Wednesday, January 31, 2024

What's Coming in February?

Gosh, January was cold! I mean, I grew up in Denver and spent enough time traveling through Kansas to know that the temperatures here in the Ozarks aren't really THAT cold. Still, the humidity makes the ice bite to the bone. I went through so much firewood...and built muscles pushing the wheelbarrow up the hill from our barn to the house. Yes, I do some things the old fashioned way, which helps me stay fit. I hope. 

Anyway, it's the month of love and I have a small pile of reads to match the season. Most of these are for the young adults out there, but I managed to get my hands on some titles in other age groups, too. By no means do I only have books circling the theme of love, though. There's adventure, fantasy, nonfiction, contemporary, mystery, and more. Hmm...it does seem I'm missing a scifi read this month, though. Well, March is just around the corner to make up for that.

So, grab a box of chocolates, put some red roses on your table, and cut out tons of paper hearts (my kids loved hanging them everywhere) as we take a glimpse at several reads which will appear this month.




LOVEYKINS

Not only is 'love' in the title, but this book seems to center around the theme completely...not romantic love, though. An elderly woman picks up a baby bird and loves it like her own child until a friendship evolves. It supposedly also includes themes such as letting go. I'm excited to see the illustrations, and the author is known for his quirky tales. Find out more with me on the 3rd.

Picture Book


GAZING AT THE STAR NEXT DOOR

Then, there is, of course, romantic love with rings of Valentine's Day. This read should get super sweet and should get those butterflies fluttering. It circles around two childhood friends, one of which suddenly becomes a star. I'm expecting cuteness, awkward moments, and romance pure. Join me to find out more on the 6th!


Young Adult Graphic Novel / Romance





BILLY AND THE GIANT ADVENTURE

I made a New Year's promise to hit more 'fun' books. This one appears it will deliver. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect, but when I take a look at this gang of kids, ready to tackle anything on their bicycles, it promises to be quite a ride. Find out if it's a read worth getting excited about on the 9th.

Middle Grade Adventure





FROM SAILOR TO SAMURAI

Coming from a newer publisher, who centers around bilingual reads, this one immediately caught my attention. As a mother of a bilingual family, whose members are always adding more languages to their list, these types of books immediately catch my attention. I'm looking forward to diving into it and seeing how it handles this on the 10th.

Children's Bilingual Fiction


ILLUSTRATED GIRL

This one sells as 'a romp in the spirit of The Princess Bride' and is said to be for fans of Terry Prachett and Gail Carson Levine...which I have no idea how that mixes but am super curious to find out. In this tale, a girl enters a book as her favorite character but gets the timing off and is too late...which means the evil dude wins. Now, she has to set everything straight. Somehow. I'll let you in on my thoughts on this one on the 12th.

Young Adult Fantasy





CAMERON AND THE SHADOW WRAITHS

This is the 2nd book in a series and, of course, I didn't read the 1st one because that just wouldn't be me. Anyway, this one is about a bunch of friends and their adventures with monsters and alligators, while hiking...stomping...slushing (?) through the New Orleans' swamp. It promises tons of tension, chills, adventure and heart. We'll find out more on the 17th.


Middle Grade Fantasy





HARVEST HOUSE
 
Before we head into March, I wanted to make sure to squeeze in a thrilling mystery, and this one caught my eye. It swirls around an Indian myth, murder, hauntings, and racism, too. I'm expecting more than a few creeps and scares. So, join me for this one on the 27th.


Young Adult Paranormal Thriller









And as always, I have a joker read. Since my reading pile seems to be a never-ending tower and there's no way I could get to each and every book each month, I choose out something I am dying to read and will manage to squeeze in at one point, no matter what. Honestly, the publishing world is volatile, which means that my schedule shifts and twists all the time. So, it's not hard to find a chance to slide my joker read in. I just never know when it will happen.



While browsing around for possible Valentine Day's reads, I happened across this title on my Libby App. Yep, it's a library read! I love tales surrounding food (maybe because I love food?) and baking cakes appeals to my sweet tooth. Add that this is a graphic novel and promises some humor mixed into the fun, and I was more than happy to borrow a copy and dive in.
Whether or not it's worth a read? We'll find out. When? I have no clue.


Young Adult Romance / Graphic Novel




 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Mommy and Daddy's Day with The Book Censor's Library by Bothayna Al-Essa!

It's Mommy and Daddy's Day! What is that? Well, every so often, I post a book, which is intended for adult readers—after all, Moms and Dads like to read, too. These books do not contain anything 'worse' than the usual young adult read. So, these don't need to be hidden under the bed and can be read by YA readers if desired.

Today's read comes from a publisher I'm always keeping my eyes on, since it specializes in reads translated into English from other languages/cultures. These titles have already proven themselves in their own countries (and sometimes, more than that). Today's read comes from Kuwait (Arabic) and swings into a dystopian world. The main theme surrounds the question of censorship and freedom of speech, and should leave with plenty of food for thought.

 


THE BOOK CENSOR'S LIBRARY
by Bothayna Al-Essa
Translated by Ranya Abdelrahman and Sawad Hussain
Restless Books
Dystopian
272 pages


COMING...
APRIL 2nd!!!



