Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: The Seventh Wish

The Seventh Wish
Kate Messner
Bloomsbury USA Children's, 2016
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Family, Drug Abuse
Source: Purchased
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

All Charlie wants is a new Irish dance dress for her upcoming competition--and a little more attention from her parents.  This year is a little rough because her sister Abby just started college and Charlie is used to having her there.  With her next door neighbor and his grandma, she starts ice fishing in hopes of selling the fish to earn money for her dress.  When she catches her first fish it's small and calls out to her to release it in exchange for a wish.  Charlie wishes, not expecting anything to happen, but when her wish does come true it's not exactly the wish she had wanted.  Willing to try again, Charlie starts making wishes to help her friends, but they aren't exactly working.  Then her sister comes home from college and things are suddenly pulled out from under Charlie when she finds out that Abby is battling a drug addiction.  Can her wishes help cure her sister and make everything the way it used to be? 

I loved this book.  Charlie is your typical middle school student.  She is focused on school and dance and wants more of her parents' attention.  When her dance competition is pushed aside for her parents' work and personal commitments, she accepts it, but she's not happy about it.  She wants to be with her friends and do a good job on her science project.  When Charlie and her parents discover that Abby is addicted to heroin, life gets harder.  Now instead of spending Sundays working on her science project and going to dance class, Charlie is at Abby's rehab for visitors' day.  Instead of worrying about dance and homework, she's worrying about if her sister will get better.

This book is a great look at what it's like to have a family struggling with an addiction.  It's not just Abby struggling; her entire family is having a hard time as well.  Charlie is embarrassed to tell her friends what's going on and she's having problems getting her homework done on the weekends.  Another dance competition is coming up and she desperately wants to go, but she won't be able to if Abby is still in rehab.  Her parents are trying to get insurance to pay for the program that Abby is in and everyone is trying to understand how this happened.

Kate Messner has taken a very serious and difficult topic and woven it into Charlie's life.  Ultimately this book isn't about drug addiction, but about a girl who really wants a new dress for dance so she can move up to the next level.  It's about Charlie, who is trying to wish all the bad stuff away for her friends and herself and realizing that it doesn't really work that way.

Abby's addiction is presented in a way that is appropriate for middle grade readers and it's very likely that kids will relate to what Charlie experiences as they see family members who struggle with different addictions.  I think it's extremely important that kids see themselves in what they read, and these are, unfortunately, experiences that some kids have.  They need those reflections in literature.  It's definitely a book I'll be sharing with my 6th graders this year as I use it for a Read Aloud in the fall.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Book Review: The Mark of Athena

The Mark of Athena

Rick Riordan
Disney-Hyperion, 2012
Source: Purchased
Genre: Fantasy, Mythology, Middle Grade
Rating: 4 out of 5

In the third book of the Heroes of Olympus, the seven heroes finally unite in order to stop Gaea from rising, but not without some hitches.  For one, Leo has kind of started a war between the Romans and the Greeks and not only do they need to accomplish their mission, they need to make sure they don't die so they can go back and save Camp Halfblood and stop and the war.  Piper knows that things will go badly, she's seen it, but she doesn't really know how that's supposed to help them avoid it.  And Annabeth has her own special mission that means she'll have to leave her friends in order to finish it--if she can't it's all for nothing.  But can a group of Romans and Greeks really keep it together long enough to stop Gaea and find the doors of death?

I love love love love love love love love love love love love love Rick Riordan.  I may be going a bit overboard with that, but I really do.  He is such a terrific storyteller!  I know I've said this before, multiple time, but I just can't get over how well he does this.

In this book, we're finally back with Annabeth who is struggling because she's happy to be leader and have Percy back at her side, but she knows she'll have to leave them soon.  If they can even reach their destination.  I felt there was more "romantic" stuff in this book between Annabeth and Percy.  Now, by more, I don't mean that it suddenly turns into a romance.  The focus is still on the mission and the adventures that ensue because of that is what drives the story, but it's still there--more so than in previous Percy Jackson books.

Piper is my least favorite character.  She didn't seem as strong as she did in the first book.  I was ready to skim through her parts a lot more, but kept myself from doing so.

Leo is still my favorite!  He's always making mistakes, which I appreciate.  He is far from perfect and he kind of embraces that when it's possible.  Leo is also the odd man out, which makes me feel sad for him, but he starts coming into his own in this book a little more.  He's in control of their ship and saves the day a few times.

