Solo by Alexander Kwame and Mary Rand Hess

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Wow! Reading this story of the life of the son of a rocker told in free verse is like getting inside the mind of the main character and wondering if there is a good way out.  The two authors tell the tale in a poetic style through a point, counter-point exchange of words and feelings.

The son, Blade Morrison, is a part of a very wealthy, very dysfunctional family.  He has suffered the death of his mother and survives the many alcoholic/drug induced downward spirals of his father.  He has one true love, Chapel, a girl from a conservative Christian family; and he holds on to her as his lifeline.  Then his whole world is turned upside down, ad he finds that he no longer has her lover and that he is not even who he thought he was.  His search for reality takes him half way around the world.

The authors’ use of tying the more famous songs of rock and roll into the tale lends reality to the characters and to the action.  Each of the sections referring to one of those songs is prefaced with discography of the song so that the reader may actually hear the words from the artists themselves if they so desire.

Telling a tale in a long narrative to young reader of this generation is a great undertaking.  Using that style to tell the tale and yet being able to develop other believable characters and to hear their voice in the poem is a phenomenal undertaking. Alexander and Hess have accomplished this feat.

The reader will not find sexual scenes or bad language. The book could be used in English classes as a novel/poetry study, but it should definitely be included in the high school library.

Curious Minds by Ty Kolstedt and Azeem Z. Vasi

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Curious minds

The authors have provided the middle school to high school reader with a fascinating book of various experiments in all fields of learning – including Language Arts and Social Studies.  Usually, books of experiments are limited to mathematics and/or science.

Each chapter begins with a topic to pique the interest of the reader.  The “Content Area” and “Primary Skills’ being taught by the experiment, along with the “Mission Objective” begin each chapter.  These sections are followed by “Learning the Lingo” in which the reader learns the terms pertinent to the topic at hand.  Next comes the list of materials needed to perform the experiment, followed by the “Plan of Attack,” or the steps in the experiment.  Finally each chapter ends with “Take it to the Max,” an attempt to get the reader to go beyond the given experiment and to discover more about the subject on his/her own.

This book is for younger readers, but it may well be used by a teacher or a homeschooling parent for extra activities.  I recommend its purchase, but a librarian may have trouble cataloging it because of its broad range of subjects.

Darkest Hour by Carolyn Tung Richmond

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darkest hour  As a spy of the Allies during World War II, sixteen year-old Lucie Blaise was not always the most proficient.  She had messed up two operations already, and the commander of Covert Ops was nearly ready to send her back to the U.S. before she could do any serious damage to the operations.

Then came the assignment to track down and interrogate a Nazi traitor who was offering the Allies important information about a new “weapon” than the Germans were about ready to release on the world.  Lucie and two other Covert Ops girls set out through France into Germany to complete this mission.

These types of assignments are always dangerous, but the girls nearly get themselves killed several times.  How they found the spy and then were able to destroy the lab where the weapon was being created is only a part of the story of espionage and intrigue. Lucie discovers that Covet Ops has a mole, and she must figure out who that is before someone dies.

The reader should be ready for a thrilling adventure as he/she sits down to read.  The fact that there actually were many real-life women operatives during World War II makes what might seem fantastical come to life.  I recommend the purchase of this book for readers in grade 7-13.

Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

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safekeeping

What would you do if you had been out of the country for several months to help outhers and then returned to find your life has totally changed; your family is gone; you have very little money; your credit cards do not work; and you think the government is trying to arrest you?  Would you do what Radley did – start walking to the Canadian border?  Radley runs into another girl on her way to Canada.  She, too, is obviously running, but she doesn’t communicate much to Radley.  The two of them make it, but they are too afraid to let anyone know that they are in the country or that they need help. They forage for food and then a mysterious benefactor begins leaving them things to help them survive the winter in the cabin they found in the woods.