A perilous and fantastical satire of banned books, secret libraries, and the looming eye of an all-powerful government. The new book censor hasn’t slept soundly in weeks. By day he combs through manuscripts at a government office, looking for anything that would make a book unfit to publish―allusions to queerness, unapproved religions, any mention of life before the Revolution. By night the characters of literary classics crowd his dreams, and pilfered novels pile up in the house he shares with his wife and daughter. As the siren song of forbidden reading continues to beckon, he descends into a netherworld of resistance fighters, undercover booksellers, and outlaw librarians trying to save their history and culture.

Reckoning with the global threat to free speech and the bleak future it all but guarantees, Bothayna Al-Essa marries the steely dystopia of Orwell’s 1984 with the madcap absurdity of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland , resulting in a dreadful twist worthy of Kafka. The Book Censor’s Library is a warning call and a love letter to stories and the delicious act of losing oneself in them.

GOODREADS     /     RESTLESS BOOKS


MY TIDBITS


These pages catch readers in a whirlwind of literary delights, while revealing the danger of censorship's dark claws.

The New Book Censor was hoping to be on the frontline of dangerous book defense and scope out illegal finds in bookstores. Instead, he's placed on the more hidden position as a book censor. No book is allowed into the world without passing a censor's strict and controlled rulebook. While it might seem like a safe and tedious job, the risk is deadly. Books have been known to suck their readers into their ideas and nonsense...so much so that readers, who enjoy books, are driven to madness. The New Book Censor refuses to let this happen to him, especially since he has a wife and child. But he also harbors secrets. Not only does his child have a strong imagination, which should have been reported long before, but a book wormed its way into his heart and started the madness censors fear most.

The translators deserve special kudos on this one. The read is packed to the gills with literary Easter eggs, metaphors, and other devices. Plus, it holds clever humor and more than a few nods and sayings, all of which flow smoothly without any obvious hiccups or stutters.

Books and their censorship fall into a dystopian world, where imagination isn't allowed any more than thoughts of improvement or individualism. The message concerning the danger of the control of speech is clear and loud, and that while weaving an original tale with quite a few unexpected moments. While it's always clear what the author's message is, the tale is like jumping down a rabbit's hole. Fantasy, words, and reality collide with a fever-dream atmosphere, which borders on ridiculousness but plants enough roots in life struggles to keep the tension and danger clear.

While the literary end is a reader's treat, the story of the New Censor also grabs. His hopes to simply do his new job well meet one unexpected hurdle after the next. It's hard not to feel for him as he tries to fight for his daughter, keep his sanity, and not follow the ill-fallen footsteps of some of his predecessors. The heavier side of the story hits hard against the unexpected humor and situations. It's an interesting balance, which questions the border between dream and reality, while adding fuel for deeper thought. It's not a light read but propels forward at a steady pace, keeping the readers in the pages until the very end.



And here they are...

Bothayna Al-Essa is the bestselling Kuwaiti author of nearly a dozen novels and additional children’s books. She is also the founder of Takween, a bookshop and publisher of critically acclaimed works. Her most recent book, The Book Censor’s Library won the Sharjah Award for Creativity in the novel category in 2021 and is her third novel to appear in English, after Lost in Mecca and All That I Want to Forget. Al-Essa was author-in-residence at the British Centre for Literary Translation for the summer of 2023, and the recipient of Kuwait’s Nation Encouragement Award for her fiction in 2003 and 2012. She has written books on writing and led writing workshops throughout the Arab world.

Sawad Hussain is a translator from Arabic whose work has been recognised by English PEN, the Anglo-Omani Society and the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, among others. She is a judge for the Palestine Book Awards and the 2023 National Translation Award. She has run translation workshops under the auspices of Shadow Heroes, Africa Writes, Shubbak Festival, the Yiddish Book Center, the British Library, and the National Centre for Writing. Her most recent translations include Black Foam by Haji Jaber (AmazonCrossing) and What Have You Left Behind by Bushra al-Maqtari (Fitzcarraldo Editions). She was selected to be the Princeton Translator in Residence in 2025. She is based in Cambridge, U.K. and her website is sawadhussain.com.

Ranya Abdelrahman is a translator of Arabic literature into English. After working for more than sixteen years in the information technology industry, she changed careers and joined the Emirates Literature Foundation to pursue her interest in books and promoting reading. She discovered her passion for translation during her time at the Foundation, where she worked as Programme Manager, and later Head of Education and Publishing. Abdelrahman has published translations in ArabLit Quarterly and The Common, and is the translator of Out of Time, a short story collection by iconic Palestinian author Samira Azzam. She is based in Dubai in the U.A.E.













 

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Today's read... The Night Whale by Bryher Mackenzie

Today's read is one that readers will still need to have a bit of patience before they can pick it up...but isn't the anticipation often as fun as the event itself? I saw this book while shuffling through upcoming reads and was so taken in by the cover that I had to take a peek. I'm hoping this is one, which invites to dreams. Let's take a look and see what this whale is all about.



