Sunday, November 19, 2017

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross (Warcross, #1)Warcross by Marie Lu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine a Virtual Reality Game so realistic that the entire world is obsessed with it.
Imagine being able to alter everything you see just by wearing a special set of lenses. People walking down the street look like their avatars, walk impossible pets on leashes, and have game statistics floating over their heads. Game points can be exchanged for merchandise, just like real money. Illegal gambling on games has taken center-stage in the Organized Crime world. The game is the center of all society.

The game is Warcross.

Emika Chen is a teenage girl living on her own in New York City. She has no parents, she isn't in school, and she is up to her eyeballs in debt. So, what's an orphan- turned- hacker -with- a- criminal-record supposed to do to feed herself? She becomes a Bounty Hunter.

The police are so overwhelmed with crime these days that they have asked regular citizens to help them catch criminals. Emika is very good at this and keeps hoping for the next big score to help get her out of debt.

Emika is also REALLY good at hacking. So good, in fact, that she has discovered a way to hack the ultimate game. Emika can hack Warcross. What happens when Hideo Tanaka, a 21 year old billionaire and the creator of the world's most popular game, discovers that a teenage girl has hacked his empire? Well, her life is changed forever.

This unique and fast-paced first installation of what promises to be an engaging new series is difficult to put down. 4 out of 5 stars. Perfect for ages 12+.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Everlost, Book 1 of the Skinjacker Series

Everlost (Skinjacker, #1)Everlost by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My binge-reading of Neal Shusterman began with Scythe, then Challenger Deep, and then I read Everlost. Scythe was a dark, violent, dystopian-ish story and Challenger Deep was an intense novel about the mind. Everlost reads more like a faerie-tale, and I curled up inside of it happily.

The premise of Everlost is that not every child makes it to the light at the end of the tunnel when they die. Some get lost along the way. When they do, they enter a world called Everlost in which they can only interact with people, places, and objects that have passed into death.

In Everlost, there are only children. No one needs to eat or sleep or breathe. However, the children who reside there cannot stay put anywhere that is still part of the living world or they will slowly sink and become swallowed up by the Earth. They have to find dead places- like forests that perished, or sites of great tragedy.

The story begins with a double car crash- killing our main characters, Allie and Nick, and landing them in Everlost. Trying to figure out this new world they are in proves challenging and perilous. Memory of the living world begins to fade. The two lost children depend on the guidance of other "afterlights" to navigate their surroundings.

There are thousands of lost souls in Everlost- and not all of them have good intentions. Allie and Nick will have to fight against what is comfortable and self-serving in order to do what is right.

Book 1 of a Trilogy. Recommended for ages 11+

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger DeepChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So...this book requires patience. Understand that this is a book about a boy whose concept of reality is slowly disintegrating into a prismatic light-show of madness. He is plunging down the rabbit hole and you will go there with him.

There are two stories being told in Challenger Deep- the story of the voyage into the Marianas Trench and the story of a 15 year old boy's voyage into his own personal trench.  

Eventually, the stories will collide.

If you embark on this journey with Caden Bosch, understand that the voyage is long and the way is not always clear. However, the story is worth the travel.

Once you wrap your mind around what is truly happening in this novel, you will appreciate the honest, caring, and accepting way it deals with the issues it covers. Normalizing something that affects millions of people around the world, Challenger Deep is a necessary novel.  

Ages 13+
4 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 28, 2017

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)Scythe by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scythe, by Neal Shusterman, is a difficult book to place in a genre. It is Utopian, partially, but has a nasty dystopian streak running through it. This unique vision of the world's future depicts a humanity that has conquered disease, crime, and ultimately, death. There is no government but, instead, a beneficent, cognizant evolution of the internet called the "Thunderhead" makes sure that society has all of its needs met. The only problem is that, having conquered death, there would be no fail safe in place to handle overpopulation.

This is why the first immortal humans created the Scythedom.

