Book Reviews Temporarily Stopping

annual list, Award Nominee, Year in Review

In case anyone actually looks at this besides me –

I am on an ALA Committee for Best Fiction Young Adult and am reading a book about every 2-3 days.  In doing so I, along with 14 other members nationwide, will choose the best young adult fiction for this year.  I am not allowed to publicly voice my opinion on books considered or books nominated.  At the end of this term, I will have over 150 book reviews, but right now I can’t post them publicly.

If you are interested in what has been nominated so far by the committee members, visit the Young Adult Library Service’s (YALSA) webpage.

So while it looks like I’m on hiatus, I am not on a break from reading – I am just deep into secret award committee reading.

This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration -Linda Barrett Osborne

Award Nominee, nonfiction

In This Land Is Our Land the topic of immigration is covered from Jamestown to today.  Osborne does a clear job in defining terms, organizing chapters both chronologically and by groups of people, and balances information and images in an expert fashion to keep attention on the book without growing bored with one set topic or group of people.  Each group of people are addressed respectfully, showing value in both cultures as well as the struggles immigrants had upon arrival.  She clearly states how the true “Americans” were the Native Americans on this land before English settlers and uses her own family ancestry to show the reader that all of us here today came to be because our ancestors were immigrants.  She shows the struggles immigrants faced, but also mentions how they have helped the country throughout history, such as serving in the American Civil War, become successful elected officials, assisting in factories, and helping the economy.

Osborne also addresses the way nativists and government officials tried to decrease the number of immigrants entering the country through such early measures in the 1900s as mandating a “literacy test” as well as enforcing an annual quota of immigrants through Ellis Island each year.  She shows how laws aimed at preserving a false idea of “America” were actually tools of prejudice, limiting not only the number of immigrants that could enter, but selecting which groups were allowed at all (1924 Immigration Act).  Other unfair treatments, such as not allowing Asian immigrants to ever become citizens are mentioned as well.

She discusses the different groups and how racism and prejudice was shown to each group by the nativists who believed they were the true Americans. Thus, showing the long voyage to America was not where the troubles and difficulties ended for those seeking more opportunity or a better life.  Immigrants faced challenges not only due to being from a different country, but also religious prejudice, and limitations on housing and opportunity.  The challenge on keeping one’s culture and heritage while trying to live in a better environment and country is seen throughout This Land Is Our Land and leaves a lasting impact.

Osborne writes in the introduction how she wants this book to be a conversation starter on the broader topic of immigration and with her research and her respect given to this country’s past, I believe it is the perfect conversation starter to be available to children and teens in class, in the library, or at home.  It’s organized beautifully with many primary resources, and while the research is great, I find the gem of this book is the inclusion of all the groups of people that shaped the America we have today: Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews, people from Eastern European, Asia, Latin America.  She offers a special chapter on refugees and how seeking safety is different than simply immigrating.

Author notes, bibliography, citations, and index are included.

My interview with Linda Barrett Osborne for The Hub is coming soon!

Nightfall – Jake Halpernhe & Peter Kujawinski

Action, Award Nominee, Fantasy, Series

A crazy science-fiction where on an island, the sun doesn’t rise and fall each day, but the sun is present for 14 years, then disappears for 14 years.  As the sun will soon leave the island our teenage twins, Marin and Kana, help the family clean the house and prepare it “as it was” when they arrived.  The teens are confused why the town has bizarre traditions of removing locks from doors and rearranging furniture before they leave the island for the long night.  They don’t receive any answers from parents or the town’s leaders, but are told to pack and prepare for the voyage.

On the day the tide rolls out (think the beginning of a tsunami, but it never returns), everyone gathers what luggage or food they can carry and head to the boats which have arrived to take the villager’s to the dessert.  [This whole plot is weird at first.]  Marin and Kana realize their friend Line is missing and knowing where he probably is, they set out to find him….. of course missing the loading of boats and being forgotten and left on the island, as the sun sets for the last time.

As the friends cope with their new abandonment, something they never imagined begins to happen.  They find a note that reads, “HIDE” and the first night alone on the island brings a terror they never imagined.  With nightfall becoming 24/7 they face far worst dangers than finding food.  What are the creatures that roam the island during this long darkness and without the water and tide, will the friends even be able to get off the island or survive the creatures of the island?  And how will they get off the island to the feet of boats without a boat or the tide?  I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the details of the creatures and the land dwellers having this arrangement to share an island, but alternating each decade.  And where are the desert lands that the villagers go to?

This is an older plot for our YA readers


A sequel is in the works…..

Inherit Midnight -Kate Kae Myers

Award Nominee, families, Female Leads, Young Readers

Depending on your take – Avery VanDemere either has a privileged life or an unfortunate one.  Being raised by her incredibly wealthy grandmother in her mansion sounds great, but her alcoholic father has been gone for years, her mother is dead, and her extended family resents her presence.  Seeking a little freedom from the confines of mansion walls, Avery begins sneaking out and is soon shipped off to a boarding school, which is more of a prison.