THE NIGHT WHALE
by Bryher Mackenzie
Illustrated by Gillian Eilidh O'Mara
Walker Books
Picture Book
32 pages
ages 3 to 7

COMING...
EARLY JUNE!!!

And I know then what the Night Whale is saying. I understand. "Anything is possible."

A grandmother and grandchild look out for the Night Whale, a magical sky creature last seen when Nana was a child herself. The story transports the reader off to a world of wonder and beauty, as they soar over cities and landscapes on the back of the Night Whale, far away from home and back again. This is a beautifully lyrical and stunningly illustrated picture book about adventures and moving on, helping children to come to terms with saying goodbye, and the majestic Night Whale's reassuring message is that anything is possible.


WALKER BOOKS


MY TIDBITS

This is a beautifully illustrated read, which invites to fantasy and dreams.

A little girl is excited as she heads to the hill with her grandmother. They have hot chocolate, a blanket, and are ready to wait for an amazing moment to touch the stars above. Then, it's there, the thing her grandmother has waited for the last years—the Night Whale. It's amazing to watch, and that's already enough to make the girl smile, but then, it offers both her grandmother and her a ride. 

This makes an excellent, bedtime read. The text carries a poetic flow as it follows the girl and her grandmother from star-gazing to the fantastical ride on the whale through the sky. The words, however, take a more background role as the illustrations carry each magical scene and lead the reader on the imaginative journey. These are beautifully done and invite to endless possibilities, where nothing is impossible. Dreams open up, while offering a sense of calmness on every page.

There's a loving relationship between the grandmother and her grandchild, which whispers of wisdom and trust. It's warming and full of good feelings. There is a hint of future hope to round things off in a very positive way and promises of so much more to come. As the last page ends, good dreams seem very near.

Today's read... Claude and Medea: The Hellburn Dogs by Zoe Weil

Today's read should slide into adventure and address some important themes.  I'll admit that I'm not really sure what to expect but was drawn by the promise of a strange teacher, criminals, and friendship. Okay, the two dogs on the cover might have piqued my interest, too. I'm going to settle down by my fireplace (while it is definitely warmer than last week, the rain is never-ending today) and see what these pages hold




CLAUDE & MEDEA:
The Hellburn Dogs
by Zoe Weil
Lantern Publishing & Media
Middle Grade Contemporary
118 pages
ages 8 to 12











Claude and Medea aren’t expecting an odd substitute teacher to change their lives. Nor are they anticipating the dangerous adventure in store for them. They seem like normal kids. But are they? Claude has famous parents and sticks to the rules. Medea’s got a scholarship to a fancy private school and can’t get in trouble. How is it that they are thrown together, trying to outsmart Manhattan criminals? And why do they care so much about the weird Ms. Rattlebee? Find out what makes this unlikely pair begin to view the world differently, and to risk everything.

GOODREADS    /    AMAZON     /    LANTERN BOOKS


MY TIDBITS

After balancing on the edge of science fiction, this read dives into adventure, heroism, and making the world a better place.

Claude and Medea are in the same class but don't have anything to do with each other. When a strange substitute teacher enters the classroom, not only are surprises guaranteed but her words pack food-for-thought. Both Claude and Medea find themselves more touched by the words than most of their classmates. This heads into an unexpected friendship. Despite the secrets each wants to hide, walls drop when they run across a situation, they can't ignore. Soon, Claude and Medea are working together to solve a crime, which will take more than just a few good intentions to crack.

While this read is short, it is jammed full. It starts with Claude, letting his life and personality gain footing with the reader before the odd teacher steps in. Then, Medea gets her chance to shine, although this takes a bit more time. Told in third person, both characters gain depth and personality, and both are easy to root for. It's inspiring to watch how their two, very-different worlds meld together in time to the growing tension of the plot. It makes for a nice balance and keeps the story interesting the entire way through.

Claude and Medea might have to work together to catch a dangerous criminal, but the tension and excitement rotating around that plot-string is only one layer of the tale. The author begins with the strange teacher, who almost tips things into science fiction but shifts into another direction and hits themes surrounding the environment, kindness, and dealing with the world around us. Just when it starts sinking heavily into pointed messages, it shifts again. In some ways, it left a few strings feeling unaddressed...as if casting a wide net to hit many aspects. Still, the increasing pace pushes through and makes it hard to put the read down.

Summed up, this tale hits a huge span of modern concerns, sows seeds of thought, adds a bit of humor, and heads into adventure with tension, too. And all of that in a concise page amount, which won't scare more reluctant readers away.



And here she is...

Zoe Weil (pronounced “Zoh While”) is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) and is considered a pioneer in the comprehensive humane education movement. Zoe created IHE’s M.Ed., M.A., and graduate certificate programs, as well as IHE’s Solutionary Framework, which guides teachers in bringing solutionary thinking and action to their students.


Saturday, January 27, 2024

Today's read... Little Shrew by Akiko Miyakoshi

It's a book about a shrew! When I saw today's read, I had to snatch the chance to take a peek. I find the cover so well done and have the sneaking suspicion the illustrations are going to be a treat. Plus, it's a shrew! How often does one find this little guy as the star of a picture book? Let's just open it up and take a glance because I'm kind of stuck on the shrew wonderfulness.



