Some Kind of Happiness- Book Review

Some Kind of HappinessSome Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finley’s only safety lies deep in the heart of Everwood, a story that she keeps secret in her notebook. Her adventures there help her deal when the sadness and blue day threaten to overtake her life. When her parent’s send her off to visit Grandparent’s she has never met, the line between what is real and what is imaginary becomes blurry. Will she have the courage to save her story, her family, and most importantly herself?

This is a beautiful story about heartbreak, family, secrets, and what it’s like to have a sadness that you cannot explain. Finley’s world of Everwood is full of adventure and daring deeds, just like her real life if she can only stop long enough to see it.

What I liked:

This story hit me on a personal level that I did not expect. I could relate to Finley because at 11 I had those same overwhelming feelings that I couldn’t put into words. I created vast worlds and stories so I could escape from my real life and the dark thoughts that were always there. I wish this book had been written back then, because I could have used a story like this in my life. Finley is a great kid and I think middle grade readers who have depression and anxiety will connect with her story. I enjoyed how the plot was revealed within her made up world. It shows the world of depression and anxiety without overwhelming the reader. As a person who has struggled with both from a very young age, I felt it was true to what I experienced growing up.

Minor Issue:

This isn’t as much of a dislike as a quibble I had with the characters. It took me a long time to connect with any other people in the book. They were all pretty one dimensional until about halfway into the story. Later on I could see why the author chose to do this. It is really supposed to be about Finley. As a reader I like to have all the characters fleshed out pretty quickly in a story. For me, it helps me immerse myself in the world. Like I said, it’s more of a personal preference.

Final thoughts:

I really liked this one. It hit me in the feels in a way that I was not expecting because of personal experience. I think this is an important book for MG readers who struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety. It has a good message and a good ending that is true to life.

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Ms. Bixby’s Last Day- Book Review

Ms. Bixby's Last DayMs. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m so glad this book was my last read for 2016. It is full of friendship and life. It also broke my heart in the best possible way. Usually sad MG books are not my thing because rarely do they offer any kind of realistic and uplifting moments. Many have endings that seem contrived and thrown together. When I picked this one up I was worried that it would be one of those books. One of my co-workers highly praised this one as a great middle grade read and make sure I had a box of tissues ready. She wasn’t wrong. It exceeded my expectations.

Topher, Steve, and Brand have one of the “Good ones.” Ms. Bixby is a teacher who makes you want to come to school. She sees the good and is truly one of a kind. When they learn that she is very sick and will leave their school before the end of the year, they come up with the ultimate plan. It will take courage, humor, and some clever negotiating skills to pull it off. Told through through three different perspectives, we learn about how one life can change the future.

What I loved:

Each character except for one, felt like a real person. Topher, Steve, and Brand feel like actual 6th grade boys. Each one has a different story and they all highlight the joys and pitfalls of friendship in the best possible ways. The friendship between the boys was realistic and sweet. It never felt fake or forced. I think that many MG students will find a piece of themselves in this story. I really liked that the story was broken into little bits. It made me want to keep reading. There were little twists and revelations that made the book very hard to put down.

Ms. Bixby is a teacher that all educators should strive to be. She is not perfect, but she is kind and compassionate. Her illness and story really make you feel like there is more to life than awards and accolades. It’s about the lives that you change for the better. Her character made me remember all the wonderful teachers I had growing up who saw more in me than that I saw in myself.

A tiny issue-

The only thing that I didn’t care for was part of the mission that these boys set out on. I felt that their goal of getting all these items off their teacher’s best last day list was pretty realistic except for the alcohol and it’s not for the reason that you think. Their run in with the creepy tattoo guy was the part that didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story. I feel like it could have been left out and the story would have been just as great. They already had a confrontation with a teacher and had a few other more realistic crisis moments thrown their way. The fight with the 28 year old guy was the only thing that didn’t fit. Having him take their money.. sure makes sense. Three 6th graders chasing down a grown man and giving him the beat down? Not so much.
I would have liked it better if they had realized that they didn’t need everything on the list to make a perfect day. But, this part is so minor to the rest of the story that it didn’t affect me that much.