Avery is picked up by the son of her Grandmother’s lawyer with no explanation as to why and taken back to the law firm where all of her extended family awaits.  Avery is not eager to see them and they make no attempt to hide their disdain for her.  After all, they view Avery as the illegitimate daughter of the drunken brother and nanny.  What they all soon learn is that they will begin an adventure of traveling focused on inheritance and legacy.  Their matriarch is not pleased with the selfishness, laziness, unruly behavior of her descendants and now they must compete against one another in order to receive their inheritance.  Among the players are two power hungry uncles, a bully of a cousin, a half brother who she has never had a relationship with, and two self-important female cousins – and Avery.  Her only ally is Riley, the son of the lawyer who picked her up.

As the competitors travel the world, they must remember family stories and histories Grandmother VanDemere has shared over Christmas dinners and brunches.  This is both a test of family heritage and wit, but also a test of strength and resourcefulness.  Besides this new challenge which can keep Avery from returning to a violet boarding school, Avery has also learned that her mother did not die – but was bought off and sent back to Croatia.  With each new challenge she successfully completes, she is rewarded with letters her mother has sent each year on her birthday.  Finding  more about her mother is more important to Avery than and amount of inheritance.  Determined to win the challenge only to escape this  hateful, selfish family and find her mother, Avery plays the game.

Add to the plot – a romance, violence, a secret message, and world travel and it’s worth sharing.  The challenges take the family through such important events in their family’s history as the Civil War, mining for diamonds, and the American Revolution.  The mix of a current, adventurous challenge and a mysterious, personal past is a plot so detailed with secrets and depth, it makes for an entertaining and surprising plot.

The War That Saved My Life -Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Award Nominee, families, period pieces, Safe Bets, Young Readers

This is a great historical fiction about the beginning of World War II when Ada and her brother are sent from London to the countryside of Kent with other evacuee children.  The story begins with Ada’s difficult life in London and her transition not only to country life, but also to a life of kindness, education, and love.

Ada is a ten year old, well maybe ten – the truth is her life in London is difficult and her mother not only is cruel to Ada, but does not even tell the poor girl know her birthday.  Ada was born with a twisted foot and her mother has kept her held up in their one room flat due to shame and ignorance.  When Ada learns from her little brother Jamie that children are being sent to the countryside she is determined to learn how to walk so that she can travel with her brother.  Once they arrive at Kent, they are the last children left to be chosen.  When they are placed with Susan, an education, but single woman in the village, they all must learn what it means to live as a temporary family.

Ada and Jamie rely on each other and through new experiences of country life, community, and love of two new pets, and curious ambition, they adapt to a new life.  As Hitler invades Europe, their oasis in Kent begins to suffer wartime hardships.  Susan helps Ada become a typical child and once they are told that Ada’s foot could be surgically fixed, Susan is sure that Ada’s mother will consent.  War looms, bombs become a daily occurrence, still it is the looming presence of a cruel birth mother that haunts Ada.  How long will she and Jamie get to stay in their new home?  Will Hitler’s armies reach Kent?  And will Ada finally get the medical treatment she deserves or will the cruel nature of her mom return to claim her children and lock Ada up in the one room flat?  Now that Ada has experienced friendship and love and the prospect of a future, does she even want her mom to come for her?

This is a story of how strangers come together and form a family, all saving the other’s and lead to living a better, more fulfilled life of love and joy.


Newbery Honor (2016),  Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School (2016), Odyssey Award (2016), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2017)

Scarlett Undercover – Jennifer Lathiam

Award Nominee, diversity in YA, Female Leads, Young Readers

Scarlett is a Muslim-American, private detective.  Not much past teenage years, she seems to have either insanely good luck or an unprecedented ability of street smarts, an unrealistic ability in observational tendencies (more than the local police), and is very smart and able to defend herself.  In summary – this is a bit far fetched (and that’s before we get to the mystery of a suicide with secrets, relics which hold special power, and the murder of her own father.)

I understand and appreciate the diversity Lathiam offers with a Muslim narrator and her community, but it’s not enough for this book to have my vote for the Arkansas Teen Book Award, which is why I read it.  I enjoyed some of the mystery when we first learned a suicide isn’t all it appears to be and the scrappy little siblings of a pair of friends who have more depth to them then the detective, even though she is older and is the main character.  It’s a light mystery, but mostly far fetched, even if the effort is to bring about minorities in a young adult novel, the plot isn’t enough.  Well done on diversity and a little creativity, but it doesn’t totally deliver.  Or maybe it does for the pre-teen crowd, I was just expecting more.

Although, before you hand it to the preteen crowd, there are deaths within this story besides the suicide or Scarlett’s dad.  Also, there is a strong focus on the Muslim community and Arabic appears throughout – in greetings and mention of prayers – but for such a focus on a devout Muslim family, and a sister named Reem who wears a hijab, I don’t find the name Scarlett fitting with the family.

Court of Fives – Kate Elliott

Authors, Award Nominee, families, Favorites, Female Leads, Series

The intro is part Game of Thrones, Shakespeare, and mystery – sign me up!