LITTLE SHREW
by Akiko Miyakoshi
Kids Can Press
Picture Book
72 pages
ages 4 to 8


COMING...
JUNE 4th!!!


Akiko Miyakoshi returns with a beguiling, quietly magical appreciation of life’s little pleasures. Little Shrew is diligent in all parts of life. He’s a hard worker and follows a strict schedule from morning to night. But even a life that runs like clockwork can be filled with unexpected pockets of joy, such as solving a puzzle for the very first time, enjoying the scent of freshly baked bread, seeing the vast beauty of a shimmering blue ocean or delighting in a visit with friends. This collection of three short stories — perfect for emerging readers — is illustrated in Miyakoshi’s signature soft monochrome palette with pops of color. The charming tales celebrate enduring friendships, dreams for the future and the little pleasures that make everyday life more meaningful.



MY TIDBITS

The hum-drum of life comes across with little hints of joy in this beautifully illustrated book.

Little Shrew enjoys the routine of his life and often does the same things every day. It's calm and reassuring. Ever so often, something different and unexpected happens, and it's these small things which make every moment with cherishing.

Little Shrew is adorable and his timid nature makes him easy to like and want to almost snuggle up to. He's perfect for delivering the theme of this story, which centers around the routine of daily life and how little changes really and quite a bit of joy. To drive this home, the tale is divided into three parts. The first takes the reader through a usual day. The second has a small tale about him happening to see a show on TV. The third has the excitement of  guests stopping by. Each one is its own tale...three stories in one book...which also explains the longer length of over seventy pages.

The text is age appropriate and flows smoothly. It describes each situation with a hint of a smile, making a nice read-aloud, especially for those quieter, calming moments. Beginning readers, who are surer of their words, will find many familiar moments and terms to help build reading experience and those word skills. 

But it's the illustrations which make this read. The images stay in clear but gentle tones to add the soft atmosphere, while making Little Shrew intelligent and cute. Placing him among humans as the only animal gives it a special touch and adds to the curiosity to draw in. It's fun just to thumb through these and gaze at them.

The ideas surrounding the enjoyment of the small wonders of life and finding the happiness in routine are well presented, but this isn't necessarily a read for those with a shorter attention span. The first tale really goes through his daily routine with only very subtle surprises, which won't excite all readers of the age group. While 'excitement' is added with the television discovery in the second read, it also never hit any heights (it left me feeling disappointed with only the small happenings of the last scene). The last read adds more, but even here, it remains on the calmer end and slides back into the delight of a normal life. 

It's an adorable read, a calming read, and a wonderfully illustrated read, which will work better with some listeners than many others.



And here she is...

Akiko Miyakoshi (1982–) was born in Saitama Prefecture, and graduated from the Department of Visual Communication Design at Musashino Art University. Her picture book Taifū ga kuru (Typhoon Comes) won the Nissan Children’s Storybook and Picture Book Grand Prix in 2009, and her Mori no oku no ochakai e (The Tea Party in the Woods) garnered the Japan Picture Book Awards Grand Prize in 2011. Her other works include Piano no happyōkai (Piano Recital) and Kore dare no? (Whose Is This?).

Friday, January 26, 2024

Today's read... There's No Such Thing as Vegetables by Kyle Lukoff

Today's read hit my radar just a few days after my one son and I had a discussion over the definition of vegetables—he's in college studying science, so it wasn't hit lightly. As a kid, I always questioned the definitions surrounding fruit and vegetables, since they never seemed to make true sense. This book dives into the theme, and maybe will give some insight? Or maybe say what my son and I also decided?

Well, let's just find out!



THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS VEGETABLES
by Kyle Lukoff
Illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi
Henry Holt & Co.
Picture Book
40 pages
ages 4 to 8

COMING...
FEBRUARY 27th!!!


A hilarious new picture book that exposes vegetables for what they truly are―leaves, roots, flowers, and stalks―by National Book Award Finalist and Newbery Honor winner Kyle Lukoff, perfect for fans of the Our Universe series.

Chester plans to have a salad for lunch, but in order to do that, he'll need vegetables. So, off he goes to the community garden, except he quickly learns that he won't be dressing a salad anytime soon. Instead, the vegetables start dressing him down. According to them, "vegetables" don't exist!

I know what you are What the bell pepper? Vegetables are totally real! But here's the Kale is just a leaf, broccoli is a flower, potatoes are roots, and celery...well, stalks. Thanks to a lively, sassy cast of talking "veggies," Chester learns a valuable lesson about categories and how they shape our understanding of the world.

With a slyly informative text and illustrations that will crack readers up, the schooling in There's No Such Thing As Vegetables will be easy to digest and is a total treat.



MY TIDBITS

Plant and food science come across in a delightful way with humor and some serious food for thought.

Chester's mother sends him to the garden to pick vegetables for their salad. Of course, he isn't going to pick anything without asking first (how rude would that be?), but when he tells each 'vegetable' what he's looking for, they send him away with a solid explanation of why they aren't a vegetable. Cauliflower, lettuce, and even the peas send him away, but with such a huge garden, there must be veggies somewhere.