This is really a story of friendship in times of chaos, but it is also a story of how drastic changes in government might affect the lives of people.  Radley eventually learns the truth about what happened to her parents, and the truth about her traveling companion; but she also learns that life is too precious to live with regrets and sorrows.  I definitely recommend this for high school readers.

I included the picture from the paperback I had for reviewing.  I noticed that there is a different cover on the hardback version, and in some ways I think that cover more accurately depicts the walk of Radley.  If you go looking for this book do not let my picture influence your decision as to which book you are getting.

The Book of What If: Questions and Activities for Curious Minds by Matt Murrie and Andrew R. McHugh

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Book of What If

This is an interesting book of scientific and philosophic trivia.  It poses 84 questions such as: What if we could be young forever?  What if nanobots joined in the fight against cancer? What if walls could talk? and What if there were no luck? Each question is followed by a discussion about that question, and an activity related to it.  A short biographical sketch about a person who is involved in some way with the topic under discussion is included.

The questions posed also have comments about them from various teenagers.  Some questions have a technical corner explaining or introducing something that already exists and is relevant to the question.

The author also included a very detailed end-note section.  Many of these references are on line and might lead the reader to do more exploration on their own.  They have also included other resources that will help the curious minded to go on further thinking explorations.

I realize the copy I was reading was a reader’s copy for critics, but I would hope that the editors could make the student comments more readable before it hits the market.  The typeface I was trying to read was grey-on-grey in that section and I found it very difficult to read those student comments.

I’m trying to pinpoint an audience for the book.  Students who love trivia or are just naturally curious about many things will enjoy it; other than that I believe the student audience is limited.  I truly liked the book, but its best audience might be for the teacher to use as class discussions or as writing assignments.  It is intended for the high school audience, but good readers in elementary school might enjoy it.

I was enjoying the mental gymnastics asked for by the book when I ran across the question: What is awesome didn’t exist? – not an unusual question for that book.  What blew my mind was that the example of “awesome” was Harvey Milk, and everything said about him related to the gay community and his actions for that group.  This chapter seemed to be out of place because this was about a person – not about an idea, and that really didn’t fit into the concept of the book as a whole.  It seemed to me that someone had told the authors they MUST have something in the book about the gay community, so this got stuck in to make some publisher happy.  It was totally unnecessary! I do not think it is necessary to stress the sexuality of Milk and to do so in context with the word “awesome.” This inclusion will also make some homeschooling parents and libraries think twice about purchasing it.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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truthwitch

 

Fans of Sarah J, Maas will love this first book of a new series. This story takes place in the Witchlands. The main characters, Safiya and Iseult, and the land in which they live has long known the diverse power of witches.  These two come with very unique powers – which most had thought were long gone from the land.  Iseault is a Threadwitch.  She sees the ties that bind people to each other as strands of color.  The colors indicate to her the emotional bonds between people. But, she is unable to see her own bonds, and the lack of that ability limits her knowledge of how people may be using her.  Iseult is the cool-headed, more balanced of the two.

Sayfiya is a Truthwitch; she knows when people are telling her the truth.  Most of the rulers of her world do not realize that she is a truthwitch because she knows her life is in danger if they dicover her abilities.  If her power were made known, she would be the most sought-after person in the land because she would know if countries and rulers were telling the truth to each other.  Safiya is also impetuous and quick-tempered.  She often acts without thinking the consequences through.  She definitely needs Iseult to give her balance.

A young Bloodwitch, a man who can smell people’s blood and track them down, and a young male Wind Witch appear on the scene and their lives are changed forever.  The girls have many harrowing adventures the outcomes the reader will not anticipate. The reader will be eagerly anticipating the arrival of the next book in the series.

High school and middle school readers of fantasy will drawn into this tale of friendship and love.  I recommend it for such people.

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria

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love letters

Dellaria tells the story of Laurel’s journey from the death of her sister and the breakup of her family to emotional healing in a most unusual way.  Laurel writes letters to famous dead people in her journal. This began as an English class writing assignment.  The point was to have the students write to a famous dead person about what effect their lives had had on them.  Laurel begins writing but never turns in the assignment.  She, instead, begins to write more and more letters to her “pen pals.”  She feels she cannot share the letters even though not doing so affects her grade in the class.