Scythes are above the law and not subject to the power of the "Thunderhead." It is their duty to "glean" (which is a sugar-coated term for "kill") a certain number of people per year to keep the population down. Scythes are supposed to be incredibly moral, compassionate, and just. They are supposed to "glean" in the most humane way possible. However, without the "Thunderhead" keeping the Scythes in line, guiding them to make the right decisions, human nature is able take its normal course. There is corruption in the Scythedom. For some Scythes, "Gleaning" has become sport and a way to lord power over others.

The protagonists of this story are two high school kids who have been selected to be apprentices to a well-known Scythe. Ultimately, only one of them will be selected to serve as a Scythe, and the other one, they are told, will return to his/her normal life. However, political machinations infect what should be an amicable competition. The apprentices, Citra and Rowan, see that there are many dark secrets within the Scythedom. They have to choose between succumbing to the corruption or rebelling against it.

Shusterman has imagined an interesting take on the world's future. While I do see some holes in the concept, overall it works.

So far, the series is fine for ages 11+- however, be warned that it is gory and violent.
4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Written in poetic form, Brown Girl Dreaming is the memoir of Jacqueline Woodson, a writer whose childhood experiences were of two worlds- Greenville, SC and Brooklyn, NY.

Jacqueline was born during America's Civil Rights movement. As an African American girl with both a southern and northern parent, she experienced how geography played a markedly strong role in the treatment of people of color.

The anger and frustration she felt towards the inexcusable injustices happening around her, and the pride she felt towards the energy of the civil rights revolution were fuel for the words she had bubbling inside of her.

Far from the "smartest" child in her family, Jacqueline grew up doubting herself even when the words were dancing in her brain and spilling out of her pencil. Yet, with the encouragement of a few intuitive teachers, and the deep love from a tightly connected family, Jacqueline found a way to take her "dreams" and turn them into beautiful stories.

Brown Girl Dreaming is a lovely, emotive, and powerful true story of the life of an American child during the 1960 and 1970s. The audio book version is particularly poignant because it is read by Woodson herself.

Winner of the Newbery and other prestigious awards, this memoir is a must have in every middle school collection.

5 stars for ages 10+

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Silverback Gorilla is a GREAT Ape- a proud protector of his troop- a majestic creature. They belong in the wild- guarding the nests of their family- fathering their offspring- living with the natural world.

Ivan is a Silverback Gorilla who was stolen from his natural habitat to serve as an attraction in a mall. He was raised by humans but, although his memory is not as absolute as an elephants, he remembers the joy that he was taken from and the sorrows he has faced.

Ivan is also an artist. Give him any medium- mud, crayons, paint, magic markers- and he will draw his world for you.

Ivan has made the best of his captivity. He has true friends in a dog, elephant, and little girl.

It is only when he loses one of these friends that he begins to see his "domain" for what it really is- a cage.

Ivan has made a promise so nearly impossible that even a Silverback might not be able to keep it. But Ivan is more that just a Silverback. He is an artist.

Katherine Applegate has fictionalized the true account of an actual gorilla named Ivan, giving him a story to tell. Although this is a tale told from the perspective of animals- their "humanity" is just as valid as our own.

5 Stars for all ages

Monday, August 7, 2017

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

EchoEcho by Pam Muñoz Ryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author is not a powerful enough word to describe Pam Muñoz Ryan. Master Storyteller, Literary Sorceress, or Word Mage would be more appropriate. Echo is not just a book- it is an epic work of genius.

Historical Fiction and Faerie-Tale blend together in this gorgeous story of how one harmonica transforms and connects the lives of its owners.

Once upon a time, in a world that is somewhere else, a wicked king decides that his wife's first child must be male, to secure the lineage to the throne. When she gives birth to a girl, the king tells her the child died at birth. Three times this happens until, finally, her 4th pregnancy produces a boy. 