While talking vegetables/fruits/leaves/roots/stalks/whatnots could border on cliche, this book branches off in a great mix of humor and facts. It's hard not to smile as Chester heads out to the garden with his mother's orders and a basket in arm because it's clear that things aren't going to go smoothly. And he has such good intentions! His politeness and kindness makes him sympathetic, and it's hard not to hope he can find a few veggies for the salad. As each veggie/fruit/...well, you get the idea...explains why they don't fit into the veggie category, they never come off as rude or snarky. Their arguments are simple, clear, cute and make sense, and these are supported with just the right amount of scientific facts for readers to understand exactly what's going on. There's a little bit of botany , but it remains basic and flows seamlessly into the humorous tale.  

The illustrations are bright and playful, making each item easy to identify while bringing it to life. The scientific aspects are clearly portrayed, when needed, to aide in understanding, but these stay fun, too. Some of the veggies/fruits/etc will be familiar, while others might need to be identified, which is another learning chance for young readers.

It's a cute read to use for story time and also works well as an original way to lead into the theme of fruits versus vegetables for groups settings. It promotes critical thinking and opens up the chance for discussions and, maybe, even the first hints of debate. For a seemingly simple, humorous book, it packs more than is obvious at the first glance.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Today's read... Unstuck by Barbara Dee

Today's read circles around a girl, who dreams of becoming a writer. So, yes, it caught my interest just b because of that. Plus, there's something about the cover, which has me looking back it again and again. Maybe the little dragon? Or maybe the flowers. I do enjoy yellow flowers. Anyway, I'm expecting themes surrounding friendship and other common, middle school issues. Knowing this author, it will be well done, too.

So, off we go and see if it grabs or not!


UNSTUCK
by Barbara Dee
Aladdin
Middle Grade Contemporary
320 pages
ages 8 to 12


COMING...
FEBRUARY 27th!!!





From critically acclaimed author Barbara Dee comes a middle grade novel about a girl whose struggles with writer’s block set off unexpected twists and turns, both on and off the page.

Lyla is thrilled when her seventh-grade English language arts class begins a daily creative writing project. For the past year, she’s been writing a brilliant fantasy novel in her head, and here’s her chance to get it on paper! The plot to Lyla’s novel is super complicated, with battle scenes and witches and a mysterious one-toed-beast, but at its core, it’s about an overlooked girl who has to rescue her beautiful, highly accomplished older sister.

But writing a fantasy novel turns out to be harder than simply imagining one, and pretty soon Lyla finds herself stuck, experiencing a panic she realizes is writer’s block. Part of the problem is that she’s trying to impress certain people—like Rania, her best friend who’s pulling away, and Ms. Bowman, the coolest teacher at school. Plus, there’s the pressure of meeting the deadline for the town writing contest. A few years ago, Lyla’s superstar teen sister Dahlia came in second, and this time, Lyla is determined to win first prize.

Finally, Lyla confides about her writing problems to Dahlia, who is dealing with her own academic stress as she applies to college. That’s when she learns Dahlia’s secret, which is causing a very different type of writer’s block. Can Lyla rescue a surprisingly vulnerable big sister, both on the page and in real life?

GOODREADS   /    PUBLISHER



MY TIDBITS

Life is anything but calm as a girl chases her writing dreams, while reality plays its own complicated twists and turns around her.

Lyla's entire life is off-balance with her best friend in a different school and her parents stressing out over her older sister's college preparations. At least, Lyla has the English writing assignment under control. After all, the most awesome story idea is waiting in her head to turn into written words. Except that getting the right words down is harder than she thought. Writer's block hits hard after the first sentence, not that she'll admit it...that's if she had someone to admit it to. While her best friend is finding new friends, which have nothing in common with Lyla, Lyla only seems to be somewhat-ish connecting with a girl, who has more animals than a zoo. All Lyla wants is someone to share her writing highs and lows with, but nobody seems to care. Not that it matters. If things continue, she won't have any friends left, anyway.

Lyla is a very, normal seventh grader, who is easy to connect with. The writing comes across naturally, as if Lyla were someone right in the room. It's written from her point of view, and during the first pages, she addresses the reader as if they were her friends. After this, it switches gears smoothly, and she dives into the story.  

Many readers will find something in Lyla they can see in their own lives. She has a loving family but not a perfect one, especially since her older sister and parents can't seem to agree. Then, there's the entire friend drama, which is a very real problem for this age group as friendships change as fast as the kids do themselves. The insecurities are understandable and easy to relate to. especially since no one seems to 'get' Lyla. This is, again, something many readers of the age group will have no problem seeing in their own lives and be curious to see how Lyla deals with it.

It's a quick, easy read thanks to the lighter writing style. Lyla comes across open and honest. Sometimes, she gets a bit off track, while others, she lets her drama-side flow. It adds the right amount of humor (along with Journey's animals) to add smiles and keep the story light. The messages are wholesome and surround family and friendship. Plus, there's an awesome teacher involved, too.

