Category Archives: Fiction

Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi. October 10, 2017. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9780316220835.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This third book in a major series by a bestselling science fiction author, Printz Award winner, and National Book Award finalist is the gripping story of the most provocative character from his acclaimed novels Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities.

Tool, a half-man/half-beast designed for combat, is capable of so much more than his creators had ever dreamed. He has gone rogue from his pack of bioengineered “augments” and emerged a victorious leader of a pack of human soldier boys. But he is hunted relentlessly by someone determined to destroy him, who knows an alarming secret: Tool has found the way to resist his genetically ingrained impulses of submission and loyalty toward his masters… The time is coming when Tool will embark on an all-out war against those who have enslaved him. From one of science fiction’s undisputed masters comes a riveting page-turner that pulls no punches.

Sequel to: The Drowned Cities

Part of Series: Ship Breaker (Book 3)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Violence, Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. Five years after The Drowned Cities (2012), Bacigalupi returns to his award-winning Ship Breaker series. This opens with a rare moment of peace in the Drowned Cities. Moments later, Havoc missiles rain down death on Tool and his young army, turning humans and city into ash. The Mercier Corporation and General Carora have finally located the DNA-enhanced Tool and are desperate to annihilate their renegade augment. The action is nonstop as Tool is marched through a series of brutal battles, meeting main characters from the earlier books along the way. The number of plot conveniences and narrow escapes is almost as high as the body count as Tool seeks revenge on his corporate makers. The central issue of Tool’s humanity is burdened by plot contradictions that overwhelm character development, and the searing passion of the earlier books seems missing. Still, Bacigalupi’s action scenes are brilliantly cinematic, powering the pacing with breathtaking superhero stunts. Tool, as ever, is a character impossible to forget, and all loose ends are tied up in an epilogue.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2017)
Bacigalupi returns to probe his brutal, post-apocalyptic American landscape and darkly provocative characters in this third installment of the series begun in Ship Breaker (2010) and continued in The Drowned Cities (2012). Following the pattern of existential fracture found in its predecessors’ narratives, this latest novel further explores the consequences of war and corruption with a focus on the DNA–spliced “augment” called Tool. Tool (also called Blood, Blade, and Karta-Kul the Slaughter-Bringer) is a finely honed weapon, bred for massacre, survival, and loyalty. But after breaking free of his conditioned servitude, Tool represents a serious threat to his former masters, who attack with everything available in their considerable arsenal to destroy him lest they be forced to face the terrifying question of what happens when a weapon turns on its creators. For Tool was uniquely designed for more than just the tactical strategy and lethal bloodlust of most augments—he has a power that, now unleashed, could spell the end for a violently factionalized, inhumanly cruel humanity. Told in third person, the novel alternates among the perspectives of several new as well as familiar characters, none of whom shy away from the constant gore and near-paralyzing moral complexities of their war-torn existence. After playing fascinating, catalyzing roles the first two books, Tool is at center stage at last as readers move through Bacigalupi’s exploration of the intricate relationships connecting hunter and prey, master and enslaved, human and monster. Masterful. (Dystopian. 14-adult)

About the Author

Paolo Bacigalupi is the author of the highly acclaimed The Drowned Cities and Ship Breaker, a New York Times bestseller, Michael L. Printz Award winner, and National Book Award finalist. He is also the author of the Edgar Awards nominee The Doubt Factory; a novel for younger readers, Zombie Baseball Beatdown; and two bestselling adult novels for adults, The Water Knife and The Windup Girl. His first work of collected short fiction was Pump Six and Other Stories. The winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, John W. Campbell Memorial, and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards, he lives in western Colorado with his wife and son.  His website is windupstories.com

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Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix

Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix & Sean Williams. October 31, 2017. Scholastic Press, 274 p. ISBN: 9780545259026.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.9.

It is strange enough that Odo and Eleanor have stumbled upon a sword in a dried-up river outside their village. It is even stranger that Odo is able to remove it from where it’s buried. And it’s REMARKABLY strange when the sword starts to talk.

Odo and Eleanor have unearthed Biter, a famous fighter from earlier times. By finding Biter, Odo instantly becomes a knight – a role he is exquisitely unsuited for. Eleanor, however, would make a PERFECT knight – but she’s not the one with the sword.