The Queen's midwife has been ordered to discard the female newborns in the forest to be devoured by animals but, being a kind soul, she cannot. Instead, she asks a nearby witch to raise the girls as her own. 

The girls grow to be hard working, kind, and very musically talented. In time, the witch grows very possessive of the girls, treating them as slaves, and eventually enchanting them to never be able to leave her.

However, every evil spell has a counterspell!

If the three hidden princesses could find a way to save the lives of others through their music, they could be freed from the wicked spell. can they do this when they can never leave?

When a lost German boy named Otto, accidentally stumbles into their bewitched prison with a harmonica, the girls realize exactly how to send their musical spirit out into the world.

The harmonica begins its journey in Germany, right as Hitler comes to power. The insane prejudices of the Nazi party condemn anyone with what could be considered a "defect" and also place strict rules upon art and music. Friedrich, a German boy with a wine-stain birthmark on half of his face, falls under Nazi scrutiny along with his outspoken father. Their family is in danger of being separated and mistreated by the Nazis.  To survive, they must devise a desperate and dangerous plan.  The harmonica gives Friedrich courage in the face of a world gone mad.

The harmonica then finds its way to depression-era America- Pennsylvania, to be precise. There it falls into the hands of Mike Flannery, a recent orphan. Mike and his brother Frankie have been brought to a orphanage by their dying grandmother, who had been raising them since their parents died. She chooses this orphanage because it has a piano, and music is central to their family. She tells the boys that the right person will come along for them. Someone does come along, but her motives are questionable, and the boys aren't sure if life will be better or worse. They too, have to come up with a plan to secure their future.  The harmonica may just provide their only way out of a desperate situation.

Fast-forward to WWII and the harmonica is now in California. Ivy Lopez, a 5th grade Mexican-American girl, has been given the harmonica by her teacher, and falls in love with the music. With her brother serving in the Army, and her family running the farm of a Japanese family who has been forced into an internment camp, the harmonica brings her hope in a time of racism and fear. Eventually, the harmonica does far more than that.

In the end, all the lives that the harmonica has touched, are united in some way. Their fates are interwoven. Can all of the hope and salvation brought about by the harmonica be a strong enough magic to free the three imprisoned sisters? Can the Echo of their musical spirit save them? Will the harmonica complete its final task- to save a life?

The audio-book version of Echo is stunning. Each song is performed by a professional musician, bringing strong emotion to the narrative. Each child's story (Otto, Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy) is read by a different actor in the accent appropriate to the child's voice. The reading is emotive and captivating.

Echo can be enjoyed by readers of any age. However, it is probably best for strong readers who do not tire easily when reading long books. This is a perfect recommendation for a strong reader ages 11 and up.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices, #2)Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh no she didn't! ...oh, yes, she did.

Cassandra Clare is known for star-crossed love-affairs that have the entire universe working against them and this 2nd installment of the Dark Artifices series does not veer from that formula. Clare is also known for scenes that punch the reader right in the feels- taking the plot in a direction that is emotionally devastating. Cassandra Clare does not write easy, feel-good stories with minimal conflict, and minimal sorrow. She goes for it. She takes that leap. She does not rest until you cry!

The Lord of Shadows continues the story of the Blackthorn children and their lives in the wake of betrayal, and loss. For their safety, the family has to relocate to the London Institute, so much of the story takes place there (Yay!). This 2nd book in the series gives us a chaotic ride from danger to danger. Malcolm Fade is gone. Anbabel, the Lady Midnight, has been resurrected. The Black Volume is coveted by the Unseelie King. Julian and Emma are doomed by a curse that threatens their very sanity. The Cohort wants to spread bigotry against Downworlders similar to that of Hitler's Germany. The Blackthorn Family is being hunted. Things are NOT going well.

Then, just when things are coming to a head, Cassandra Clare brings down the hand of destiny and leaves us with a tragic, heart-wrenching, and infuriating ending (but she is not done yet!).