While readers, who dream of becoming writers, will see quite a bit of themselves in Lyla (and catch a few writing hints along the way), fans of friendship problems will also enjoy this one quite a bit.


And here she is...

Barbara Dee is the author of fourteen middle grade novels including Unstuck, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet, Violets Are BlueMy Life in the Fish TankMaybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About YouHalfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews and have been named to many best-of lists, including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Today's read... Shock Wave by Sigmund Brouwer

Today's read is a quick dive into a thriller for young adults. Sometimes, a short read is all that's necessary, and this one is, hopefully, that. I'm expecting thrilling moments, high tension, and some action, too. Let's see if it can deliver all of that in under 150 pages.



SHOCK WAVE
by Sigmund Brouwer
Orca Book Publishers
YA Thriller
144 pages


COMING...
AUGUST 13th!!!



It’s the first week of summer and former army brat Jake Ballard is spending it alone at his uncle’s cottage while his mom gets treatment for PTSD.
Jake's boring day gets flipped upside down when a beautiful stranger asks him to help play a prank on her friends. But when an angry crime boss turns up at the cottage the next morning, Jake is sure of two things: the night before was a big mistake, and that girl was no prankster. And she is nowhere to be found.
Jake has twenty-four hours to return the stolen goods...or else. He has no other choice but to find the girl—and hopefully not find himself in any more trouble than he’s already in.


MY TIDBITS

The tension soars high in this fast-paced read, where nothing is as it seems.

Jake's done with high school and isn't sure what to do next, especially since his mother is at treatment for PTSD thanks to her experiences as a military nurse. Luckily, his uncle has a small hut next to a dock, where he can take a quiet brake from life and think about things. When a strange girl convinces him to help her carry out a prank, he does his best to make sure everything's above board. Until it isn't. Suddenly, he finds himself threatened over stolen goods he knows nothing about, but if he doesn't figure it out within 24-hours, everything's going to go up in smoke around him.

This is part of a series of books put out by Orca Publishing, which gives intense stories for teens while keeping them accessible to those readers, who might still be struggling a bit. ..and it does an amazing job at it. Not only is it under 150 pages (no big book scares) and has a slightly larger font than many reads, but it soars along smoothly and grabs on every page. 

Jake is an easy-to-grasp-guy, who is just trying to figure out life...like so many his age. When things go array, it isn't because he acted 'stupid' but was really going against someone above his level. It makes him easy to stand with and root for. He comes across as naturally as the guy next door and his decisions, for the most part, make perfect sense.

It was hard to put this read down thanks to the high-tension and pacing. Every moment heads into another difficult turn, and there's even a bit of a mystery to keep the reader wondering how things are going to work out. It's a fun, quick read from beginning to end.



And here he is...

With close to three million books in print, Sigmund Brouwer writes for both children and adults. In the last ten years, he has given writing workshops to students in schools from the Arctic Circle to inner city Los Angeles. One of his latest novels, The Last Disciple, earned Sigmund an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America. Sigmund and his family live half the year in Nashville, Tennessee, and half the year in Red Deer, Alberta. The Talk: Reach for Your Dreams. It doesn't matter where you come from, it's where you decide to go in life that is important. Sigmund Brouwer encourages students to reach for their dreams, giving them fun and practical advice for the reading and writing skills that are the foundation of future success. The Presentation: Sigmund's presentations are an hour of high-level energy. He especially reaches out to reluctant readers and gears the talk to engage their attention. Audience size varies; often his presentations take place in the gym for the entire school, including kindergarten. (After the first half hour, the K-2 grades are dismissed, and the remainder of the presentation is focused on the older students.) There are no restrictions on audience size except for the space limitations of the gym. Smaller schools are welcome to invite another school to share in the cost of the presentation.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Today's read... The Kid by Jeff Schill

There was a time when Wild West movies were the absolute favorite. I've also noticed during the used book sales to support our little, local library that Western novels are grabbed up almost as fast as the romance reads. I'm aware that this is mostly thanks to the much older reading population, but I can't help but wonder if there are still horse-riding, boot-stomping, hat-wielding dreamers out there on the younger end of the age spectrum. If nothing else, it's been a very long time since I've seen a Western read for the middle grade audience hit my radar.  So of course, I picked this one up to take a peek (curiosity gets me every time).

Put on that bandana and get ready for some swirling dust and danger because I'm hoping for an exciting read.



THE KID
by Jeff Schill
Charlesbridge Moves
Upper Middle Grade Western
240 pages
ages 10 and up


COMING...
MAY 7th!!!



The Kid is the quickest draw in the West. Little does anyone know he isn’t real. A fast-paced, cleverly woven, witty middle grade western adventure.

It’s 1881 in Destiny, Colorado. Fourteen-year-old Henry Upton’s parents have died, and he’s trying to keep his three younger brothers together on the farm. Henry writes a story about The Kid, the fastest draw in the West, to keep people away from their parts. But his stories will soon put more than his family and the farm at risk.

Meanwhile, Herbert might lose his job as an editor at Gunslinger Magazine in Philadelphia if he can’t find out why the author of The Kid stories recently stopped sending them. The soft city slicker is headed out west to find the author.