The people to whom she writes are very diverse: Kurt Cobain, Amelia Earhart, Jim Morrison, and John Keats.  Each of these people had died a very tragic death or had suffered from some tragic events in their lives.  Laurel’s letters to the dead gradually reveals to the reader what really happened the night her sister died.

This is a fantastic story told in a most unusual manner. I think teen readers will enjoy it, and I know they will learn more about the people to whom Laurel writes.  I recommend this for libraries that service middle school to high school readers.

Marked by Laura Williams McCaffery

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marked

This book is not at all what I expected when I picked it up. I had thought that it might be about tattoos and people’s reactions to them. While it IS about tattoos, it is more about a dystopian society that touts education as a way to move up in society while, at the same time, making it nearly impossible for that to happen.

In this society, if a person is caught in a misdemeanor crime such as buying food or medicine in a “shadow market” – an unsanctioned market where items are available that are not normally available in the regular stores, they immediately receive a tattoo around their wrist. Three tattoos, and they go to prison. Tattoos are given immediately without any sort of trial – only that the police had caught them doing something “illegal.”

Lyla Northstrom is one such girl who has received a mark when she went to a shadow market to buy medicine for her ailing mother because her mother is not able to get medical care from any acceptable medical facility.  A police officer, who she has known since a child, offers her a way to redeem herself and to get her mark removed.  He wants her to spy on one of her best friends who has also been marked for participating in underground activity. She must decide if her freedom from condemnation and a chance to get an education is worth betraying her friend. As she gets further into the underworld and into the world of the government that is controlling her world, she learns that many things are not as they seem.

This book is also a sort of commentary on the control that government can get over people’s lives and the results of that control. I watched a documentary on freedom just yesterday, and I was hit with the comment that one can either have economic freedom OR government regulations – not both.  This books is a good example of what MIGHT happen if the government reigns supreme in all aspects of one’s life.  It is too frighteningly possible for such a society too exist is freedoms are eroded one by one.

This story is told as a combination standard novel and graphic novel, an unusual approach but may help get the graphic novel people reading something a little more challenging.  I could not list it as a graphic novel, but it does have elements of that genre in it.  And, one of the characters does write a type of graphic novels.

 

Welcome to New Zealand: a Nature Journal by Sandra Morris

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welcome to new zealand

When I found this book available for review, I hoped that this might be a book about the flora and fauna of New Zealand, a place that has long fascinated me.  I was mistaken.  It is about how to make a journal of one’s own environment.  The author informs the reader what to look for in his/her own neighborhood, and gives examples of the materials needed.  She also give suggestions of how to enter the findings into a nature journal.

The artwork is done by the writer.  It is mostly watercolor and pen and ink drawings.  It is very pretty and welcomes the eye to explore the pages, even as it encourages the reader to explore the out-of-doors.  It does have a glossary and an index to aid in research.  I recommend this book for the elementary reader, ages nine through twelve.

Sandrider by Angie Sage

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sandrider

This second book in the Todhunter Moon series is well-written and is a pleasure to read.  Alice Todhunter Moon is a novice magician in the Castle when a young girl accidentally enters the lives of the people in the Castle through the Ancient Ways. The inhabitants of the Castle already know about the Egg of Orm which had been stolen by an evil sorcerer named Oraton-Maar. But, they have no idea where he is keeping it until it hatches.  Of course, the girl can help them, but she doesn’t trust them, and they soon learn they can’t trust her either.

How Alice and her friends manage to get to the egg before the baby Orm hatches and whom the Orm will imprint on when it does hatch makes this a very fast-moving tale that will appeal to the middle-school reader.

Reader of the Septimus Heap series will enjoy this new series.  It continues with Septimus Heap now being in charge of the Castle.  This book may stand alone, but the reader will want to go back and read the first book if she begins with this one.