Overall feel-

This is a good one for middle grade students. It is realistic where it counts and has enough humor to overcome the super sad parts. The ending is sweet and well written. It left me a teary sad mess at 1 a.m. I can see this being a classroom read aloud and I think it will turn up on many state award lists in the coming years. It is one of my favorite reads for 2016.

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February Favorites and completing book challenges..

yes we crab

I was invited to a book challenge at work called “Yes we crab.” The goal is to read a select number of books and then work on your blogging habits during the month of February. I decided to try and read 20 books and blog once a week. Needless to say, I didn’t make it. Thankfully this is a low key challenge and nobody is going to come and get me for not finishing. I am happy to say that I did read 10 books and I blogged twice. It was a bit more challenging because I chose lengthy YA chapter books to complete. Usually I am pretty hard on myself with book challenges but this time I am actually pretty proud that I got though half of what I wanted to complete. February was a busy month at work and in my personal life so reading 10 books was pretty awesome!

Most of the time I avoid book challenges. They tend to make me anxious and feel like a bit of a failure when I don’t finish them. Plus, in 2015 I was stuck in the worst book slump ever. I had picked up a few books that were just terrible. After that nothing was appealing and I was burned out.  Completing a book challenge sounded like torture.

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However, “Yes we crab” was a simple enough challenge without the usual guilt trip. This month I am doing my own personal book challenge and calling it the “Clean sweep.” I have stacks of galley books and a huge TBR pile that keeps staring at me from my crowded shelves. I hope that I can clean up at least 15 of them before the month of March ends. Feel free to join. I don’t have any fancy hashtags but you are welcome to tweet me about what you are reading from your own piles. @MsVal313

Here is what I read in February.

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Full list:

The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary: (4.5 stars) If you are a fan of the Studio Ghibli films then this is the book for you. It is charming and full of adventure. I really liked this one! (Full review coming soon)

The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins: (3.5 stars) This book is filled with action and lots of romance. Perfect for those teen readers that love to gush over handsome boys and daring deeds. While the romance was not my favorite (so not a romance reader), I did love the action. Aerity is a strong female character that I actually liked despite her brush with insta-love.

The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by  Sarvenaz Tash: (4.5 stars) A geeky love story that unfolds at New York City Comic Con. Follow 4 teens as they profess their love for artists, authors, and each other in this fun coming of age story.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi: (3 stars) The words in this book are rich and enthralling like the tapestry they describe. Blending Greek mythology and takes from India, the author takes you on a twisted tale full of colorful characters and plotting demons.

The Red Wing by Jonathan Hickman: (2 stars) This one was just weird. Too much story and not enough book. Very heavy handed on the message of “leave the world a better place.” This easily could have been a longer series. Very disappointed that it’s just one book.

 

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Nathan Fairbairn: (3.5 stars) This one was pretty fun. I enjoyed reading an adult graphic novel. Lots of humor, plenty of adulting, and the graphics are fab.

Trail of the Dead (Killer of Enemies #2) by Joseph Bruchac: (3 stars) This book took me a few weeks. It was not as good as the first in the series and I kept putting it down. I did love the story of Coyote and the additional Native American mythology. That part of the story was very well done.

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen: (2 stars) This one frustrated me! The characters read way younger than they really are and there are too many themes for such a short book. I don’t know who I would recommend this too because it is complicated mess.

The Isolator, Vol. 1 (The Isolator #1) by Reki Kawahara: (3 stars)  This was my first trip into the “light novel” world. It wasn’t horrible and the story was fairly good. Not a series that I would likely continue but one that I would recommend to my anime fans.

The Rose and the Dagger (The Wrath and the Dawn #2) by Renee Ahdieh: (5 stars) The Wrath and the Dawn was my absolute favorite read of 2015. I have been anxiously awaiting the final book after a heart wrenching cliffhanger!
This book was everything I wanted it to be. The story is rich and complex just like the first with humor, thrills, daring deeds, strong female characters, and a lush romance. I love what Renee Ahdieh has done with story of “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” The ending was almost perfect.

