and environmental. It’s a story of hearts breaking and a city sinking and the absolute worst that people can do. As you read, you are trapped in the brains of humans who are suffering, both in typical ways and in ways brought about by mental illness and dementia.

But. But. You also experience the depths of the human condition and the brutal racial divide in the city. You learn about the horrors of a storm most of us haven’t experienced firsthand, and to understand is to empathize.

Is this happy? No. Is it important? Yes.

If you like dark, ruminative stories about complex social issues, this one’s for you. If you’re looking for a light, fast-paced adventure story about surviving a hurricane, this will definitely surprise you with its slow and meandering nature and psychological focus.

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Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
(Crown BFYR ~ October 17, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Raw, powerful and REAL, DEAR MARTIN is a required purchase for HS libraries and a required read for all American teens and adults.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this title – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

Review

DEAR MARTIN is raw and it’s powerful and it does not hold back. This is a book for mature readers not because of the violence and sexual content, but because of the maturity of the discussions and debate held throughout the book. This, in my opinion, makes this just as valuable in the YA market as in the adult market. I love the format of the book ~ standard narration broken up by letters from the teen narrator written to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr ~ and I absolutely had my heart broken with the overall story. Justyce’s struggle is heartbreaking and authentic and so gorgeously written.

Add this to the canon of YA books about race relations in present-day United States, but put it right near the TOP of that list. It can be right alongside THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas and ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

And until adult fiction writers start hitting this topic like YA has, this is THE must-read book on the topic for adult readers as well. My eyes are open like they never have been before.

As mentioned earlier, this is a required purchase for HS libraries. I have pre-ordered it for mine.

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I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
(Knopf BFYR ~ October 17, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

More than deserving of its National Book Award Finalist status, this novel is a stunning story of heritage, family and growing up.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this title.

Book Description

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role. 

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

Review

Sanchez has taken a teenage girl and created one of the most relatable characters I have read yet in young adult literature. Julia and her family and the Chicago setting are absolute perfection, and readers will get swept up into both Julia’s grief over the loss of her sister, but also her agony about being trapped into a life that she doesn’t want. The mystery of her sister Olga’s death and Julia’s attempts to escape her family create subplots that make this title a incredibly compelling page-turner as well.

What seals the 5th star for this title for me, however, is the complete and utter ease that Sanchez weaves English and Spanish throughout the narrative, sometimes translating the Spanish and sometimes just leaving it out there because maybe the reader SHOULD be expected to speak and read a language other than English for once. Julia’s accounts of her family’s undocumented status and their harrowing journeys from Mexico are heartbreaking and 100% necessary and relevant, both for readers who are themselves living this life, but also for readers who struggle to understand the reality of living it.

Required purchase for high school libraries. Get this book into the hands of teens NOW.

View all of my Goodreads reviews

Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz


I’m so excited to be a part of the blog tour for this newest title in the incredibly popular upper middle grade Alex Rider series! This title just released yesterday, October 10, 2017 and I already have the book ready to be put into the hands of my middle school readers!

Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz
(Philomel Books ~ October 10, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alex Rider is BACK! This is the perfect book to bring older readers back to this series, or to get new readers excited about it. Spy fiction at its finest.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this title.

Book Description

Never Say Die coverAlex Rider is back in action! His new mission? Rescue an entire bus filled with children belonging to wealthy families. At stake are not only the lives of each child, but the very future of the terrorist organization known as SCORPIA. Thrilling action and pulse-pounding heroics make the pages fly.

The world’s greatest teen spy is back in action in a thrilling new mission: destroy once and for all the terrorist organization SCORPIA. Following the events of Scorpia Rising, Alex relocates to San Francisco as he slowly recovers from the tragic death of his best friend and caregiver, Jack Starbright, at the hands of terrorists working for SCORPIA. With Jack gone, Alex feels lost and alone, but then, out of the blue, he receives a cryptic email–just three words long, but enough to make Alex believe that Jack may be alive. Armed with this shred of hope, Alex boards a flight bound for Egypt and embarks on a dubious quest to track Jack down. Yet SCORPIA knows Alex’s weakness. And the question of whether Jack is alive soon takes a backseat to a chilling new terrorist plot–one that will determine the lives of many. From Egypt to France to Wales, from luxury yachts to abandoned coal mines, Alex traverses a minefield of dangers and cryptic clues as he fights to discover the truth. The #1 New York Times bestselling series, perfect for fans of James Bond and Jason Bourne, is back with a vengeance! 

Review

This middle grade (grades 5-9) series began over 15 years ago, but the allure of Alex Rider and his high-voltage and action-packed adventures has not diminished. Overall as a series, it has proven to be a winner with middle grade readers……and with me as an adult! I’m a sucker for James Bond and Jason Bourne and I get just as sucked into Alex Rider’s stories as I do the adult titles.