Once, I emailed Cassandra Clare and asked why she always makes it so hard for our protagonists to be happy. She replied that a good story has conflicts. Well, this certainly has that.

If you are a fan of the Shadowhunter books, you MUST read these. If you have never read any of the Shadowhunter books, read The Mortal Instruments series, then the Infernal Devices series and then start the Dark Artifices series. They make for delicious reading.

Ages 13+ for content.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


So many Americans take for granted the food in our pantries, the electricity running through our homes, clean water, and relative safety. More than that, we take for granted that parents want these things for their children. To go without these things, in America, one would think, would be the result of desperation, deep poverty, and a complete lack of advanced education. Certainly no one would choose to live this way, if they had a way out...would they?

The Glass Castle is a memoir about a selfishness so intense that two educated adults delude themselves into thinking that their gross neglect of their 4 children is actually some kind of liberated, free-spirited lifestyle. Rex and Rose Mary Walls are two of the most self-indulgent, self-centered, self-deluding, and negligent parents I have ever read about. Hiding behind the mask of "sticking it to the system" and "living off the grid," these parents placed their children in mortal danger and destitution, despite having the means to do otherwise.

Rex Walls was a genius, a con artist, a gambler, and an alcoholic. Rose Mary Walls was an artist who only wanted children in order to have people to love her. She felt NO compulsion to actually take care of them. She'd rather paint and write novels and let them fend for themselves.

Rose Mary inherited enough from her parents to give her children a wonderful life, but through mismanagement, addiction, and apathy she and her alcoholic husband pilfered it away. As a result of financial and physical neglect, Rex and Rose Mary's children suffered burns, broken bones, starvation, sexual molestation, filth, and ridicule. The only things Rex and Rose Mary did give their children was a strong appreciation of learning, and a twisted sort of love.

This memoir was gorgeously written and captivating. It makes you feel so many things- disgust, fear, hope, and resignation. The Glass Castle demonstrates how children can love their parents through the worst but do not come out unscathed. Some may escape and turn their destiny around, while others succumb to pain. This is a story worth reading.

Ages 13+ for content.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Into the WaterInto the Water by Paula Hawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I may have enjoyed this book more than The Girl on the Train...probably because it deals with the struggle between strong women and the misogynistic culture that tries to keep them down.

"The Drowning Pool" is an infamous spot in the river that flows along the town of Beckford, England. Over the centuries, "troublesome" women have met their end there. Some of the deaths were ruled suicides, but were they?

Nel Abbott and Jules Abbott are estranged sisters- forced apart by jealousy and misunderstandings. When Jules is notified that Nel has died- jumped from the cliffs to her death in the river- Jules is forced to return to Beckford and face her past.

Nel isn't the only one to have perished in the river lately. A 15 year old girl named Katie has also inexplicably jumped into its depths to embrace death.

So, what about this river seduces women to end their lives there? Are they all really jumping or is something far more nefarious at work?

Why is it that strong women- the kind who know their own minds- are the ones who wind up dead?

This novel left me guessing until the end. Not all of the questions are answered. This is the kind of book you should read twice just to enjoy the epiphanies that come from knowing the ending and seeing all the clues the author left along the way.

Recommended for ages 15+ because of content.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel made me squirm.

It wasn't the suspense. It wasn't the darkness. It was the characters.

Oh- they are some of the crappiest people you will ever meet.

When the weak-willed, self-loathing alcoholic is actually the most redeemable character in a novel- it puts into perspective how low the others truly are. Their negative traits range from mild self-absorption, and superficiality, to complete narcissistic sociopathy.

That being said- I LOVED this book. I was never bored. The writing is well done. The story has just enough intrigue that it took me an acceptable amount of time before I figured out the "whodunit."

I love how Hawkins made me despise some characters and then, eventually, love and sympathize with them.

