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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Holiday YA Books

Are you in the mood for a bit of Holiday Romance? Check out these titles:

festive-holiday

 

Titles:

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares- By Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily- By Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

What Light- By Jay Asher

Ex-Mas- By Kate Brian

Let it snow- By John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Decked with Holly- By Marni Bates

Top Ten Clues you’re Clueless- By Liz Czukas

Books make great gifts

The holidays will soon be here and one of the best things to put on your shopping list is books! This past weekend our library had their top 2016 books you can gift to friends and family. I’m tackling the YA list and to be honest, it’s been a bit of a tough year for groundbreaking YA titles. I have seen lots of amazing sequels, prequels, and series finales. But I am still waiting on the next big trend in YA. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. I have talked with quite a few colleagues and they all feel like we are in the dreaded “what’s after Hunger Games” slump. Which is sad because there are some wonderful books getting overlooked while we wait for the next big breakout title.

My goal with this post is to highlight my top 5 picks from my presentation that would be great for Middle and Young Adult Readers. It is by no means exhaustive, since there are tons of great books that I have missed getting to read this year. My TBR pile is massive! I would also love to hear some of your recommendations. If you have a book or books that everyone should read and/or gift please let me know in the comments below.

Historical Fiction for Teens

Salt to the Sea- By Ruta Sepetys

By far this is one of my top 3 favorites for 2016. It is heart wrenching and beautifully written. Told from the perspective of 4 teens who are seeking freedom on the Wilhelm Gustloff during WWII, we learn the heavy price of perceived freedom. The sinking of this ship claimed 9000 lives and is one of the worst little-known disasters of WWII. I had never heard about this ship until I read the book. It’s tragic, raw, and the pace is very fast. This is a good one for teens that love well researched historical fiction.

 

Fantasy Fiction for Teens

 Rebel Of The Sands- By Alwyn Hamilton

This books is a mix of western and fantasy with dash of romance for good measure. It has some familiar elements from Arabic mythology but does a good job of coming up with an original story line with lots of adventure. Amani is a talented sharpshooter with one fatal flaw, she is a girl. Determined to get out of her dusty town she dresses as a boy and enters a shooting contest. When chaos ensues and she is on the verge of being discovered, she takes off into the wild desert sands with a boy who is not who he seems and has the entire army of the Sultan after him. There is lots of action and adventure with a romance that doesn’t take over the whole plot. This is a good one for teens that liked “Girl of Fire and Thorns” and other stories with a strong female lead.

Fantasy Fiction for Middle Grade

The Night Parade- By Kathryn Tanquary

Saki leaves the comforts of Tokyo and her friends for to visit her Grandmother in the Mountains. Her family gathers there to take part in the yearly Obon ceremony to honour their departed ancestors. Bored out of her mind, Saki decides to cause some mischief in the graves with some local “cool” kids. However, all that messing about at the shrine has stirred to life an ancient curse. A curse that will lead Saki on a night time journey through the most fantastical parade on earth, with special  guides who are not quite what they seem. She only has a few days to set things right before she is trapped in the land of the dead forever.

This book would be a good choice for fans of “Spirited Away” and other popular Studio Ghibli films. It has a bit of a slow start, but readers will soon be caught up in the adventure and the magical creatures they meet along the way. 

Fantasy Fiction for Middle Grade

The Inquisitor’s Tale- By Adam Gidwitz

One night in the year 1242, a man hears a story about 3 amazing children and their magical dog. The tale starts in France with a capture, follows them to a castle where they dine with a King, expands as they save a kingdom from a dastardly farting dragon, and ends at Mont Saint-Michel where they will attempt to thwart the burning of ancient texts. Can these children really perform miracles? Did their dog really come back to life?

This book is hilarious and full of adventure. Not only are you reading a story in the text but there is another story happening in the margins of each page. Which tale is really the truth? Gidwitz is a master of gross out humor and dark twists. This was one of my favorite books of the year and a ton of fun to read. Perfect for readers who like snark, blood and guts, good adventure, and lots of laughs. 