In Alex’s latest adventure, he evades death so many times I can’t even count, and manages to keep me on the edge of my seat despite knowing that of COURSE he ends up okay. Because he’s Alex Rider. And because Horowitz has already given us a teaser for the next installment coming in Summer 2018, which is going to be incredibly difficult to wait for! This installment really covers the entire realm of what makes spy novels so enticing ~ international travel, international intrigue, ships, helicopters, guns, bombs, car crashes, train crashes, poison…..and MORE.

I love that Horowitz has brought Alex back, and I love that I can use the buzz over this newest title to get new middle school readers hooked on the series.

This series is highly recommended for any classroom or library grades 5 and up. Do a book talk, make a display, talk up the DANGER ~ get kids hooked. Because once they start, they’ll want to read all 11 of the books!

About the Author

Anthony Horowitz (anthonyhorowitz.com) is a world-renowned screenwriter for film Horowitzand television, having received multiple awards. And he is, of course, the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Alex Rider novels, which have spawned a major motion picture and a line of graphic novels. Anthony was also commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate to write two Sherlock Holmes novels, the critically-acclaimed The House of Silk and Moriarty. Most recently he was commissioned by the Ian Fleming Estate to write the James Bond novel Trigger Mortis, incorporating never-before-published material from 007’s creator. Anthony lives with his wife in London, England; they are parents to two grown boys. He will be touring the US for the publication of NEVER SAY DIE.

There was just an excellent interview with Horowitz in Publishers Weekly as well – check it out!


If you can’t get enough of this book, check out all of the stops on this blog tour!

Week One:
October 2 – YA Book Nerd – Review
October 4 – The Keepers of the Books – Review
October 5 – Bookstorm Reads – Creative: Favorite Alex Rider Gadgets
October 6 – Hello Jenny Reviews – Promo: Photo
 
Week Two:
October 9 – Through the Open Window – Review
October 10 – Buttermybooks – Creative: Outfit Inspiration from Cover
October 11 – The Loud Library Lady – Review
October 12 – YA Books Central – Excerpt with giveaway
October 13 – Never Too Many to Read – Creative: Spotlight on book series
 
Week Three:
October 16 – Ms. Yingling Reads – Review
October 17 – Doodle Mom’s Homeschooling Life – Review
October 18 – BigScreenBooks – Review
October 19 –  Mary Had a Little Book Blog – Spy Kit essentials (what every spy must keep in their bag)
October 20 – Avid Reader – Travel Guide to Egypt

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green


No traditional review of this one…..I just can’t. I got it at school at 11:40 am on release day and finished it at 6:25 pm and it BROKE. MY. HEART. 

It’s the most powerful and open book about mental illness that I have read, and it’s required reading for everyone, but especially those who don’t understand the intensity of OCD and extreme anxiety. It is unlike any of his other work, but it’s still funny and it’s still so so sad, but it’s also Green’s OWN struggle. 

Go read his interview with NYT and try to tell me you didn’t want to cry.
And if I see even ONE “but it’s not like TFIOS” whiny review…….don’t get me started. 

Read this book. Work through the discomfort. Honor his pain.

The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman


The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman
(Lake Union – October 10, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautiful ode to Detroit and comfort food, this novel is an absolute feel-good delight.

Thank you to the author for providing me with a review copy of this title.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Betting on the city of Detroit’s eventual comeback, cousins Addie and Samantha decide to risk it all on an affordable new house and a culinary career that starts with renovating a vintage diner in a depressed area of town. There’s just one little snag in their vision.

Angus, a weary, beloved local, is strongly opposed to his neighborhood’s gentrification—and his concerns reflect the suspicion of the community. Shocked by their reception, Addie and Samantha begin to have second thoughts.

As the long hours, problematic love interests, and underhanded pressures mount, the two women find themselves increasingly at odds, and soon their problems threaten everything they’ve worked for. If they are going to realize their dreams, Addie and Samantha must focus on rebuilding their relationship. But will the neighborhood open their hearts to welcome them home?

Review

Lampman has taken her love for Detroit, combined it with her adoration of food, and created not only a wonderful work of fiction, but also a wonderful primer on Detroit’s history and the resurrection of a fallen city. Michigan as a whole and Detroit specifically take on a life of their own in this novel, creating a sense of place that I really don’t experience in most novels. The characters grab your heart and while I didn’t always agree with their decisions, I could relate to Sam and Addie very closely. The diner itself is swoon-worthy, and I love how the influence of food bloggers, Yelp and newspaper reviews are included.

Throughout the story, Lampman is careful to include the complexities of race relations in the area, as well as the complexity of race relations in general, and while several times this gets somewhat awkward, her genuine attempt to highlight her respect for the diversity of the diner’s neighborhood shine through. I would much prefer an awkward implementation over an inappropriate one or completely glossed over view of race in a quickly-gentrifying neighborhood.