So, the gist. I cannot tell you much without spoiling things. The story takes place in modern day England- not too far from London. A woman, named Rachel, spends every morning and evening riding the train commuting to and from London. Part of the route takes her past a house with a married couple that Rachel fantasizes are the most perfect, loving, couple possible. This route also takes her past her former home- where her ex-husband now lives with his new wife.

Rachel is NOT over her husband. She is basically wrecked over the affair which ended her marriage.
So, to cope, Rachel's spends a lot of time wondering about the wonderful life of the couple she sees from the train. She voyueristically obsesses over them- until the day she sees the wife kissing another man. Shortly after that, the wife goes missing.

What Rachel doesn't know is how intertwined all the players in this story actually are and how little her fantasies reflect reality.

She also doesn't realize how crappy people can be.

This story has various love triangles which sort of morph into indescribable shapes. Blame is suspected from many corners until it becomes frighteningly clear. Hawkins really keeps you guessing for a bit.

This was a great read!
Ages 15+ for content.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 Ages 9+

Wonder by R.J. Palacio should be required reading for every student the summer before they begin middle school. All children approaching the threshold between childhood and adolescence can relate to the emotions, fears, and hopes in this story of growing up and growing stronger.

Wonder teaches us that real friendship is something that is born not only from mutual interests, and similar values, but from the desire to raise each other up when the world tries to bring us down.

August Pullman is a 10-year-old boy who lives in Manhattan. He is obsessed with Star Wars, loves his dog, and has a deeply loving family. He is an ordinary boy in almost every way…except for the way that he isn’t.

August (Auggie) has never gone to a regular school. This is because he spent much of his childhood in and out of hospitals undergoing and recovering from Cranial-facial surgeries.
Auggie, in a one-in-4-million-chance occurrence, was born with Mandibulofacial Dysostosis and a Cleft Palette- which means his face doesn’t have all the bones necessary to keep it in the shape people are used to. His eyes are asymmetrically placed and very low on his face; his cheeks are sunken in; his mouth cannot turn up on the sides; and he does not have fully formed ears. Unlike the almost adorable depiction of August Pullman that Hollywood has decided to use in the upcoming movie version of Wonder, Auggie looks markedly different than most children, and for this he has been surreptitiously stared and gawked at all his life.

August’s parents love their son immensely and want him to have the most normal life he possibly can, despite his abnormal appearance. So, they ask Auggie if he would be interested, now that he doesn’t need as many surgeries, in entering Beecher Prep Middle School in the fall.
At first, August is adamantly opposed to this idea- fearing the ridicule and attention- but he eventually relents.

Auggie’s first year in Middle School contains everything he'd hoped and feared: ridicule, cruelty, conflict, friends, loyalty, fun. Auggie has to face, for the first time, the real world, without the protection of his family to shield him from the hurt. He is severely ostracized, at first, but, slowly, the charm and goodness that is August Pullman envelops the school.

Wonder is a tale of triumph. August’s story teaches us that who we are in word and deed will reveal more of our truth than ever the reflection in the mirror. It also shows us that we can evolve and choose the right path, even when we’ve strayed from it for a while. Wonder sheds light on both the worst and best of human nature and reminds us that it is our choices that make us who we are.

Every middle school student should have to read this novel as part of their character education, and to enjoy the story of a boy who learns to face the world while teaching the world that he is more than his face.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Watership Down

Watership Down (Watership Down #1)Watership Down by Richard Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Watership Down was originally published in 1972 by British author, Richard Adams. You must take this publication date into account when you read this book- although it does not excuse its issues.

Watership Down is a long-winded story that, if it had been published today, would probably have been divided up and made into a series. It is the story of a group of rabbits who bravely face the dangers and challenges of the wild world in order to eke out a life for themselves that they can all feel proud of.

It begins with a clairvoyant rabbit who sees an impending disaster for his warren and convinces his brother, a natural leader, that they must flee. That flight takes the two brothers, and a handful of other open-minded rabbits, on an adventure of epic proportions.

