Everything you see is something we've read. No hearsay or rumors to be found! Be sure to check out our "We Recommend" list where we break books down for all types of readers. We love comments, questions, and recommendations, so don't be shy! We promise we won't bite (the internet is a strong preventative barrier).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Happy Birthday to Jenny!

Today is Jenny's birthday!! Someone on Facebook already had this idea, but I think mine's cuter! This is as close as I could get to getting you one of these...

Cheers to a great night of karaoke and dancing!!


Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Sweet Celebration of Life

Desser the Best Ever Cat by Maggie Smith

In this gentle story a little girl tells the story of her family cat Desser, the "best ever cat." He starts as a kitten before she is born and grows with her, experiencing her first steps, her first real bed, her first day at school. One day, when Desser is older and has slowed down a lot, he gets sick and passes away. The girl cries and, with her family, buries him under a tree. Her mother tells her that Desser will always be with her because he will always be in her heart. As time passes, the family adopts another kitten, Ginger, who is also pretty great. The little girl tells Ginger all about Desser, sharing the story of his life just as she has done for us as readers, and the happy, healthy cycle begins again.

Smith's narration is clear and her illustrations altogether fun, but the best part by far is her visual portrayal of Desser. Cat lovers everywhere will appreciate the bright, evocative pictures of Desser as he sprawls across the backs of chairs, hides in a box, and flattens his ears uncertainly when our narrator is brought home as a baby. I read this book with Ruby, and at every page I stopped to show her a new picture, saying, "My cat does that too!" Smith gets it, and she shares that understanding of the pet-owner relationship well.
My cat Socks, 17-years-old!

 Desser the Best Ever Cat is a good book to broach the subject of mortality with young kids, especially when pertaining to the loss of a pet. Though it touches a sad and emotional subject, Smith approaches it as a celebration of the life once lived, starting sweet and ending the same.


Age 4-8
Copyright April 2001
ISBN: 9780375810565
Image from www.bn.com

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Amazing Whirlwind of Emotions and History

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
(Review based on Advanced Reader Copy.)

You've got to respect a historical fiction novel for teens that has three pages of bibliography.

In this emotional whirlwind of a book, an American high school student--lost in despair over the death of her younger brother and the mental instability of her mother--finds herself through music and the history of the French revolution.

Andi is the equivalent of a musical prodigy, and when her brother dies, music is the only thing besides caring for her mother that keeps her going. (The anti-depressants help, but only just.) She's flunking out of her private school, and she gets an ultimatum: complete a well-orchestrated senior thesis or don't graduate. Andi's dad sweeps her off to Paris, hoping she can focus on graduation while he tests a 200-year-old heart for proof that it belonged to the dauphin, son of Marie-Antoinette. In the process, Andi discovers a hidden diary belonging to another 17-year-old girl, Alexandrine Paradis, the daughter of a puppeteer, who finds herself companion to the dauphin right before the start of the French revolution. Andi's depression continues to rise and fall, and she gets pulled into Alexandrine's story of pain, faith, and hope as Alex tries to survive the bloody massacres of her time and save the child prince. As Alex writes, "They are a truthful account of these bitter, bloody days." Andi finds herself absorbed in the past, so much so that one night she finds herself thrown into the horror of Alexandrine's world, unsure of what is dream and what is reality.

A story within a story could easily backfire or become confusing, but Donnelly pulls it off with a simultaneous grace and intensity that is impressive. Andi acts as a conduit between worlds, and her emotional responses to both are what make Revolution truly successful. Her depression is raw and tangible, not the never-ending list of adjectives some writers use to describe sadness. Donnelly makes both her character and her emotions--sorrow, hope, passion--available and accessible to readers, which is no easy task.

This is a great read for lovers of history, music, and modern-day dramas... and just about anyone else, for that matter. Highly recommended--Revolution captures the depths of depression and the heights of passion in a truly beautiful way, all the while exploring how history isn't always as distant as it may seem.


Age 14+ (some mature content)
Copyright October 2010
ISBN: 9780385737630
Available as an eBook
Image from www.goodreads.com

Monday, April 25, 2011

Something doesn't smell quite right...

Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors

How could I not read a book called Smells Like Dog? This is the sad, surprising, heart-warming, and hilarious journey of 12-year-old Homer Winslow Pudding. Homer is a dreamer who usually has his head stuck in a book (sounds like me) or his mind on the many maps that may or may not be a treasure map. He gets along best with his treasure-hunting uncle, Drake Horatio Pudding, who fills his head with daring feats and dangerous quests. Homer's father, on the other hand, wants his head out of the clouds and on terra firma, ready to work on the family-owned goat farm.

