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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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.

 

 

Ghosts- By Raina Telgemeier

GhostsGhosts by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cat is not happy about moving to the northern shores of California and leaving her friends behind. But she will endure if it means her little sister Maya will breathe a bit easier. Maya has cystic fibrosis and the salty air will help her lungs. When the girls meet their new neighbor, he tells them a secret about their new town. It is full of ghosts! While Maya is determined to meet one, Cat is not so sure. As Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) approaches, Cat will have to face her fears and be there for her sister. A charming tale with a lovely story about tradition.

What I loved:

Out of all of Raina Telgemeier’s books, this is my favorite. I love the setting and the tone of the book. She deals with the topic of death in a wonderful and refreshing way that highlights beautiful traditions and the love of family. She also, did a great job explaining the Day of the Dead and the traditions surrounding this sacred day in a way that younger readers can understand.

The illustrations are fun with just a hint of moodiness. I really like her work and the bright colors that she uses in her books. This one is a bit more muted to fit with the chill of northern California. The Day of the Dead characters are bright and friendly. I appreciate that she choose not to scare readers with gruesome ghosts.

I also liked that she included facts about the Day of the Dead and how she came to write this book.

What was okay:

I have to confess.. I really liked this one! I know a lot of other readers like her other books because they are more realistic. I can see a few readers who aren’t fans of the paranormal maybe shy away from this at first. However, her popularity as an author will make up for any hesitation.

Final thoughts:

Again, I enjoyed this book. I think it is a fun fall read that will be very popular at the library! Fans of Telgemeier will enjoy this new tale that takes a small step away from reality to explain death and tradition in a gentle way. Grab a warm blanket and a mug of tea and enjoy!

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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.

Fullscreen capture 322016 71619 PM

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 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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Spelled- By Betsy Schow (book review)

SpelledSpelled by Betsy Schow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ever wonder what would happen if Dorthy from the Wizard of Oz decided to destroy the world? Well hold on to your ruby studded high heels because Dorthea does it in the first chapter of this pun filled take on the story that you thought you knew.

Dorthea is a spoiled, selfish, egotistical, whiny, snarky, demanding, self-centered, brat. She has always had everything she ever wanted with one flick of her freshly manicured hand. Well not everything… While she can roam the halls of the Emerald palace she can never step outside because of a curse on her family. Talk about unfair!

So when a hex destroys the only world she knows and her parents disappears.. she rises up and becomes the Princess that the whole world needs.

Yeah.. that would be a no.

Enlisting the help of a too icky (in her opinion) to marry prince and a kleptomaniac kitchen servant, Dorthea will have to put on her big girl panties and fix everything she destroyed all while wearing ruby studded high heels.

What I liked:

The author does a fab job of making me loathe Dorthea and growing her enough to make me want to like her in the end. While she never becomes this amazing person she does grow in a realistic fashion that makes sense for her character. Kudos to the author for getting it right.

The story is fast paced and the characters meet lots of familiar faces along the way. This will appeal to serious fantasy fans who love fairytale stories because we pretty much see all of them. Even Frozen.. Not even kidding.

It is loaded with puns, snark, and general bad jokes will either make you roll your eyes or laugh out loud. I also liked the opening quotes at the beginning of each chapter. It has lots of funny moments.

What was a miss:

There are SO many puns. Almost too many. After a while I really wanted them to stop so I could just get on with the story. However, the age range that this book is geared for will likely love them all. If you are not a pun lover.. you have been warned.

The last half of the story gets a bit muddled. I followed the first half with ease and then once they get back to Hydra’s shack things kinda fall apart. There were lots of things happening and not a lot of time for the reader to process them. I am still a bit confused about the rainbow thing and I’m not 100% sure what happened at the shack. It took a bit of re-reading to get where the author was headed. I still feel like I missed something. I hear there will be a second so maybe it will be sorted out in the next book.

Recommended readers:

I can see fans of fairytales who like cheesy humor and lots of action enjoying this book. It is a clever take on the Wizard of Oz and will appeal to a wide audience.

**Thank you Sourcebooks for the galley copy to review.

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