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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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.

The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet


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I had read Tamar by Mal Peet, and I loved the story.  When I saw this book show up on our review list, I was glad that I could review it, thinking that it would be as good as the one I had read.  I was VERY wrong.  I read the entire thing, hoping against hope, that I would find something to like about it. The only thing I can say is that it was the biggest piece of twaddle I have ever read.

The main character is a writer of sentimental coming-of-age books for boys.  His agent convinces him that he needs to write a fantasy, because “fantasy sells.”  He can’t bring himself to do it, but in a very Faustian move, he does sell his soul to a “greme” named Pocket Wellfair, who actually writes a fantasy for him. After he becomes a sensation in the fantasy market, his agent tells him that he has to expand his work into a trilogy.  Many unbelievable things occur between the writing of the first book and that of the third book – one of which is that he goes off to an island in the Mediterranean to avoid having to write the thing at all.

I totally get it that Peet is thumbing his nose at writers who are looking out for their own “pocket wellfair.”  I do know that he thinks that writers who write to please their agents – no matter how pleasing or pretty those agents might be – will not be happy nor successful in the long run.  Hats off to Peet for that.

However, the book is loaded with so many British phrases and phonetic pronunciations that no high school student will ever take time to read it.  I’m not sure that many adult readers in the U.S. would choose to read it.  There is no way I could ever recommend the expenditure of limited library funds for this.

Beyond Clueless by Linas Alsenas

beyond clueless

Whenever teenagers have changes in their lives, they may not always be able to process everything about them and to make good judgements in the face of such changes.  This is true of Marty Sullivan. She has just started high school at a private, single sex Catholic high school, and she is not at all sure of how she will fit in.  Of course, her best friend, Jimmy, goes to another school, so she must find her way without her best support.

She becomes involved in her high school musical.  There are parts for boys in the musical, and the guys are allowed to come from any school in the area.  Since several guys are needed, she gets Jimmy to come try out.  He brings his new boyfriend, Derek.  Derek gets two friends of his, Kirby and Oliver, to try out also.

Marty is drawn to Oliver, but she knows this is ridiculous because he is gay.  Marty thinks that Kirby is Oliver’s boyfriend.  Another boy from a neighboring school seems to be drawn to her, so she goes for him. She, along with her new friend, Xiang, learn that high school isn’t all bad and that things are seldom as they seem on the surface.

This is a great coming-of-age story for teen readers.  One thing I would like to point out is that, while the story is supposed to take place in a suburb of Cleveland, the author calls the town Bracksville.   There is a real town named Brecksville; it is a suburb of Cleveland. I don’t know if the misspelling is intentional or accident.  In any case, I do recommend it for high school libraries, unless your audience would have problems with the reference to gays.

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas


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queen of shadows

I began reading this series, Throne of Glass, with the third book, and was delighted when I got a chance to review this volume.  In this tale, Calaena Sardothian has embraced her true identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen; but before she can go home to take her rightful place as Terrasen’s ruler, she must go to Rifthold to rescue her cousin, and a friend, both trapped by  a brutal king.

Aelin, who was trained as an assassin, must destroy demons who do unspeakable things to those they enslave, and she must try to free the magic in the world that has been captured by the king so that magic workers can use it to drive back the forces of evil.

The reader also learns more about Manon, the Wing Leader of the Blackbeak witch coven, and of a young girl named Elide enslaved by her own uncle on the mountain of Morath. Manon can be as blood-thirsty and as cold-hearted as any witch in the coven, but something awakens in her when she is around Elide.  She begins to feel compassion for Elide – a new experience for her.

Aelin, on her quest to save her cousin, learns that one cannot always judge people by what the eye sees; they are often hiding their true identity out of fear.  This is a good lesson for all of us to learn.  We sometime have to look deep into a person to discover who they really are.

The author has skillfully woven together the bits and pieces, both good and evil, of this fantasy world.  She brings all events to a satisfying conclusion, and yet teases the reader into desiring to know more about Manon and Elide and possibly other characters from the Throne of Glass series.

This series is very violent, and is not appropriate for younger readers.  I can only recommend it for those readers high school age and above.  If you have read the other books in the series, you will need to get this one.  It can stand alone, but it is best read in sequence.

Black River Falls by Jeff Hirsch



black river falls Cardinal Cassidy is one of the lucky ones in Black River.  He has managed to escape the virus that has ravaged the town.  This virus causes amnesia of events in people’s lives without destroying their scholastic ability.  Families have been torn apart because they no longer recognize each other, and Cardinal’s family is no different.  No one, except Cardinal, remembers who they are, where they worked, or what the world outside of Black River is like.

The National Guard has been sent in, wearing haz-mat suits, to keep the town in quarantine until the scientists can come up with a cure or, at least, a vaccine so that the rest of the world will not be infected by contact with the survivors.  If no cure or vaccine is found, the National Guard is going to insure that no living human being leaves Black Falls.

Hector Gonzolez finds Cardinal living outside of the town.  He realizes that Cardinal is not infected, so he gives him a breathing mask to enable him to go into the town and look for his family.  The mask also enables Cardinal to help little children who cannot remember their families, but they are so young that they need help in surviving.