This book is a wonderful tale of bravery, faith, friendship, determination, and morality. There is only one major flaw with the novel and that is that it can be, at times, infuriatingly sexist.

The female rabbits in this story are not very well-developed characters. The bucks (male rabbits) view them as a commodity to the warren and a means of perpetuating the lineage. The females are meant to dig warrens, produce litters, and care for the young. The bucks aren't overtly dominating over the females- they just don't really consider them as equals. Though the females are consistently brave enough to challenge fascism and rally against oppression in the story-they get little credit for it.

The irony of this sexism is that Adams wrote this story for his daughters. It was their bedtime story, their car ride story, their quality time with dad story. They are the ones who convinced Adams to write the story down and publish it. So, why does Adams give the bucks such well-developed personalities while the does play such a secondary role in the story? It is true the bucks risk their lives to bring the does into the warren- but it is only so that they may mate, have litters, and have females to dig more runs in the burrow. The female characters are utilitarian in this story and it is a major flaw.

I give Watership Down 4 stars because it is a beautifully written adventure story that can be appreciated by all ages. I cannot give the novel 5 stars because the understated role of the female characters detracts from the beauty and power of the story.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Inquisitor's Tale

The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy DogThe Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book was a joyful, cleansing experience. As we currently live in a time of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, hate-speech, that is clogging our governmental system and society, reading The Inquisitor's Tale was a refreshing reminder that love, acceptance, and kindness are the real reasons we exist.

Set in the 1200s, this is the story of three children (and a dog) from completely different races, cultures, and experiences. Jeanne is a Christian Peasant, William is a biracial oblate monk (orphan given to a monastery), and Jacob is a Jew. Each of them has a quality that makes them easily despised in medieval times: Jeanne, for her poverty, William, for his mother's Muslim blood, and Jacob, for refusing to believe in the divinity of Christ. Yet, by the grace of the Judeo-Christian God, they each have been given a miraculous gift and can perform miracles. This is both their blessing and curse as they live in a time of superstitious ignorance.

The story begins in a medieval inn with a group of people drinking ale and relating to the narrator the various origin stories of the three children, and their dog.  They tell that the group is being hunted by King Louis the 9th for acts of Heresy. The stories they tell convince some that the children (and dog) are Saints, while others condemn them as devils for being "magical." All, however, are completely engrossed in the tale and want to hear more.

The children are set on their path because they have all been turned out of their homes for various reasons.  Jeanne's town fears she may be a witch.  William is too outspoken and strong to obey his closed-minded superiors in the monastery.  Jacob is burned out of his village.  Through Providence, the children meet, and decide to travel together.  

Because of their divine gifts, every place that is touched by the children experiences some kind of miracle.  Jeanne has visions of the future, William possesses super-human strength, and Jacob can heal mortal wounds.  Every time their lives are in peril, the holy power of their goodness somehow transforms their adversaries into better people.  

Eventually, their wandering becomes a quest to protect the knowledge and wisdom of the Jews, which is what brings the wrath of Louis the 9th upon them.

This is a tale of the Judeo-Christian God's love for His people and the many misinterpretations of how that love is expressed. It is a tale of misguided piety, and the hubris of believing that people have the right to judge others in their God's name. But mostly, this is a story of three wonderful children (and their dog) who bring hope, friendship, and meaning to the lives of many through their unique connection to their God.

Highly recommended to ages 12+ because of content. Contains an annotated list of sources, and an explanation for the historical characters and events that inspired this work of fiction.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Magic Mirror by Susan Hill Long

The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket SquirrelThe Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket Squirrel by Susan Hill Long

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Magic Mirror, by Susan Hill Long, is written in a style that makes me think of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, if it had been written for children. This is a questing tale full of mystery, villainy, comedy, piety, and mistaken identity.