When Homer gets the news that his beloved uncle has died, he is heartbroken. However, Uncle Drake has left Homer his most valuable possession, a gold coin and a basset hound that can't smell anything and has unusual talent (read the book to find out). Homer immediately dismisses the dog and focuses on the coin. It's here that the adventure really begins.

After accidentally burning down the local library, Homer and his older sister, Gwendolyn, decide to run away (both for different reasons) to The City.* On his journey to find out the meaning of the gold coin, he runs into friends and foes alike, but which is which? A treasure hunter trusts no one. With his unusual companion, Dog, they find themselves in one mishap after another.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Homer is a lot like I was at that age; however, my mum always believes that I can do anything I put my mind too, unlike Homer's dad, who doesn't want him to reach too far or dream too big. His mother tries to overcompensate by mothering a little too much, his older sister has her own ambitions (and thinks he's weird), and his little brother Squeek wants to do what everyone else doing. Homer is still an outsider in his family, but he made a promise to his uncle to never give up on his dreams. Funny and unusual secondary characters abound that will have you laughing out loud. Treasure hunting, man-eating tortoises, villainous characters, a dog that will eat anything, and cloud-copters...what more could you ask for?

"Anyone who loves books the way Homer does, loves libraries, too. It doesn't matter if the library has fancy red leather chairs and gold-plated shelves that reach to a vaulted ceiling, of if the library has splintery wooden benches and shelves made of old milk crates. It's the scent that sets the book lover at ease. It's better than grandma's perfume, or freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, or even toast. It's a scent derived from paper, mildew, dust, and human endeavors. The oldest books smell best of all, ripened by time like expensive goat cheese." (pages 98-99)

Book Two, Smells Like Treasure will be out May 2011.

*The City is an ominous place where all kinds of bad things happen to good people, according to Homer's dad.


Ages 9-12
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (May 1, 2010)
ISBN: 9780316043984
Available as an eBook.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A "Rootin' Tootin' Good Time" for Girls!

Emily's Fortune by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

A word of warning: don't let the cover fool you--this book is really fun!

Newbery Award-winning author Naylor sets off on a tale in the untamed west where Emily, a recently orphaned girl who has inherited an unexpected fortune, attempts to escape her greedy, conniving Uncle Victor. Though timid and used to sitting quietly indoors all day, she grits her teeth and sets off in a coach (with her trusty pet turtle in hand), hoping to live with her distant but kind-hearted aunt. Along the way Emily meets Jackson, an orphan and a street urchin, and together they find themselves running for their lives and working together to befuddle Uncle Victor. In Emily’s adventures she learns how to climb tall trees, sleep outdoors, and disguise herself as a boy, all the while growing from meek to self-sufficient, and it’s a fun transition to witness.

Fun illustrations appear throughout the text, as do enlarged captions and Wild West “rootin’ tootin’” phrases (such as "blinkin' bloomers") that lead readers from one chapter to the next. Naylor keeps the action fun and her characters funny, elaborating on genteel ladies as they complain about bumpy wagon rides and overly ambitious child-services agents. With smart, quirky character names like “Miss Catchum” of the Catchum Child-Catching Services and Emily’s helpful neighbors—Mrs. Ready, Mrs. Aim, and Mrs. Fire—Naylor maintains the ride throughout, keeping it entertaining. With the southern dialogue and western “slang”, it would make for a great class read-aloud. It’s a book that shows just how strong and smart a little girl can become without being too girly—and really, anyone who learns to appreciate a good tree climbing while "hootin' and hollerin'" is a-okay by me! 

Like I said before, the cover is a bit murky and unfriendly, and while it does depict some of the scenes in the book, it doesn't do the book justice. Give it a chance, especially with some fun-loving, even quiet, girls and boys. Let the giggling and western twang begin!

Emily's Fortune is currently out in hardcover, and the paperback edition is planned for this November.


Age 8-12
Copyright June 2010
ISBN: 9780385736169
Available as an eBook
Image from www.perma-bound.com

Dear George Clooney...

Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen

It's been two years since twelve-year-old Violet Gustafson's parents were divorced. Her father, a television director, met and later married the star of the show he worked on. They created a new family, one that didn't include Violet or her younger sister, Rosie. Now, their mom, a hair stylist, tries to make ends meet while going on dates with unsuitable (according to Violet) men.

The latest is Dudley Wiener. That's right, Dudley Wiener. His name goes hand in hand with his appearance, and it's up to Violet, Rosie, and her best friend Phoebe to find out if he's Mr. Right. Using sleuthing skills learned from Harriet the Spy, Violet is determined to prove that he's Mr. Wrong no matter what.