Cardinal takes these children to his hideout on the mountain because it is not safe for them to be in the town.  Hector keeps Cardinal’s secret, and even helps him with some necessary supplies, but one day the National Guard is ordered to pull out and a private company comes in to take over the control of the quarantined town.  This new group has a totally different approach to solving the problem of the memory virus.

This is a very good sci-fi story, and will cause the reader to examine the possibility of a man-made dangerous virus.  It is written for middle school and/or high school readers.  I definitely recommend it for those readers.

Jump Back, Paul by Sally Derby


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jump back

This well-researched, excellently written biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar will be one that middle school and high school libraries will definitely want in their collection. Along with Dunbar’s life story, Derby also gives the reader a sampling Dunbar’s poetry.  She tells the reader how to read the dialect poems so that the words sound like actual speech.

The facts about Dunbar’s life are delivered in a chatty style that make the reader feel as if Derby were talking directly to him or her. She even uses the first person pronoun, “I” at times to make the reader think that she has first-hand knowledge of what she is telling him about Dunbar.  Sean Qaulls completes the book with his pen and ink sketches for the book.  I loved the use of pen and ink as the medium for the drawings since the book itself is about a man whose life was using pen and ink. Derby presents us with a chronology of events that affected Dunbar’s life.  She includes extra notes and information about each chapter, a bibliography for those who want to know more about him, and an index for the researcher.

I suppose that Derby could not cover everything about Dunbar’s life, and perhaps some of the facts, such as his alcoholism and drug addiction, might be difficult for younger readers to fully understand.  However, I think she paints his wife, Alice, as more of a villain than she actually is.  Her parents were upwardly-mobile blacks and were very upset that she had married a man with such dark skin. Dunbar’s mother was upset that he had chosen Alice over her and that Alice was very light in color.  I believe that both sides had a great deal to do with their separation, and I think it was especially sad that Alice did not receive any communication from his mother when he became very ill.  Alice had asked a family friend that she be notified if he got worse because she wasn’t on good terms with his mother; however, that friend suddenly died shortly before Dunbar passed away.  None of this changes my opinion about the quality of this book.   I still highly recommend it for upper elementary and high school readers.

Forbidden by Eve Bunting


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forbiddenBunting has told us a chilling tale based on events that really happened off the coasts of northwestern Scotland. In the story, Josie Ferguson goes to live with her father’s brother and his wife in an isolated village that people from other towns have little to do with.  Her relatives are emotionally cold to her, but they have accepted the responsibility to care for her until she reaches eighteen – not out of any sort of love, but because they will get money for doing so.

A young man named Eli shows up at her uncle’s home and she is drawn to him because he has a way of dealing with the family’s dog – a dog that had bitten her when she tried to go outside one night. Eli takes her to his aunt’s home to get the bite treated before it can get infected.  His aunt, rather cryptically, tells her that she cannot get emotionally involved with Eli because he is a “reporter” and is “forbidden.”

She manages to isolate the dog one day when her aunt and uncle are out on their fishing boat and goes into town to see if she can find at least one sympathetic ear.  She finds that the townspeople are as strange as her aunt and uncle, and that they have  some sort of secret which ties them together.

The entire town engages in “wrecking,” the practice of stripping wrecked ships of all saleable items that can be saved from ships that have been wrecked on the rocks of the firth.  Technically nothing can be salvaged as long as an animal or a man from the wreck was still alive.   That did not stop the “wreckers;” they just made sure that no one was breathing.

Josie finds out that her uncle and aunt are tied into the wreckers, and they actually lead ship to their destruction, but with Eli’s help, she manages to escape their grasp before she must take part in “wrecking.”

This is a fantastic ghost story, one of the best I have read lately.  The setting reminds me of Wuthering Heights, but the plot is different.  I think teen readers will greatly enjoy this tale.



Dead Girl Moon by Charlie Price

Any reader of this book will never look at small-town America and its foster care systems the same way again.  In the beginning of the book, Grace plots out how she can kill her sexually abusive brothers and get away from her family. She finally decides to grab all the money in the house that she can find and leave.

She ends up in a small town in Montana when her money runs out, and she is forced to ask for help from an agency.  She is sent to live with a dysfunctional foster family.  The father deals in drugs. The mother spends most of her time in an alcoholic stupor, the son, Jon, obviously has behavioral issues.  The only nearly normal one is another girl, J.J. who is actually a niece of the woman.

Grace meets Mike, a young man who is on the run with his petty thief father, but she doesn’t find that out right away.  Mike wants nothing more than to settle down and live a normal life.  Grace has no idea of what normal looks like, but she is fairly content with the way things are going for her. That is, until the kids find a dead body in the river.

The kids don’t think they can tell anyone about the body without getting themselves in trouble, but Mike calls 911 anonymously so the body can be found and identified. An innocent comment by J.J. and a big mouth comment by Jon turns their world upside down and forces them to run away.

Finding truth and safety were not easy.  Running seems to be the only answer. How these teens solve their problems and solve a murder will keep the reader enthralled to the end.

I recommend it for the teen-age reader.dead girl moon