Best wishes on your March reading list!! Feel free to join the “Clean Sweep!”

 

 

 

The Force Awakens: Books you should know (Possible Movie Spoilers)

With the  recent release of “The Force Awakens” comes a slew of books and comics that provide some insight into the new movies and its characters. Now that Disney has set aside the much loved (or hated) Expanded Universe (depending on your point of view), there are new stories to take its place. While some fans are embracing this change others are mourning the fact that 30+ years of literature have now been relegated to the “Legends” pile making them pretty much null and void to the new timeline. Before I review some of the newer titles for children and teens let me add the following disclaimer:

Personally I like some of the new changes. I have not had the chance to explore the EU as much as I would have liked. There is so much of it that for years I have struggled on where to even begin my reading journey. That being said the EU has some fantastic series that I have read and wonderful stories that are sadly no longer cannon. Several of these series were personal favorites of mine and I am a little bit bummed that they are no longer part of the official story. However, I also love almost all of the new stories that have been recently published. If anything these books are hooking new fans into this amazing universe of geeky awesome. As a librarian I have seen many young fans jumping on the book bandwagon and lots of those fans are girls! It warms my heart that there are new books out there that introduce Star Wars to kids in a way that they can understand and appreciate. The publishers have done a great job at providing books for all ages and reading levels.

I am going to attempt to keep this mostly spoiler free in case some out there have not seen the movie yet. However, if you are worried stop reading now and bookmark this post for later after you have seen the movie. Some of these books require that I give you some scenes from the movie so that the review makes sense. Books with spoilers have (*) next to the title. Trust me, I am not going to give away the big twist. Plus, if anyone feels the need to be a Jar Jar and comment with spoilers I will delete and have Boba Fett hunt you down. Don’t be a Jar Jar..

Books for kids/tweens:

Star Wars Trilogy for young readers: Disney Lucasfilm Press 

These three titles follow Episodes 4-6. Each is written by a different author that takes the reader through the movies using beloved characters to tell the tale. These are targeted at ages 8 – 12 so adult readers don’t get your socks in a bunch over the simplified plot line. They are made specifically for kids to give them an understanding of some of the themes presented in the movie.

So You Want To Be A Jedi? – By Adam Gidwitz

In the first addition to the series we follow Luke Skywalker through scenes from The Empire Strikes Back. It is told in both a second person and third person narrative that gets mixed reviews online. Most of the negative reviews come from people who have listened to the audio-book instead of reading it so you might stick with the print version. It has gotten good reviews from kids who like learning about what it takes to become a Jedi. The book shows how Luke trains with the force and has lessons about meditation, compassion, and other Jedi tidbits between each chapter. It is a fun book for kids and one that I think they will enjoy.

Target age: 8-12

 

The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy- By Alexandra Bracken

This story is a retelling of The New Hope from the view points of Leia, Han, and Luke. Each character tells their own story about overcoming perceptions and becoming the beloved figures that we know today. This is a great intro for kids who are just starting their journey into Star Wars literature. It is a fast read and the author has taken information from the radio drama script, some of the still cannon EU, and scenes from her own imagination that still feel true to each character. Out of the three, this one was my favorite and is a great book to get to know the characters on a more personal level.

Target age: 8-12

 

Return of the Jedi Beware the Power of the Dark Side!- By Tom Angleberger

The final book in the series focuses on the events from Return of the Jedi. In this book you will find a retelling sprinkled with humor, fantastic illustrations, and hilarious footnotes. It keeps the campy narrative feel from the movies that will appeal to younger readers. Add more explosions and Ewoks and you have an all around entertaining read for all ages. Tom Angleberger is one of my favorite authors and his books are very popular with the younger crowd. This one has more humor than the other three and is good for kids that liked “Origami Yoda” and similar stories.

