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Read Anything Good Lately? Seven Guest Reviews

I've been thinking for a while that I ought to have some of my bookish friends over onto my book blog. So I emailed 7 women whose taste in books is a great match with mine.  I asked them to recommend a book they've loved, a book that everyone should read, or a book to which they want to give a signal boost. Well these books have just jumped to the top of my list! 

Welcome to my
Guest Review Party!




We've been listening to the audiobooks of the Michael Vey series, by Richard Paul Evans. They are SO much fun! Michael Vey is a teenager who secretly has the power to manipulate electricity. He thinks he's alone in this gift, until one fateful night, his mother is kidnapped, and he discovers that he's one of 17 electric children, born within the same week at a hospital with an experimental machine that went haywire and imbued a number of newborn babies with varying electrical talents. Now he has to find his mother, rescue her from the bad guys who are trying to use the electric children to take over the world, and maybe rescue some of the other electric teens along the way. It has action, adventure, humor, and suspense, and we have loved taking it on road trips or just listening together while we make dinner or do the dishes at night. The series is already complete with 7 books, so no need to wait for new installments. Two thumbs up! -- Ashley my erstwhile coblogger


The book that stands out for me this year is Crownchasers, the first in a series by Kansas author Rebecca Coffindaffer. It's a great Science Fiction adventure with an absolutely smashing heroine in Alyssa Farshot, the captain of a worldship and the niece of the emperor. When her uncle suddenly dies, Alyssa is dragged into a race across space against some of her closest friends to become the next emperor. Except the race isn't as fair as everyone thinks. The worlds and peoples that Coffindaffer dreamed up are incredible, but beyond that: this book was a non-stop adventure I couldn't put down. I can't wait to read the next installment! -- Melissa Fox of The Book Nut


I would love to shine a light on Emily Arrow's Studio: A Place for Art to Start. I love whenever I find a book that doesn't follow the typical pattern of solving a problem or extending a familiar series. Studio is a sweet read-aloud poem that celebrates creativity and collaboration in a way that feels fresh and even quietly subversive. The text and illustrations invite readers to think about creativity beyond arts and crafts, and I'm sure it's inspiring readers of all ages to go make something quirky, weird, and totally original. -- Heidi Fiedler at https://www.helloheidifiedler.com/


The book that stands out for me lately is City Spies, by James Ponti. It’s the first of a new middle grade series about a group of five kids from around the world who are recruited to be spies. It’s a perfect combination of humor and action. I was reading it with my daughter nearby, and she asked why I kept laughing aloud. Always a good sign! City Spies inspired me to go read Ponti’s Framed trilogy, which I devoured over the next week or so. I’m eagerly awaiting the second City Spies book, due out in March. -- Jen of Jen Robinson's Book Page


Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries, by Sarah Albee, is a great book to offer the 10-12 year old who has an interest in archaeology--the sort of kid that went through an Egyptology phase as an 8 year old--, or indeed to anyone, young or old, who enjoys learning new and different things about history told in a friendly, easy style!

The book is self-described as a collection of "chance discoveries by ordinary people" that contributed to our understanding of the past. Arranged in chronological order of the discoveries (which has the added bonus of seeing how archaeology has changed over time), these chance finds from around the world are indeed extraordinary, marvelous, discoveries. Included are some that will be familiar to many kids in the US, like Pompeii and Herculaneum, and some that will quite possibly be new, like an Aztec temple in Mexico City, and a South African cave full of the fossils of a previously unknown early human species. They really are all tremendously exciting finds from around the world!

Albee does a truly great job providing historical context for many of the finds (along the way, for instance, you'll learn lots about the history of Thailand, and slavery in New York), and in some cases, the discoverers are brought to life too--like the black cowboy who found the first huge bison kill site in the US--which adds human interest. Lots of vintage illustrations, maps, and sidebars give even more substance to the already rich descriptions of each discovery. The accessible, almost conversational style of the stories allows Albee to include past injustices, misconceptions, and mistakes in a way that's thought provoking without being preachy.

In short, reading books like this is a great way to learn, and there's lots to learn here, not dumbed down at all, and so much more fun than reading books written for grown-ups! As a professional archaeologist myself, I'm happy to be able to endore this book wholeheartedly!-- Charlotte at Charlotte's Library


I came across one of the strangest books I've ever encountered the other day, and I truly don't know what to think about it so I'm hoping that writing about it will help me wrap my mind around it...you should check it out. Victor by Jacques Maes and Lise Braekers.

Victor has achieved his life's goal of shooting a cheetah and he proudly displays the skin in his home. But after a night of restless sleep during which he dreams of the cheetah's mourning friends, a remorseful Victor decides to make things right with the cheetahs by creating his new life goal: protect the murdered cheetah's coalition from the same fate. Victor sews himself into the cheetah skin and befriends the cheetah's old friends, who think their friend has returned, and he feels a sense of love and family for the first time in his life. However, the coalition eventually comes to realize they've been deceived and decide to give him a taste of his own medicine at that moment Victor awakes from what has been a dream all along.