And Snake-Eye Sam has set his sights on The Kid, whom he thinks is real. Sam has evil in his heart and jealousy in his veins. Breaking out of prison to shoot down The Kid is about the only thing that can cure the itch running down Sam’s spine.

Three storylines—plus Gunslinger Magazine‘s The Kid stories—intertwine and come together just as Snake Eye Sam and Herbert both arrive in Destiny. On Main Street at high noon, a master plan is put in place at the same time that Henry and the Destiny sheriff get what they need to keep the Upton brothers together.

Pull up for a tall frothy glass of sarsaparilla and enjoy this engaging and satisfying Western tale, full of quirky characters, snappy dialogue, and heart.



MY TIDBITS

Outlaws barely know what hit them when The Kid keeps law and order in an unexpected way, guaranteeing that those pages keep turning until the very last page.

Henry is only fourteen-years-old, but with the passing of his mother and father, is responsible to care for his three younger brothers and keep the farm going, which isn't a big deal since their father made sure they knew what they were doing. However, the State will see things differently. To keep them from learning about his father's death and taking his brothers away, Henry makes a deal with the Sheriff and writes about a gunslinger, who resides in the area and is able to bring all outlaws to justice, and outlaws will think twice before going to their town. It's a success and soon The Kid becomes a national bestselling series. While most outlaws now steer clear in case The Kid truly appears, there is one who takes it as a challenge and travels far just to get there. And that outlaw breathes to kill.

I picked this one up because it sticks out among the other middle grade reads, and I'm glad I did. I should also mention that I've never really been a huge fan of Wild West stories but was very curious how a gunslinger tale would meld with today's ideologies. This worked better than I expected and was quite the fast-paced, exciting read.

The tale is written from several points of view—Henry, the east coast editor Herbert, and Snake Eye Sam. Each person's nickname (Boy, Editor, etc) is placed at the beginning of the chapter as well as the year and month, since the story doesn't unfold in one timeline. The Kid's fictional story is also included in chapters here and there. These appear in a typewriter-like font and are a nice addition. Not only are tiny aspects from Henry's life woven into The Kid's adventures, but these side tales do add an entertaining and interesting twist while the main story plays out. As to the other perspectives (the main story line), these take place on two different timelines (Henry's tale starts a year before those of Herbert and Snake Eye Sam). While the month and year is stated at the beginning of each chapter as well, the back and forth does make things a bit confusing at first. After the reader figures it out, though, things flow very well.

A fast-paced weave makes the adventure exciting from beginning to end, and the real danger keeps the tension high. Still, the characters aren't forgotten, either. Due to the tale being told in various perspectives, the reader gets to know the main characters well, and, especially Henry, is easy to root for. Henry's character clashes against that of his fictional character, The Kid, and still holds enough small similarities to hit the heart. Henry's desire to keep his brothers safe, his cleverness, and even his mistakes make him easy to sympathize with and support. Herbert also adds an unique sub-plot as he leaves his protected life to travel out West. His journey and views are so different than those of Snake Eye Sam, that it also creates an interesting contrast. As for Snake Eye Sam, he makes a terrific bad guy.

There are a couple of triggers surrounding death of a loved one and violent deaths (thanks to evil Snake Eye Sam), but the read is appropriate for tween and teen audiences. The messages surrounding family and perseverance are inspiring, and there are lovely character arcs for both Henry and Herbert. The high-noon stand-off brings everything to a well-laid peak and closes off with a few extra surprises. 

I was surprised by how much this read pulled me in and do recommend it to adventure and action fans, who would like to try something a bit different. 






 

Monday, January 22, 2024

Today's read... Today by Gabi Snyder

With last night's ice storm, I'm ready to let warmer thoughts soak into today's read. The topic of this picture book is time and the curious way it can seem to pass quickly or slowly. The cover already has a smile forming on my face, and I'm hoping the rest of this book does the same.




TODAY
by Gabi Snyder
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Paula Wiseman Books
Picture Book
40 pages
ages 4 to 8

COMING...
JANUARY 30th!!!


This welcoming and joyful picture book reminds us that every moment can hold many surprises and to look for the wonder in every day.

Today may seem long before leaving for a summer vacation or short during the time away. The moments that make up the day are filled with surprises, joy, fun, and memories. This book guides young readers to keep their eyes and ears open so the day doesn’t slip by.



MY TIDBITS

This is a comforting picture book, which delves into the wonder surrounding the changing perception of how fast or slow time passes.

Written in beautiful, flowing prose, this book journeys through different experiences, all of which readers can identify with and find familiar in their own lives. From the boredom of seemingly never-ending car rides to fun moments, while playing with friends, or even to the worries of anticipation, various situations demonstrate how the perception of time changes. Sometimes it's fast. Sometimes it's slow. It draws readers/listeners into thought and helps them recognize this in their own lives.

The illustrations carry careful details and make every scene vibrant in its own way. It's enjoyable to simply flip through the pages and let each moment settle in. There are situations readers can recognize from their own lives (or similar situations) and will be able to connect with the experience of passing time without too much trouble. The text flows extremely well with only a bit on each page, making this a great read aloud for even impatient audiences. It's warming, comforting, and enjoyable for both the listener and older/adult readers as well.