Because of an autographed photo of George Clooney, a hilarious journey of the heart ensues to get Violet's mom and George Clooney together. Violet is a character you can sympathize with and get frustrated with, but her actions reflect her hurt and the need to protect her family. Rosie provides enough comic relief without eclipsing Violet's struggle. Always aim for the stars (pun intended). George Clooney is someone's ideal man (mine is Bruce Willis...if I had to name just one), but in the end Violet has to learn that you have to take a leap of faith and trust someone. There will always be bumps in the road, but that's life. (I know, I sound like a Hallmark card.)


Ages 10+
Publisher: Tundra Books (August 10, 2010)
ISBN: 9780887769771
Available as an eBook.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Zanna Snow Solves Her First Case!

The Midnight Tunnel by Angie Frazier (Book 1 Suzanna Snow Mysteries)

I picked up this book because I'm always on the lookout for great mysteries for young readers, which (to me) are hard to find. While perusing other reviews of this book, I notice they make the obvious comparisons to Nancy Drew. The 11-year-old detective, in what I hope is the first of many books in this series, is better than Nancy Drew. I would actually compare this series to the Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer. Nancy Drew is good reading, but her character has no "oomph."

This fantastic new series, featuring 11-year-old Suzanna "Zanna" Snow, is set at the turn of the 20th century in the coastal town of Loch Harbor, New Brunswick. She toils day in and day out at the Rosemount, an exclusive summer hotel managed by her parents. As much as she longs to be a detective like her famous Uncle Bruce Snow, she is being groomed as her parents' replacement someday. But serving tea and waiting on other people are not what Zanna sees for her future.

You can't help but like Zanna from the start. She has a strong sense of who she is and what she wants to be. Like a meticulous detective, she keeps a notebook handy to jot down anything of interest, from the goings and comings of the hotel guests to the rules a detective should live by.

When a young girl, a guest at the hotel, goes missing, Zanna becomes the only witness. No one will take her seriously though, because she is young. I know children can be imaginative, but why do adults seem to think that what children see and say can't be taken seriously? Most books I've read immediately dismiss them. Now of course, it's up to Zanna and her friends Lucy and Isaac to solve the mystery. When her Uncle Bruce is called in to help, Zanna is delighted. However, upon meeting her uncle, she finds her expectations of him were too high. Zanna's great deductive reasoning would give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money. Read the book to find out.

Angie Frazier has done a great job of creating a cast of characters and an atmosphere that can grow with the series. This is her first novel for young readers. Her previous book Everlasting is for young adults.


Ages 9-12
Publisher: Scholastic Press (March 1, 2011)
ISBN: 9780545208628
Not available as an eBook at this time.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Byron, Keats, and Shelly Re-imagined

So Shelly by Ty Roth

Loosely based on the lives of George Gordon, Lord Byron, John Keats, Mary Shelly, and Percy Shelly, this re-imagining is set in a small town in Ohio, with the main characters in high school. Narrated by Keats, who is both the observer and the minimal participant in the lives of Byron and Shelly, this novel is told in alternating chapters between the present and the past.

In the present, Byron and Keats reminisce about the life of Shelly as they fulfill her last wishes, a "romantic adventure" that is So Shelly. As they both navigate their own memories of Shelly and piece together the reasons for Shelly's tragic death, a tentative friendship is formed.

In the chapters about the past, we discover that both Byron and Shelly have very dysfunctional families. Byron grows into a pathological, egocentric, and sex-obsessed teen. Shelly (an amalgamation of Mary Shelly and her husband Percy) is more than Byron's best friend with no limitations. As they both dabble in combined and separate endeavors, their relationship never turns romantic (despite Shelly wanting otherwise). Keats observes their mutually destructive friendship from the sidelines.

Keats has his own set of problems. He's obsessed with death. As he narrates, he throws out statistics about death. His father and mother are dead, and his older brother Tom is also on his way to death's door. Keats himself will also die young, this he knows.

I picked this book up initially because of the cover, but once I started reading I was both shocked and awed by the contemporary lives of these great writers. Once you pick this book up, it will be hard to put it down. All three characters are flawed, but their flaws are what make them great. I've only read about Percy Shelly, but it's well worth reading about them all.

My favorite passage is the last in the book from Keats: "So, what I said at the beginning, I'll repeat at the end: learn to deal with the truth of dying, and you'll experience the awesomeness of living. Death and love are real. That's all I know on earth, and all I need to know."


Ages 15+ (mature content)
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (February 8, 2011)
ISBN: 9780385739580
Also available as an eBook.