 

Target age: 8-12

 

Journey to the Force Awakens- Disney Lucasfilm Press

The next series has new stories that feature members of our favorite trio. These are for kids a bit older and have a squint more violence than the others. The illustrations in these are fantastic and help move the reader along. I love the layout of each chapter and hunting for hints about the new movies!

**Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo Adventure – By Greg Rucka

Join your favorite smuggling duo for a new adventure aboard the Millennium Falcon! Tasked with saving a key member of the rebellion from a sinister new villain , Han will need to use all of his smooth talking and blaster shooting skills to win the day. Filled with humor and a scary new female villain with a cyborg eye, readers will love this fast paced middle grade novel. The story is told in a series of flashbacks from a jaded Han in search of his beloved ship. Where could it possibly be? While this doesn’t have a lot of info key to the new movie it still is a good read with fantastic illustrations.

Target age: 10-14

 

The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure (Star Wars)**Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure- By Jason Fry

Luke is being sent out on a diplomatic mission instead of fighting the Imperials in his trusty x-wing. But, all is not as it seems when he lands on a planet with ruins from an old Jedi temple. As Luke explores the force he attracts the attention of a new villain bent on destruction. This is another fast paced read that brings together several story-lines from the Clone Wars cartoon and the original trilogy. Luke doesn’t just rely on his lightsaber to save the day and other elements of the force are explored in the story. Is this mysterious temple key to the new movie? Read and find out!

Target age: 10-14

 

**Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Moving Target- By Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry

Set between the Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope, readers follow Leia on a new and dangerous mission for the Rebel Legion. Told in a series of memoirs this story lets Leia’s wit and boldness shine. Paired with wonderful illustrations and a key appearance from Luke this novel is a good addition to the trilogy. While the adventure is not as daunting or perilous as Han and Luke’s from the first two novels, this one still adds important details to the Star Wars Universe. There are not as many sneak peaks into the new movie other than a character reference and some clues into Leia’s upcoming role.

Target age: 10-14

 

**Star Wars: Before the Awakening – By Greg Rucka

MAJOR SPOILERS ABOUT REY, FINN, AND POE AHEAD!! – Just not the big one! Promise!

After watching the movie I was dying to know several things. One- Why on earth is it so easy for Finn to abandon his life as a stormtrooper and go MIA? Seriously, he is a First Order Trooper trained from birth so you would think that he would have had more reservations. One of his own calls him a traitor later on in the movie and is pretty bent on revenge with this weapon that stops a freaking lightsaber?!!! What??!!! Well this book mostly answers these questions while still leaving a bit of mystery. You get some great background into Finn’s training and his squad members. You also get a glimpse into the new weaponry of the First Order. This character chapter is perhaps the most important (in my opinion) in the entire book.

Two- Who is Rey? How does she know how to fly? Well the first does not get answered beyond some minor character development. The second helps you understand why she is able to fly the most awesome ship in the galaxy and fix pretty much anything she touches. Everything else is left up to speculation. (cue epic fangirl sigh of frustration)

Three- Why is Poe the best pilot in the Resistance? Who is he anyway? His chapter explores the origins of his story starting with facts about his parentage and how he gets into the resistance. Readers looking for more stories and clues about his squad will get a few teasers and minor character development. The biggest intrigue is the First Order and his discovery about their some of their dastardly deeds.

All in all this does help with some questions I had after watching the movie. I am still dying to know who Rey really is and I want more stories about Poe and that mysterious dude in the dessert. These are not major plot changing stories but they do give some insight into the motivations of each character. A short quick read.

Target age: 8-12

A Book for Teens: 

Lost Stars (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
by Claudia Gray

This is a Teen novel set during the time of the Empire and the original trilogy. Keep in mind that this is not a novel for a younger audience due to violence and adult situations (some sex- not descriptive). The characters end up facing some pretty ugly situations that require them to consider what it means to be loyal. Older readers will understand the struggles a bit more so I do recommend this to teens 13 and up due to the content. Parents might want to read this first before handing it to anyone younger. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way… I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!