So in conclusion, I love this series.  One day I will finish it.  There is so much that happens in each book that they're pretty long and so it takes me awhile to get through one of them.  I'll try get the fourth book read before the end of the year.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Audiobook Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World

Vivian Apple at the End of the World

Katie Coyle
Narrated by Julia Whelan
Dreamscape Media LLC, 2015
Genre: Post-Apocalypse, YA, Science Fiction
Source: Audiofile, SYNC free downloads
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In the alternative world of Vivian Apple, the Church of America has led much of the world to believe that "The Rapture" will be coming.  Vivian does not believe, despite the other predictions that have come true: floods, extreme weather conditions, mass shootings.  After spending Rapture's Eve at a party with her best friend Harp, Vivian returns home to find two holes in her believer-parents' bedroom--and no trace of either of them.  Even with all the signs that the rapture has happened and everyone else (even some believers) have been left behind, Vivian and Harp don't buy it.  With Harp and the help of mysterious Peter, she sets off on a cross-country trip to find out the truth.  

This is a crazy scary world where Believers have pretty much taken over all of America.  Top government officials are believers, people have pulled their kids out of public school because they won't teach Church of America doctrine, young girls are getting married, people buy Church of America food, and anyone who is not "traditional" is considered evil.  It only gets worse after the Rapture and those who have been left behind are trying desperately to prove they are worthy of being raptured in the second round.  The truth behind this world, the fact that it could so easily be the one we live in right now, is what makes it scary.

Vivian is a great character who begins the book timidly, not believing anything about the rapture and seriously baffled as to why her parents do believe.  She does what she's told and follows rules.  She studies hard because she knows that as soon as the rapture passes and it doesn't actually happen, she's going to be able to apply to colleges and get an education.  Except then it does happen--or seems to happen--and where did following the rules and being a good girl get her?

I didn't expect to like this book so much, but it was so good and I had to find out what was going on and what Vivian finds in her search for the truth.  If you like books about the end of the world, Vivian Apple is a great choice.  The performance of the audiobook was also perfect, with Julia Whelan portraying Vivian Apple perfectly. I highly recommend this book and there is a second one that you can read: Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Book Review: Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale

Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press, 2016
Genre: middle grade, family, friendship
Source: purchased for my classroom
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Raymie's father ran off with a dental hygienist and she hasn't heard from him since.  Her mother has been quiet and seems lost.  But Raymie has a plan.  If she can win the Little Miss Central Florida tire competition then she'll get her father back.  Unfortunately, she has Louisiana Elefante, whose parents were performers, and Beverly Tapinski, who wants to sabotage the contest, in her way.  In addition, she has to learn to twirl a baton, but her teacher is crazy and she hasn't learned a thing yet.

Raymie is a thoughtful and bright young girl.  She's hurt and confused that her father left one day out of the blue and her mother just sits and stares now.  So now she has come up with a plan to fix everything.  She's managed to find an adult who will talk with her honestly in her father's secretary.  She's kind and gives Raymie advice, but for the most part Raymie is on her own with the help of her two friends.

Louisiana Elefante is wispy and beautiful, sings like an angel, and faints--a lot.  She's a bit kooky and claims Raymie and Beverly as her best friends almost immediately--much to Beverly's chagrin.  It's difficult to ignore her, because Louisiana seems to need friends who will help her.  Beverly Tapinski is sick and tired of pageants--and she's not afraid to say so.  She has a tough life and covers that up by putting up a tough front that no one will mess with.  Both Raymie and Louisiana annoy her, but she always seems to be helping them out since she's not afraid of anything and they are.

Told from Raymie's point of view, we learn about all three girls and watch as their friendship evolves.  It's a charming story and good read for middle grade readers.  There are funny parts--especially when Louisiana is in the picture--but there are also some sadder parts as the reader begins to realize more about each girl.