Most of the story's emotional and tonal progression lies in Braekers' illustrations, and readers are encouraged to seek out every last detail to capture the story in its entirety -- in fact, much like a hunter taking its prey by surprise, the visual story begins even before the title page, where we see Victor shoot the cheetah on the front endpaper. Created in mostly yellows and greens, Braekers' images heavily rely on the contrasts in shape, size, and shadow to carry the emotional weight of the story. The text is fairly minimal, but Maes' words are poignant and resonant.

Haunting? Yes. Horrifying? Definitely. But valuable in its unbridled efforts to generate a lasting sense of empathy.

 -- Mel at Let's Talk Picture Books



You already know Dav Pilkey, author of Dog Man. I am always looking for books that straddle the Pilkey line; i.e. they are equally amusing to elementary students and middle school ones, and I find them engaging as well!

An excellent example of this is Julie Falatko’s Two Dogs in a Trench Coat series. These are definitely goofy. We get to see dogs Sassy and Waldo navigate their boy Stewart’s world and showcase their obsession with food. Since they are bored at home, they plan an elaborate ruse. With the aid of a trench coat, they convincingly present themselves as a new student, Salty, from Liver, Ohio. They are interested in school primarily because of the lunches, but get into many school hijinks. Through it all, their classmates and teacher are, of course, completely oblivious to the fact that Salty is really two canines.

Hysterically funny writing aside, the Colin Jack illustrations are humorous and endearing as well. Stewart loves his dogs and wants the best for them, and if it involves bringing them to school so they are not lonely at home, he is willing to do that. The plots are all vaguely reminiscent of ones where students move to new schools and struggle to make friends, making this a very clever twist on an established middle grade trope.

What I liked best about this series, which makes me a little sad now, is that Falatko seemed to understand my dog Sylvie’s very soul. The attitude that Waldo and Sassy have towards squirrels, their constant attention to all available food, and their phrasing all harken to the “conversations” that my dog had with my daughters before she passed away. “Tiny carrots wrapped in bacon!” has become a family catch phrase for good eats! Given that I was the primary voicer of Sylvie's thoughts, perhaps Falatko understands MY very soul.

Two Dogs in a Trench Coat has numerous slapstick moments, many visual jokes, and plenty of goofy humor, but at its heart, the series is a highly philosophical discussion of the bond between dogs and their human, and the deep contentment that dogs find in moments of domestication. Waldo voices this perfectly in this interchange:

"If wild dogs knew how dry and warm it was inside, they'd stay in when it's raining, too. But okay. We are wild dogs on the inside."

"Inside of the house," said Sassy.

--Karen at Ms. Yingling Reads

*********

It has been so fun putting this post together. It brought back memories! I thought of eating lunches together at KidLitCon. I smiled about long email threads exchanged with these friends about Cybils books. I felt like I got a peek at the bookshelf, in this time when I haven't seen anyone else's bookshelves in ages! 

The thing I miss most about pre-Covid life right now is the "incidental learning" that happens naturally when people get together. I miss noticing that a friend has a book sticking out of her purse and asking her about it. I miss watching my friends in their kitchens and going home with new ideas on how to cook and clean. I can see the light at the end of this tunnel, and I'm thankful for some of the brilliant moments within the tunnel as well.

Happy Reading! 

The 2020 Holiday Recommendations Post! [Post is OPEN]

Every year, I like to make personalized book recommendations for my friends (and their friends)! It is that time of year again. I love helping you guys find good books! Please let me know if there's someone you're shopping for, or someone you're selecting library books for, and I'll post a recommendation. 

Comment if you want a book recommendation! (person's age, a little info about the person.) 

This post will be updated all during the holiday season. 🎄 Past years: 2014201520162018, 2019.

Also this year I've asked a few friends with great taste to recommend some of their favorite books. When that post is live, I will link it here.  

Alysa, give me a book for...

a 9 year old girl who is a strong reader, and read and loved the Penderwicks last year.

I recommend The Casson Family Series by Hilary McKay. They're books about this life of a family with four kids outside of London. They're set in a more modern era than The Penderwicks, and I just love these characters! I'd start with Saffy's Angel. Because they've been reprinted many times, the series has many different covers.

 


an 11 year old girl, who loves The Land of Stories series, also loves writing her own stories.

I recommend The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (and its sequels!) I haven't read Land of Stories books myself, but Benjamin has and he recommends the Half Upon a Time trilogy by James Riley as a good match. If she likes to draw as well as write, then I recommend If Found...Please Return to Elise Gravel.
 


a 13 year old girl, who loves RadioLab, and wants to be a writer (is there a book for youth about becoming an author? Or something about the writer's craft?)