 

As a teen librarian this is one of my favorite books of 2015. It has action, romance that does not involve a love triangle, realistic hard choices, and characters that I actually cared about.

Summary:

Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree come from a planet where honor and loyalty is something that flows through your veins. Thrown together by their love of ships and their desire to fly away to new adventures  we follow them to the Imperial Academy where loyalty and friendship are put to the ultimate test. Both characters have a voice in this exciting new series that fits almost seamlessly into the events from Episodes 4-6. In these books you will see the perspective of an Imperial Officer and a Rebel Pilot. This book is more than just a romance as it challenges readers to think about both sides of the fight.

Things I loved:

I really connected with both characters. Getting to see the perspective of an Imperial Officer throughout their career and during the destruction of both Death Stars is something that I didn’t know I would care about until this book. The author created a world within the Imperial Forces that feels real. I get why some of the cadets turn into fanatical madmen who will stop at nothing to destroy planets. The brainwashing and control is explored in detail that made me cringe at times and want to pull the character out of the pages and shake sense into them!

I like that popular characters like Vader, Leia, and Tarkin are not scene stealers when they show up in the book. They add to the story but they don’t take over the plot. You get glimpses of them as they interact with the main characters but it doesn’t feel forced or out of place.

I loved that the romance was not a triangle! You get to grow up with both Ciena and Thane from age eight until they are in their 20’s. The friendship and eventual romance makes sense without using all the tired YA troupes and lame cliches. I rooted for them and I am not a romance reader! I did like that the smexy times were not super descriptive. It was basically hey baby, smoochy time and fade to black. However, there are some steamy moments and steamy thoughts from the characters later on.

I loved the ending where you end up on Jakku. OMG! That made me create my own fangirl conspiracy theories as to who a certain female character might be.

Things that I didn’t like:

That there isn’t more to read right now! If I was being picky I would say that there were not enough details about the new movie included in this title. It gives you just enough to make you go “really?!!” and then frantically flip pages to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Final thoughts-

Please let there be a second!! I did enjoy this one and that is not just the Star Wars fangirl speaking. It was a fast paced read with romance and adventure that fits well into the universe as we now know it!

 

Coming soon:

I will be reviewing more Star Wars books as they become available. I hope to provide reviews for a variety of ages and reading levels so stay tuned.

 

May the love of reading be with you and happy holidays!

 

The Tournament at Gorlan- By John Flanagan (Book review)

The Tournament at Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years, #1)The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, I must admit that I am a huge fan of John Flanagan. He is one of my top 5 go to authors for reluctant readers, fantasy lovers, and adventure seekers. His Ranger Apprentice books are very well done and I have enjoyed all of them.

The Tournament at Gorlan is a prequel to Ranger’s Apprentice. It follows the story of Rangers Halt and Crowley as they take on the Dark Lord Morgarath who is trying to steal the throne. With the King a Prisoner, the Prince in disgrace, and the Ranger Corps disbanded, it will take all their strength and cunning to defeat his evil plan.

Things I liked:

This is a interesting prequel to the original series. It was fun to read about Halt as a new Ranger. The best part is when he gets his new horse (very classic to the story). I also enjoyed the banter between Halt and Crowley. There was lots of laugh out loud snark and witty commentary.

Getting to see how evil Morgarath really is and getting that backstory helps define the series as a whole. It also introduces some of the history and people briefly mentioned in the main series. It even has Pauline! (fangirl squeal)

Lastly, the battle at the end and the horrible twist (ugh.. why???!!!! Rip my heart out) makes me want to read the next book right now!

Things that were disappointing:

While this is another great addition to the story-line, it was a bit slow. I think that it compliments the series as a whole but I doubt I would recommend it to a reader who is not already a fan of the series.

There is a lot of camping, cooking, conversation, riding, thinking, descriptions… etc .. etc.. It really started to drag on a bit. While I love how Flanagan describes things so you feel like you are there, I got a bit bored with the constant mentions of the food and camping. (I actually feel terrible writing this. Like that I am going to be struck by lightning for not giving a glowing review) The summary made me think that this would be an action packed story that was fast paced and full of adventure. Unfortunately the action didn’t really start until the last few chapters of the book. Then it was non stop and had some twists that I was not expecting!