Overall, this is a delightful read that I would highly recommend to fans of contemporary women’s and foodie fiction, as well as anyone with a soft spot for Detroit in their hearts. I’m a huge fan of all of these things, making me the PERFECT audience for this story! I’m so happy I had the opportunity to read it pre-release.

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Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas


Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas
(Roaring Brook ~ October 10, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Compelling middle grade that presents an honest view of westward expansion and the true nature of the Little House series.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this title.

Oh, and remember my review of the recent title Caroline: Little House Revisited including an interview I hosted with the author about Caroline Ingall’s racism??? Check that post out for a lot more on my feelings about the Little House series!

Book Description

A life on the prairie is not all it’s cracked up to be in this middle-grade novel where one girl’s mom takes her love of the Little House series just a bit too far.

Charlotte’s mom has just moved the family across the country to live in Walnut Grove, “childhood home of pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Mom’s idea is that the spirit of Laura Ingalls will help her write a bestselling book. But Charlotte knows better: Walnut Grove is just another town where Mom can avoid responsibility. And this place is worse than everywhere else the family has lived—it’s freezing in the winter, it’s small with nothing to do, and the people talk about Laura Ingalls all the time.

Charlotte’s convinced her family will not be able to make a life on the prairie—until the spirit of Laura Ingalls starts getting to her, too.

Review

As a school librarian who has a thought a LOT about the appropriate treatment of the Little House series in today’s world, this book made me incredibly happy. At first I was worried that Tougas would give a romanticized view of Laura’s world, but she blew me away with her historically accurate and honest inclusion of the real impacts of westward expansion on American Indians and the environment. I felt that this information was included in a non-preachy and middle grade-friendly way.

Charlotte and her siblings are written in an age-appropriate way and really convey just how damaged they are by their constant moving and their mom’s relative instability. I appreciate that this was done in a way that doesn’t overshadow the book with darkness.

In all honesty, despite the love the world has for Laura’s books, I would rather have my students and own children read this book rather than the Little House series due to the historical accuracy presented here. However, I still have the Little House series in my library and teachers are still gushing over the series (which I did love as a child) which means kids will still be wanting to read the books. After they do, I will hand them this book in an attempt to set right a lot of the wrongs portrayed in the series, and give them background on actual events. For kids not interested in reading the series, I hope Tougas’ book will be a fun and sneakily-educational read.

This title is a required purchase for any library or classroom with the Little House series, as it presents a counterpoint to the romanticization of westward expansion and extremely racist views of those titles.

Highly recommended in other settings for grades 4-6.

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The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

 

Photo Credit: Lindsay Currie (with permission)

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie
(Aladdin ~ October 10, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spooky and filled with an incredibly dark and creepy sense of foreboding, Currie has perfectly filled the middle grade desire for a healthy dose of fear.

Thanks to the author, Net Galley and Kid Lit Exchange for the digital review copy of this book ~ all opinions are my own.

Book Description

A girl unravels a centuries-old mystery after moving into a haunted house in this deliciously suspenseful mystery.

Tessa Woodward isn’t exactly thrilled to move to rainy, cold Chicago from her home in sunny Florida. But homesickness turns to icy fear when unexplainable things start happening in her new house. Things like flickering lights, mysterious drawings appearing out of nowhere, and a crackling noise she can feel in her bones.

When her little brother’s doll starts crying real tears, Tessa realizes that someone—or something—is trying to communicate with her. A secret that’s been shrouded in mystery for more than one hundred years.

With the help of three new friends, Tessa begins unraveling the mystery of what happened in the house on Shady Street—and more importantly, what it has to do with her!

Review

Let me start by saying that I do NOT read ghost stories or creepy stories or scary stories of ANY kind in the adult genre. However, as a middle grade kid, all I read was Christopher Pike and RL Stine, so I definitely have a base with which to compare PECULIAR. Currie completely blows that level of creepy out of the water with her debut novel, and today’s middle grade readers are much better off for skill. I can honestly say that I will never look at a ventriloquist dummy the same again after reading this book!

I absolutely love the way the setting almost takes on a life of its own in this novel, with the dark and stormy skies invading my brain space the entire time I was reading about Tess and her quest to solve the mystery of her new house. But aside from the major middle-grade-appropriate-spooky factor, I adored how perfectly Currie captured the heart of a 6th grade girl and her anxiety over moving to a new school and meeting new friends. Tess’ family is delightfully quirky and I fell in love with her parents and their free-range parenting and lack of technology. This little theme was thrown in with just the right amount of humor to keep it from being preachy, but will probably still stick with kids.

Highly recommended purchase for middle grade classrooms and libraries. I would say the sweet spot for this story will be grades 4-6, but it will definitely appeal to some 7th and 8th graders as well. May be a little scary for some 3rd graders.

View all of my Goodreads reviews