Five sisters, one of which is Jessamy, a strong willed daughter who seeks adventure and freedom, are prim and proper born to a family rising in power and expected to behave as the highborn.  Since her father was born poor, but whose status has elevated due to his career and her mother is a commoner (who her father cannot marry!) the daughters are constantly insulted and considered commoner’s in their family’s new elevated status.  They are not the same as highborn, yet they are not commoners.  If this wasn’t challenging enough, Jessamy is a free spirit who wants to compete in the games of the Court of Fives.

The Fives is part gladiator games and part Ninja Warrior with alternating challenges of strength and flexibility.  The contestants can be anyone who can afford the entry fee and they are masked so identities are unknown.  Jessamy finds a way to enter, but she knows she must lose for winning would bring shame to her father and family – and they already have enough obstacles against them.  Once her secret is discovered, by a fellow highborn contender, her life gets even more complicated.   As Jessamy struggles with her want to compete, she must fight the urge of The Fives, but also with the want to see the boy she cannot.

When a death causes a life twist to Jessamy and her sisters, she both gets what she’s always wanted and also what she’s always feared – how does she choose between her dream and her personal freedom or her devotion to her family?

This is action, entertainment, character growth, and facing how allegiances made from the strangest of partners can be the strongest of partners [see, Shakespearean]. The writing is both old fashioned and beautiful, similarly as Jane Austen or other period pieces.  I have a new insult: “Your argument is a sieve that cannot hold water”

There are plenty of twists, dangers to overcome, but mostly Jess learns that decisions aren’t always clear and even after made, sometimes there was no choice at all, but an unfortunate ending to those who do not control their own lives.


Series continues with: Poisoned Blade and a 3rd untitled.

The Cipher – John C. Ford

Action, Award Nominee, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Any fan of action plots, computer geeks and techy secrets, and a discovery that would both break into any computer account or basic internet connections will find this fast paced plot entertaining – oh, there’s also a mysterious death and a beautiful girl.

Smiles is the misfit son of a successful, computer systems genius millionaire. On a whim to accompany his neighbor genius to a math conference (because it’s in Vegas and he’s a gambler), Smiles and Ben not only cause a scene at the conference, but Ben has uncovered a cipher that can break into any bank account, computer account, online anything.  And then Smiles has the plan to sell it and make his own millions, away from his father’s company.  So they try to deal with the government, which you know isn’t going to go smoothly.

The other part of the plot is Smile’s ex-girlfriend Melanie who is uncovering a mystery of her own dealing with the company Smile’s dad created and her dad’s employer.  There’s a suicide decades ago that seems to have raised questions recently.  Also,  a secret letter Smiles was to receive when he turned 18 was destroyed by his father and Melanie is piecing together clues of what that suicide has to do with her father and Smile’s dad.

Vegas, disappearances, and a code to break the internet accounts and government records…. it will certainly appeal to fans of mysteries, those who believe in conspiracy theories, and any misfit trying to find his identity.  What makes it special is the twist.  It all comes full circle and besides a lovely plot wrap up, the reader will see how good guys can sometimes be bad and how bad guys can sometimes be good people.  A mind blowing realization that even a cipher couldn’t uncover.

Forbidden – Eve Bunting

Award Nominee, families, Female Leads, Read-a-Likes, Young Readers

It is 1807 in Edinburgh, Scotland and Josie, a recent orphan is carted off to an unknown uncle and aunt to live for the next two years until she becomes of age.  Immediately Josie sees how her life is to change.  Not just in wealth and love, but also in expected behavior and told to be a participant of a continuing crime.

Soon Josie learns the truth of her uncle’s “fishing” and a town secret is uncovered.  The story is a short one with a little mystery involved, but the length does not leave any element or secret uncovered.  It focuses more on Josie who grows from a formal, privileged girl of wealth into one who is strong, determined, and focused on doing the right thing.  In one moment she finds her inner will – both confident against her rough aunt or uncle but also against their fierce dog, mistakenly named Lamb.   She is offered a little kindness from Eli, the boy her uncle and the town warn her against, and his grandmother who know the truth of the town’s pillaging.

This is a safe little mystery for young readers.  With only a hint of romance, but a larger focus on finding the courage to do what is right even if it means you must do it alone.  Not as Dark as Seraphina and the Black Cloak, but a similar mystery and young girl who lives to do what is right in the world.

 

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans – Don Brown

Award Nominee, graphic novel

This is an honest, detailed portrayal of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath in New Orleans.  As a graphic novel, many teens will enjoy the quick read and illustrations.  Don Brown managed to fit in every aspect and disaster as it occurred in 2005 including how people drowned in their attics, bodies bloated on the streets, President Bush’s comment of “Good Job Brownie” praising the FEMA Director when most of America didn’t think FEMA went in soon enough.

It shows how the people of New Orleans came together to rescue others in their own boats and also the desperation felt by many.  Hospitals are shown caring for patients even as generators failed and machines were not relied upon. Pets being deserted are covered, police deserting the city is shown, lack of food and water is addressed, and I could only think of one or town details that weren’t covered in this book, but it is fabulous.

Don Brown also has 3 pages of source notes and a bibliography which will help justify a graphic novel acting as a legitimate source.

Awards:  Sibert Honor Book (2016)