Final thoughts-
Like I said before this is a good addition to the series and it does build the story. I won’t recommend it as a first introduction to the series but I will recommend it to fans who will enjoy the backstory. I will definitely purchase this for the library and recommend it in my fall book talks to readers familiar with the tale. I also am excited to read the next in the series since this ended on such a tragic cliffhanger!!

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Oddly Normal- A book review

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Summary: 

Oh the trials of Middle School where being oddly normal can get you into all sorts of trouble. Speaking of normal… Oddly is anything but. Her mother is the Wicked Witch and her father the most normal bland guy around. She is stuck somewhere in between with green hair and pointed ears.  On the day of her birthday she makes a horrible wish that her parents (who seem to have little time for her) would just disappear. Unfortunately for her the wish comes true. Enter a crazy Aunt with a bizarre spell that whisks her off to the land Fignation. Will she finally fit in? Will she find her parents? And what’s up with the wolf twins?

The good: 

A solid start to a promising new series by Otis Frampton. I really liked the story and my word.. middle school sucks no matter what dimension you happen to live in! I can see the appeal for pre-teens and I think they will really identify with the story.  Hopefully not too much because poor Oddly gets the short stick in this story.

The okay: 

The story spends quite a bit of time dealing with her not fitting in. There are also some cryptic parts that I hope will make sense in the next book. A.K.A. weird tentacled teacher with no sense of humor..

Final thoughts:

It ends on a cliff hanger and I am looking forward to the next book. I hope the next has a bit more of a back story to the town and its quirky residents. In addition, the colors and design are very appealing! Readers who like a bit of supernatural with a girl lead might want to check this one out.

** Thank you to Diamond Book Distributors for the preview copy on Netgalley.

Cleopatra in SPACE- Book Review

Once upon a time there was a YA librarian who freaked out over a box of Scholastic galleys and stole a few before her supervisor could finish unpacking them. She then promptly ran over to the nearest chair and began pouring over the awesome, soon to be published titles with selfish glee. This may or may not have happened last week. There may have been squealing.. or not. You weren’t there.

So what was worth squealing over you may ask? Only the newest edition of Cleopatra in a Space and Star Wars Jedi Academy! Both are quite fantastic and I am so excited for our patrons to get their hands on them. Today I am going to review the second edition of “Cleopatra in Space” by Mike Maihack.

The Story:

Last year I was able to snag a galley of his first book and fell in love with the characters. Cleo is a spunky heroine who gets transported from ancient Egypt and flung far into the future. An ancient prophecy says that she is destined to save the galaxy from the evil Xaius Octavian. During the first story she proves herself by recovering an ancient sword with mysterious powers.

Cleopatra in Space #2: The Thief and the Sword

By: Mike Maihack

Publisher: Scholastic

Publishing Date: April 28th, 2015

Just when Cleo was getting the hang of school and being the savior of the galaxy, a mysterious thief steals the Sword of Kabechet. She is forbidden by her teachers to go after the thief for fear that her life will be forfeit. So, what is a teenage future Queen to do? Add a school dance, popularity, friendship challenges, and a scary twist to the already impossible prophecy, and you have the right mix for a great story.

I really enjoyed catching up with Cleo. There is lots of action, a fun new character, and a glimpse of the evil Xaius Octavian. More of the prophecy comes to light and Cleo is going to need all the help she can get from her friends and her teacher (who is also a cat). Plus, there is an epic cliff hanger at the end that made me want to read the third book right away. Seriously… when will it be out?

I am very impressed by this latest edition and I know my patrons will love it. I am bummed that the galley was not in full color because the artwork is awesome! Maihack is a talented writer and illustrator and has created a wonderful series for girls and boys. I can’t wait to get this at our library.

*Thanks to Scholastic for the review copy.