Kate DiCamillo writes great stories for young readers, introducing them to interesting characters who are true to life.  It's easy to believe we can meet them randomly on the street one day, or find them in our own best friends.  Definitely a great read for middle grade readers!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Book Review: Every Last Word

Every Last Word
Tamara Ireland Stone
Amy Rubinate (narrator)
Ideal Audiobooks, 2015
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mental Illness
Source: Thanks to SYNC Audio for the free audio files!
Rating: 4 out of 5

Samantha McAllister has a secret that she's been hiding from her best friends, The Eights, since she was eleven.  Samantha has OCD, the purely obsessional kind where she starts thinking about one topic or problem or just a teeny tiny idea and she can't move past it.  She's obsessed with the number three and will drive around until the milage on her car ends with a three before parking.  Somehow she has done a tremendous job of keeping this from her friends who are the most popular girls in school and have very high expectations for how they should all look, act, feel, etc.  When Samantha meets Caroline, though, she's pulled into the world of Poet's Corner.  With Caroline's help, Samantha begins to write and share with this group of writers.  But as she finds herself becoming more entrenched in Poet's Corner, she realizes that there are a lot of secrets and eventually she will have to start letting them out--if she can manage it. 

I liked this book more than I had anticipated.  From the description and the first chapter or so I thought this was going to be about a bunch of mean girls--and it is in a way.  The Eights are truly mean girls who just exacerbate Samantha's OCD and anxiety, creating hierarchies of friendship within their group.  Intentionally leaving one girl out of an invitation and letting her know. Awfulness.  But it's also about Samantha learning not only how to step away from them, but how to accept herself.  PLUS!  I was totally thrown by events in the last few chapters.

Samantha is dealing with a serious mental illness throughout this book, and her life.  She meets weekly with a psychiatrist, is on medication to help control her obsessions and help her sleep, and her parents are super supportive and help her work through obsessive thoughts.  This isn't is a story about a girl who is magically cured of her mental illness and never needs to see her psychiatrist or take meds again.  She makes progress, yes, but she still has a network that surrounds her.

Poetry is a huge component of this book.  Teens writing poetry that is deep and meaningful to them and shows who they are.  It's not the poetry you'll study and try to write in college, which I appreciated because it made it more realistic.  It was very emotional and held everything these kids needed to say or experience or hold onto while they struggled through their days in high school.  It reminded me of the poetry I wrote in high school and kept tucked away inside notebooks and folders for my eyes only. It's a way that Samantha uses to help channel some of her anxiety and obsessions.

I really enjoyed how we were able to walk with Samantha through her journey.  I liked her story.  Yes she has OCD and struggles with it, but I think that this story is still very relatable even if you don't suffer from a mental illness.  She's a high school girl dealing with cliques and trying to find herself--a self that she's comfortable with and can accept.  Something we're all trying to do!

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Book Review: A New Hope - The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy

A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy
by Alexandra Bracken
Disney Lucasfilm Press, 2015
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Movie
Source: borrowed from public library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This is the story of Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker retold.  Leia's first attempt at proving herself so the rest of the senate will respect her has gone all wrong.  The plans she was supposed to deliver to the Rebel Alliance are not someplace out there with a droid and she's in the hands of Darth Vader.  Han Solo didn't know realize what he was in for when he agreed to transport an old man, a kid, and two droids off Tatooine. Now that he's learning more, he's not sure what he thinks.  Luke is just learning about The Force and he's still reeling from his aunt and uncle's death.  Now he's been swept up into this rebellion with Ben Kenobi and a smuggler. 

Alexandra Bracken has delved just a little deeper into Star Wars: A New Hope, giving us insights into the thoughts of our main characters and letting us see beyond who they were portrayed in the movie.  This is such a great book for lovers of Star Wars--whether you're a veteran van or a newbie.  It's easily accessible for middle grade readers and a treat for older readers who are familiar with the movies.  It also won't disappoint because it doesn't stray from the movie, it simply adds a little more to the story.

In addition to the story, there are beautiful illustrations throughout.  They are formatted into the words, with the text surrounding them in a delightful and complimentary fashion.

The fifth and sixth episodes have also been retold, but by different authors.  You can check those out on Goodreads if you want to know more about them.

The Empire Strikes Back: So You Want to Be a Jedi? by Adam Gidwitz

The Return of the Jedi: Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Top Seven Books of 2016 So Far

So far 2016 has been an amazing year of reading for me!  Not only has the first half of the year flown by, but I read so many good books in the last 6 months that I'm afraid the second half of my year may just go downhill.  Odds are not in my favor.  So here are the best books I've read so far this year!

In no particular order:

Have you read any of these?  What are your favorites so far?