Maggie the Crutch, a crippled, foundling girl has been raised by Minka, a widowed ale-brewer, and has no idea of her parentage or history. She knows only that she was found in a church, as a small child, wearing a velvet green dress, and with an irrevocably damaged leg.

Maggie is raised with clothes on her back and food in her belly but not an abundance of love and affection. Minka isn't cruel but she isn't loving either. Minka is selfish and stern and overly practical. When Minka tells Maggie that she has promised her to marry a hunchbacked wool-monger, Maggie is distraught.

In town, while running her errands, Maggie meets a merchant named Bilious. Bilious tries to interest Maggie in some items and shows her a mirror that allows the viewer to behold their heart's desire. In this mirror, Maggie sees a wild-eyed old man, and Maggie just knows this man is the key to her destiny. She decides to journey towards this destiny and away from her fate as a wool-mongers wife. She abandons her life with Minka in the night, and stows away on a cart traveling West.

Maggie's quest introduces her to a cast of interesting characters. She meets a dangerous thief and his men, a monk and his bag-pipe playing nephew, a princess and her controlling father, a pick-pocketing squirrel and a mysterious street urchin. Through pure serendipity, each person Maggie encounters has played a role in the mystery of her destiny. But so many questions remain unanswered until the very end...

Who is the wild-eyed man? Why does she feel so called to him? What is her true identity? It seems that only the Magic Mirror knows.

This is a fun tale told in a medieval world of suspicion and schemes. Though slow-moving at first, The Magic Mirror is a delightful story which will appeal to a wide audience.

Ages 10+

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Fake News

There are many truths, but some truths are more credible than others.  The conundrum of teaching Information Literacy.  

Sunday, January 1, 2017


FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My only experience with Rainbow Rowell's work had been Eleanor and Park, which was phenomenal, so I thought I'd go on an author binge and explore some more.

Let me begin by saying that I am 40 years old- a far cry from a teenager- and yet, I was boo-hooing over this book like I was 18 again.

As a Middle School Librarian, I like to read the books that the kids are begging for but SLJ classifies as "Grades 9 and up." My 8th graders are dying for books that define them as older than their 6th grade schoolmates. It is hard to satisfy the developmental needs of 11 year olds and 14 year olds in the same collection. After reading Fangirl, my verdict is that, while this book cannot be a part of my School Library collection, I will be recommending it to my more mature 8th graders.

Cather and Wren Avery are twin 18 year-old young women beginning their freshman year at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. They have been inseparable all their lives; especially after their abandonment by their mother, and subsequent mental illness of their father.

In their shared bedroom, in a home in Omaha, the girls spent most of their childhood obsessing over the Fandom of the famous fantasy series, "Simon Snow." Together they would write fanfiction about Simon Snow- Cather as the main author and Wren as her coauthor and beta tester. They lived and breathed Simon Snow and they did this together.

Their bond, their oneness, was something that was never brought in to question until the summer before their freshman year. Wren drops a BOMB on Cather when she announces that she does NOT want to be roomates at UNL. Wren wants to meet new people. Cather wants to curl up in a ball of social anxiety and write herself into oblivion.

At UNL, when they get their rooms, Wren is paired up with a boy-crazed, party-addicted socialite named Courtney. However, Cather is paired up with an older, jaded, snarky, caustic, voluptuous man-eater named Reagan (whose "supposed" boyfriend is ALWAYS around). Wren launches herself right into the social scene, while Cather tries to blend in with the scenery and avoid all human interaction.

To make matters SO much worse- Cather discovers that her favorite professor (Fiction Writing Class) believes that Fanfiction (Cather's self-professed purpose for existing) is PLAGIARISM! Throw in confusing relationships with guys, serious family drama, and an estrangement from her twin and Cather is ready to give up.

This journey into self-actualization is beautifully written, completely relatable, and entirely absorbing. I could not put Fangirl down.

Ages 14 and up for content and age of characters.