Realistic Holiday Fiction for Teens- 

What Light- By Jay Asher

Sierra’s family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon—and every year, they pack up and move to California to set up their Christmas tree lot for the season. Sierra has always lived two lives and this year she is missing home more than she expected. When she meets a cute local boy with dark past, will she learn about forgiveness or will with rumors end their relationship before it even gets started? 

This was a wonderful book and perfect for the holidays. I so enjoyed reading this and it totally warmed my heart. It’s sweet and has a nice message about the power of forgiveness and trust. A total fluffy romance that is perfect to read during the holiday season.

 

 

April Reading Challenge- Get Graphic

For this month’s reading challenge I wanted to do something fun. I have this monster pile of Graphic Novels and comic books that I am dying to read and April is pretty booked with programming at the library. I don’t really have the time for those big thick novels, but I do know I can get through most of my comic books and graphics. Are you with me?

This is one of my favorite genres to promote. I love doing graphic novel readers advisory with kids and teens. Not only do I get to promote a good story, I get to promote the fantastic artwork. If you haven’t jumped into the graphic pool you are missing out. There is a graphic novel for nearly everyone. From traditional superhero stories, to every day life, fantasy, science fiction, and even graphics about classic books like Shakespeare. Plus, the artwork is a treat and it requires a more attention to detail than a traditional book.

The goal I am setting is to catch up on my comic book subscriptions (aka- huge Star Wars binge) and read some of the newer graphics that keep catching my eye in the teen department. I don’t have a set number for this round so it’s more of a read at your own pace challenge. But, I was encouraged by my dear husband to actually deal with all my comic book boxes that are littering the living room. Challenge accepted!

As always you can Tweet to me if you like: @MsVal313

I would love to hear about what you are reading both good and bad!

 

All the Feels- By Danika Stone

All the FeelsAll the Feels by Danika Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OMG! All the feels!! Normally I am not a romance reader. However, the title of this book was so enticing that I had to grab it. It did not disappoint. This book was hard core geek wrapped in squees and swoon worthy dialog.

College Freshman Liv, is navigating the trials of newly won adulthood while still under her mother’s roof. When her favorite character of all time is killed off she is left a pile of sobbing fangirl desperation. Determined to bring him back she launches #SpartanSurvived with her steampunk loving (and totally gorgeous) best friend Xander. The tag takes on a life of its own much to the chagrin of her mother who thinks that this fandom thing needs to die yesterday. Now Liv must balance college classes, an online rebellion, her mother’s nagging, and her budding feelings for her best friend.

What I loved-

This is book sums up fandom, feels, online obsession, and geekdom in the most perfect way possible. I loved Liv. She is awkward and determined without becoming the typical Mary Sue of her own story. I could totally relate to her love of Starveil because I am an epic fangirl of all things Star Wars.

Xander… wow.. um not a romance girl here but dang bring on the swoons! He is dreamy and chivalrous. I found myself blushing during some of the dialog! Who wouldn’t love him?!

DragonCon.. Hello, yes.. this is exactly what it feels like to be at your first con. Especially for someone with a touch of social anxiety. You totally feel at home with your people, but at the same time there are so many of them that you want to run screaming for the door. It is overwhelming in the best and worst ways possible. The author does a fantastic job of describing what it is actually like.

Online fandoms.. YES!!! This is what happens when you meet someone you have only talked to online. Sometimes it’s awesome and sometimes you are thrown for a huge loop! Loved this part!

The romance.. Hello steamy without being smut! This book has been mentioned under the umbrella of New Adult. At first this was a bit of a turn off for me. Many of the New Adult books can be pretty hardcore leaving little to the imagination. Thankfully this one manages to stay fairly clean with no sex scenes. It does have some really steamy dialog and blush worthy kissing moments but manages to stay pretty PG-13. I would not have a problem recommending this to my high school students.

Mild issues-

There are a few plot holes. Mostly involving her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. (Who is just icky!) Another involves the actor from Starveil. That one left me hanging. I won’t say anymore because I feel like it would give away the big twist!

Final thoughts-

This is the book that all fangirls should read. It nails fandom and feels perfectly. The romance is real and not rushed even though it’s sooo dreamy! I adored this book and will be recommending it to all my geek girls who need a mostly clean romance with plenty of swoon!

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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!”