Chasing Storms

Storm Runners by Roland Smith (Book 1 Storm Runners)

Chase Masters and his father are known as Storm Runners. They chase after extreme weather and help people prepare. However, while they are chasing storms, they are both running from their past. A tragic car accident took Chase's mother and younger sister two years before. Some time later, Chase's father was struck by lightning, and after being in a coma for two days, a new man was born.

Both are heading down to Florida to help prepare people for Hurricane Emily. Chase's father heads for where he thinks the hurricane will make landfall and leaves Chase with "family friends." There Chase meets Nicole Rossi, whose family owns and operates a circus. The Rossi family lives in Florida in the off season with their menagerie of animals.

Momma Rossi, Nicole's grandmother, predicts that the hurricane will actually make landfall where they live. Chase's instincts agree, but he does what he was taught by his father: Be prepared, be smart.

On Chase's first and only day at another school, Hurricane Emily makes landfall, and it's up to Chase, Nicole, and and new acquaintance Rashawn to survive the onslaught with danger all around in one of the deadliest hurricanes on record.

Roland Smith is one of the best writers for young readers, especially for boys. This story may be short, but it is full of energy. Smith has a way of writing that puts you smack dab in the middle of the story.

With the loss of his mother and sister, Chase and his father have held up remarkably well, maintaining their family of two. I get the sense that Chase longs for more. With the job that he and his father do, they are on the move lot, which means many different schools for Chase and no sense of permanence or a chance to make friends his own age.

When the hurricane hits, Chase uses the knowledge taught by his father to help him and his friends survive. This is a great series for fans of Hatchet. Regardless, it's Roland Smith...go out and pick this book up. Then when you're done, read the rest of his books. Peak is my absolute favorite...if you'd like a recommendation.

The Surge, Book Two in this series will be out in September 2011.


Ages 9-12
Publisher: Scholastic Press (March 1, 2011)
ISBN: 9780545081757
Not available as an eBook at this time.

Divorce Doesn't Mean Bad

Dad and Pop: An Ode to Fathers & Stepfathers by Kelly Bennett, illustrated by Paul Meisel

Okay, I'll admit it: I have a soft spot for this book. Not only does it resemble my family and the way I grew up, but it's also one of the few books I've found about divorce (indirect though it may be) that shows it doesn't have to be bad. Sometimes things don't work out the way we plan, but it can mean good things in the end, like a bigger family with more people to love.

It also helps that the main character has red hair. Yes, you got it out of me: I'm a carrot top.

Bennett writes from the perspective of a little girl who has two fathers via divorce, but unlike the usual "dealing with divorce" books, hers is positive and upbeat. It's a message for kids with stepparents about the importance of family, and it focuses on the greatness behind personal differences.

Meisel's colorful watercolor illustrations are a great match for Bennett's text, and they keep the comparisons between "Dad" and "Pop" fun and light. Each set of facing pages depicts the two fathers, one on each side, in a different activity with their daughter. One parent likes to ride his bike (a mountain bicycle); the other one does too (a motorcycle)!

Short sentences in large, bold-faced print are easy to read and see. Though there is no real plot to follow, the message is clear and very sweet. It's a great choice when talking about family and change, and while it won't work well in a large group, a one-on-one session might do the trick.

Recommended for young children with multiple sets of parents--it's okay to have more than the traditional two, and it's more than okay to love them all!

(As a personal aside, thanks to all of my wonderful, loving parents for being just the way they are. Okay, I'm done being mushy now, I promise.)

Age 4-7
Published April 2010
ISBN: 9780763633790
Image from www.booksofwonder.com

Fighting to Survive in a Flooded World

X Isle by Steve Augarde

In the not-so-distant future, climate change has taken over and the earth has been submerged, oceans covering the majority of land on Earth. The survivors are few and struggling, trying to live with limited resources and virtually no technology. There is one beacon of hope: Eck's Island. Jokingly renamed X Isle, it is a place where a select few--young boys only--are taken to work and, as payment, are properly fed and cared for by the divers and salvagers who hire them.

When Baz is selected to board the Eck brothers' boat, it seems like a dream come true. Along with Ray, another recruit, Baz excitedly awaits their arrival, only to realize that their paradise is tainted, not the safe haven they were promised. Clustered in disgusting conditions and forced to work on little food at exhaustive tasks, they take physical and mental abuse daily from their so-called saviors. Baz and Ray protect one another as best they can, and soon they bond with the other boys, trying to survive the brutal labor and the crazy sermons of "Preacher John," the Eck's father and manager of the salvage operation they run. As tempers rise and Preacher John's religious declarations of the apocalypse escalate, the boys realize they're in a dangerous game of survival, and they must plot a way to either escape or be the last ones standing.