I recommend Spilling Ink by Ellen Potter et al. I haven't read the full book myself, but I've heard a lot of good about it, and seem to remember having it checked out of the library at one time. As for a podcast recommendation, we have enjoyed a few episodes of Writing Excuses over at our house.


an 8 year old boy who reads beyond grade level, and loves Percy Jackson series.

I recommend the Explorer Academy Series by Trudi Trueit. The first book is The Nebula Secret. It's published by National Geographic and has some cool science as well as loads of adventure. The fourth book in the series is due in Jan 2021. 

 

a 14 year old girl who loves My Lady Jane, Lunar Chronicles, Hunger Games, Goose Girl, Ella Enchanted, Throne of Glass and Beauty. 

If she's read everything new, we'll have to go old! I recommend Enchantment by Orson Scott Card. I definitely read it at about that age, but it is written for adults. If you'd like a quick reference of the adult content in the book, I found one on Sneak Peek Books. Ooh, it looks like it may be out of print, but there are used copies at good prices. For a book written for the youth market that she may not have read yet, try Sorcery and Cecelia (and sequels) by Patricia C Wrede & Caroline Stevermer. I think it's so fun that this one was actually written as letters from one author to another. I also recommend the Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson, but it looks like she might have read that one already!


a 10 year old girl who doesn’t like scary/intense things. No death or scary fantasy. 5th/6th grade reading level.

I recommend Crunch by Leslie Connor. It happens to be the book that people buy the most often after visiting Everead, right now. That's because it's great. I also recommend the classics The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett. 
 

my husband who is interested in history, mystery, & classics.

For history, I loved A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell. For classics, Jacob and I both love PG Wodehouse. We started with Right Ho, Jeeves! The mystery/thriller I read most recently is The Silent Patient by Alex Michaeledes. Fair bit of swearing in that one, but great for atmosphere and theories about whodunnit.

a 29 year old female therapist who loves to travel. She likes books that highlight relationships between characters.

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas is the one I'm thinking of! I also love good character development. I don't even remember the plot of the book because it's been so long but I remember the characters and the premise: a woman has the sign "prayers for sale" outside her rural home and only twice does someone knock and ask to buy one and she doesn't sell prayers actually, but listens well. I loved it. Pretty short book, too if I remember right. Ah! Here is the Everead review, posted by Ashley.  
 

Speed Reviews of 5 New Nonfiction Picture Books

Today's reviews of non-fiction books are a little of this and a little of that, but all worth their salt. And they all need to go back to the library today, so it's a speedy review for each!

Rescuing the Declaration of Independence: How we Almost Lost the Words that Built America by Anna Crowley Redding illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Loved the illustrations in this one. It was definitely a cool story that I had never heard before. Stephen Pleasonton was James Monroe's clerk when he got an urgent message that the British were coming to attack Washington. Despite the possibility of it being a fake-out, and even though it took a ridiculous amount of work, he moved the records from his office in the State Department and kept them safe during the attack. The problem I had with this book was that Peasonton was given all the glory, even though it was a huge group effort. Still, a very cool story, well written and illustrated.


The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

This gorgeous, meticulously illustrated book tells the story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, an ambulance driver who stayed behind in war-torn Syria when his family and friends fled the country. With so many people gone, all the cats of the city begin struggling. Alaa finds a great sense of purpose in caring for the cats, finding a place for them, and eventually building a far-reaching service oriented community. This is an inspiring book, and my cat-loving son liked it, too. 


Who Will It Be?: How Evolution Connects Us All by Paola Vitale and Rossana Bossù

I found this one a little bit abstract. It wasn't until I read the backmatter and then re-read the book that I felt I understood what author & illustrator were going for. The book takes us through how we all have a common form early in our gestation -- fishes, lizards, foxes, ducks, humans, we all have very similar form in the earliest stages of life. I felt like I learned from this book, but it bothered me that the abstract art was also mixed with real but unfamiliar science art. I wondered which parts of the art were true and which weren't. The book is certainly informative and beautiful to look at. 


Nature Did It First: Engineering Through Biomimicry by Karen Ansberry illustrated by Jennifer DiRubbio

Since biomimicry was an area of focus in my first-grade daughter's classwork, I was interested to read this book. It introduces 7 concepts from nature that people have imitated to their advantage. Each has a page with a poem on it, and a page with facts and information. The poems were alright. The informational pages were cool. Each info page had 4 paragraphs and the last one was devoted to how humans have engineered this nature concept. I think I would have liked more on that, and less poetry, but it's still a great book to use if you're studying biomimicry. The watercolor illustrations were detailed and pretty awesome. 

You're Invited to a Moth Ball: A Nighttime Insect Celebration by Loree Griffin Burns photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz

The step-by-step instructions in this book make it seem both possible and fun to host a party in which the main attraction is moths. The photos are great, and show set-up as well as many amazing moths. The conversational tone of the book  makes it easy to read in one sitting and the big headings would make it easy to flip back through the book as you were setting up your own Moth Ball. Recommended for the curious and scientific ages 8 and up, I'd say!

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