And here they are...

Gabi Snyder is the author of several picture books, including Two Dogs on a TrikeListenToday, and Look. She studied psychology at the University of Washington and creative writing at The University of Texas and is a member of SCBWI. When she’s not writing, she loves taking nature walks, visiting Little Free Libraries, and baking sweet treats. She lives in Oregon with her family. Learn more at GabiSnyder.com.

Stephanie Graegin is the illustrator of numerous books for children, including Super Manny Stands Up! by Kelly DiPucchio; Water in the Park by Emily Jenkins; Happy Birthday, Bunny! by Liz Garton Scanlon; Peace Is an Offering by Annette LeBox; and Listen by Gabi Snyder. She earned her BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and her MFA in printmaking from Pratt Institute, and she currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit her at Graegin.com.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Today's read... StarPassage: The Relic by Clark Rich Burbidge

Today's read should be an interesting one with unique twists and turns. I have read works from this author before and enjoyed his tales. This one heads in a science fiction direction and sends the main characters onto a trip through time. It involves a Christmas ornament (which kind of made me blink the first time I read the blurb after seeing the cover), but then, I don't have the impression that it's really a Christmas story. It does involve themes surround PTSD, which with my own son in the army isn't an unknown topic, and I know several families who deal with this. So, that aspect caught my attention. I'm not sure how all of this will mold together, but I'm excited to find out.




THE RELIC
StarPassage, Book One 
by Clark Rich Burbidge
Middle Grade Science Fiction / Religious / Time Travel
290 pages
ages 9 to 16










Teenagers Tim and Martie are desperate to end their parents’ downward spiral. Between their father’s PTSD and their mother’s depression, their family has reached a breaking point. Then an ancient Christmas ornament reveals its secrets, sending the siblings across the centuries on a search for hope. But Tim and Martie aren’t the only ones hunting through time. They’re being watched by dark figures—Trackers doomed to haunt history. These Trackers believe the teens’ ornament is their key to freedom, and they will do whatever it takes to steal it. What begins as an exciting adventure becomes a deadly race. Can Tim and Martie find the answers they seek before their enemy finds them? 

GOODREADS     /     AMAZON


   MY TIDBITS 

Action, time travel, history, family love, and rediscovering the hope only God can offer mix into an unique tale with unexpected twists and turns from beginning to end.

It's Christmas, but Tim and Martie can't feel anything surrounding the season's spirit. Family life is more than difficult with their father's PTSD, due to his military experiences, and their mother's depression. While wishing there was a way to get things back toward a normality, they discover a message etched into the back of the star on their tree. Before the know it, they're pulled through time. The Star makes it clear that it is leading them on a helpful path, which involves meeting historic figures and experiencing certain events. While this might offer the family a chance to heal, it's not exactly a safe undertaking. Not only can everything they do alter time in unknown ways, but the situations themselves become more dangerous with each visit, especially with the evil Trackers are on their tails. These shadow creatures live in the darkness of time and will do anything to get their hands on the Star.

The first pages hit a couple grabbing scenes. This (I'm going to call it) prologue sets the atmosphere and adds a bit of background but was also a little confusing since the real story starts when the characters appear. When Tim and Martie come in, the atmosphere shifts and soon gains sympathy and pulls at the heart strings. From there, the time travel starts but with clear purpose thanks to the messages, which appear on the Star. With each trip, the tension builds, allowing the reader to sink into both the characters and the story. While one aspect of the plot seems to be improving and finding a solution, another one digs in deeper and deeper. It makes it hard to put this read down and exciting to see what will happen next. 

There's an interesting weave of aspects, which despite their extreme differences, somehow come together well. While the Christmas season launches and ends everything, the plot centers around the year in between. So, it's not really a Holiday read. Instead, the main theme in this first read centers around the father's struggles with PTSD and the mother's depression. These are realistically and well-done...and themes which will hit home for certain readers. The religious aspect grounds and flows smoothly into the plot,  offering hope and encouragement with a wholesome dusting. Then, there's the scifi/time travel end, which adds an entirely different direction. Not only does this weave in lesser known moments of history, but then, even takes an exciting, fantastical twists with the evil Trackers. These shadows add constantly building tension and danger, putting more than the lives of Time and Martie on the line. 

This is sold as a read for 9 to 16 year-olds, but I'd put it into the solid, middle grade category. Tim and Martie (especially Martie) come across younger than teens. I was surprised when I revisited the blurb after reading this and discovered that Martie was even a teen. The subject material starts softer but does get more aggressive as the story goes on. Still, even this isn't beyond the middle grade range and will keep readers in the pages. This promises to be an exciting series with much more to come.



And here he is...

Contributor Bios Clark Burbidge was born and raised in the mountain valleys of the Rockies. He earned an MBA from the University of Southern California and a BS from the University of Utah. Clark and his wife, Leah, live near Salt Lake City, Utah, where they enjoy their blended family of ten children and five grandchildren. StarPassage is Clark’s seventh book. His award-winning works include the Giants in the Land trilogy and A Piece of A Story of Christ.