X Isle is yet another future interpretation of our world in which the adults have made a mess of things and kids are the only ones who can figure it all out. If you enjoyed The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games, Augarde's close-to-home adventure will keep you up reading into the early hours.

Though a bit of a stretch at times, the story is compelling and detailed, a well described struggle for life as a small band of boys fights for food, self protection, and eventually their lives. With some incredible, emotionally tense scenes and crazy twists throughout, this post-apocalyptic thriller is a really good read. Strongly recommended for the dystopian, post-apocalyptic fan base—X Isle is a good bet when teen fans of the sub genre think they've run out of options.


Age 13+
Copyright July 2010
ISBN: 9780385751933
Available as an eBook
Image from www.goodreads.com

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Do I Have To Go To Bed Yet?

I’m Really Not Tired by Lori Sunshine; illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
This fun, curious picture book asks the very important question “what do our parents do when we go to sleep?” Certain that his parents have all kinds of fun once he’s tucked safely into bed, Samuel McKay decides to sneak out of bed with his accomplice Petey Bear, a panda stuffed animal, to catch the excitement once and for all. Images of Sam and Petey Bear sliding down the stairs and creeping down hallways are interspersed with Sam’s imagination: maybe they play video games and eat cake, have a circus act in the kitchen, or ride dinosaurs in the yard! When he finds his parents quietly doing the crossword and reading magazines, Sam is utterly disappointed, and decides he just must have missed the good stuff--he sneak out of bed earlier next time.
Sunshine’s narrations are done in rhyme and rhythm that are at times reminiscent of classic Dr. Seuss and The Night Before Christmas, and most of it works pretty well. In my opinion, though, the best part is the illustrations. Ebbeler's pastel pictures are fun and colorful, and he's hidden hilarious images and hints around every page. If you look closely, Sam’s bedroom at the beginning suggests imaginings to come as it’s littered with a toy rocket, a fish tank, jungle sheets, to name a few. Kids will enjoy scouring the pages for new details each reading, which (hopefully) will encourage them to read on their own. It would also work well as a classroom read-aloud--the lilting rhymes make it fun and easy for kids to follow.
It's a great bedtime story that's sure to trigger fun, fanciful dreams, and the grown-ups reading it will laugh out loud just as easily as their kids.


Age 4-8
Copyright November 2008
ISBN: 9780979974618
Image from www.flashlightpress.com

A Dragon-slaying Adventure

No Such Thing As Dragons by Philip Reeve

Brock, a self-proclaimed dragon slayer, is seeking an assistant, and when he stops at a local tavern, Ansel—who is mute, small, and undesired by his father—finds himself offered up for the job. Ansel takes his job seriously and believes in Brock's heroic stories, only to discover a crocodile skull hidden in Brock’s possessions and to hear him say, “There’s no such thing as dragons.” Still, Ansel honors his master and commits to the job.

As they make their way to the next village with plans to "slay the worm," they encounter superstitions and fears. Together they embark into Drachenberg Mountain with Brock's promises to return once the dragon is dead. Intending to stay a few nights and dress up the crocodile skull for show, plans are suddenly changed as they find a battered village girl, Else, and are then attacked by a living, breathing dragon!

In the end, the dragon is captured—mostly by Ansel, as it happens—and dragged back to the village before it makes an escape into the mountains once again. Through it all, Ansel finds his voice, both figuratively and literally, and he realizes he has the right to make decisions for himself and question the decisions of others.

Reeve's narrative is intriguing: as the plot progresses, Ansel faces the philosophical questions of the definition of bravery, the reasons for sacrifice, and the difference between “real life” and “stories” one’s told. Reeve has created an interesting story that flips characters back and forth between savior and villain—there is no “good verses evil” here. His descriptions are often striking, and he personifies the wild setting well.

Here's the hard part: while some kids will enjoy the extreme setting and struggle for survival as well as the mystery of the wilderness, others will get bored or lost in the narrative and wish Ansel would stop asking questions and do something. If your kids are fans of the Alex Rider series and want constant action--none of that fluffy thought-provoking stuff to slow it down--No Such Thing As Dragons is going to be a letdown. If, however, your kids embrace the humanity behind characters and enjoy fantastic landscapes with adventure thrown into the mix, it has the potential to be a hit. Overall it's an uplifting story of kinship, questioning values, sacrifice, bravery, and fantasy--well worth a try.


Age 8-12
Copyright October 2009
ISBN: 9781407115290
Image from www.tower.com