Finding Biter is only the start – boy, girl, and sword must soon go on a quest to save their kingdom from threats in both human and dragon form, in this new fantasy triumph from Garth Nix and Sean Williams.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 3-5. Eleanor: bold, sharp, filled with dreams of adventure and knighthood. Odo: a little timid, a little unsure, not particularly fond of thinking about the future. But alas, when the two tweens stumble upon an enchanted sword, it’s Odo who cuts himself on it and is granted instant knighthood by the sword itself. The sword, whose name happens to be Biter, has no problem talking and fighting, although he does seem to be having a little trouble remembering his clearly illustrious past. At any rate, domineering Biter, reluctant knight Odo, and sullen squire Eleanor have a quest to complete if they want to save their kingdom—if they can figure out who they’re fighting. This first series installment is a true-blue errant-knight tale, complete with dragons, sassy enchanted objects, and a destiny that comes before anyone is ready. In this world, knighthood is given regardless of gender; it eludes Eleanor not because she’s a girl but because of bad timing. Hand to just about any middle-grader looking for a swashbuckling adventure.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2017)
Two best friends with opposing appetites for adventure are thrust into a crucial quest by a gregarious sword. The once-hearty Silverrun River through Lenburh is steadily running ever lower. As diminutive, feisty Eleanor and her best friend, brawny, bumbling Odo, fish for eels in the muddy trickle, they unearth a sword. After Odo pricks his finger and subsequently bleeds on the blade, the heretofore-slumbering sword wakes up, proclaiming its name (in Gothic type) to be Hildebrand Shining Foebiter (Biter for short) and knighting Sir Odo. Eleanor, whose deceased mother was a knight, is at once thrilled by the enchanted sword and infuriated that she’s been designated squire. Assessing the river’s pathetic state, Biter pronounces their quest to unblock the river’s source. Eleanor is gung-ho, Odo is reluctant, Biter is persistent. The trio bid adieu to Lenburh’s bucolic boredom and head toward their fate—which could very well mean death by dragon. In this medievallike fantasy world, gender equality abounds. Like the bulk of medieval European art, however, this cast is white (with the liberal inclusion of female Sirs, it would seem that some black and brown characters could have been included, too). Written by a duo, the narrative is presented from both Eleanor’s and Odo’s perspectives, although this isn’t a he-said, she-said division by chapter; there is a more fluid back and forth. En garde for an implied sequel that is already too bloody far away. (Fantasy. 10-14)

About the Authors

Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia, to the sound of the Salvation Army band outside playing ‘Hail the Conquering Hero Comes’ or possibly ‘Roll Out the Barrel’. Garth left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra (the federal capital) and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin with a boot full of books and a Silver-Reed typewriter.

Despite a wheel literally falling off the Austin, Garth survived to return to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After finishing his degree in 1986 he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher’s sales representative, and editor. Along the way he was also a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve, serving in an Assault Pioneer platoon for four years. Garth left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, till he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002 Garth went back to dedicated writer again, despite his belief that full-time writing explains the strange behaviour of many authors.

He now lives in Sydney with his wife, two sons and lots of books.  His website is www.garthnix.com.

#1 New York Times bestselling Sean Williams lives with his family in Adelaide, South Australia. He’s written some books–forty-two at last count–including the Philip K. Dick-nominated Saturn Returns, several Star Wars novels and the Troubletwister series with Garth Nix. Twinmaker is a YA SF series that takes his love affair with the matter transmitter to a whole new level. You can find some related short stories over at Lightspeed Magazine and elsewhere. Thanks for reading.

His website is www.twinmakerbooks.com/

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Have Sword, Will Travel on Amazon

Have Sword, Will Travel on Goodreads

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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. September 5, 2017. Scribner, 285 p. ISBN: 9781501126062.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 840.

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Clinical description of slaughtering an animal

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Jojo, 13, and his 3-year-old sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, while their mother, Leonie, struggles with drug addiction and her failures as a daughter, mother, and inheritor of a gift (or curse) that connects her to spirits. Leonie insists that Jojo and Kayla accompany her on a two-day journey to the infamous Parchman prison to retrieve their white father. Their harrowing experiences are bound up in unresolved and reverberating racial and family tensions and entanglements: long-buried memories of Pop’s time in Parchman, the imminent death of Mam from cancer, and the slow dawning of the children’s own spiritual gifts. Ward alternates perspectives to tell the story of a family in rural Mississippi struggling mightily to hold themselves together as they are assailed by ghosts reflecting all the ways humans create cruelty and suffering. In her first novel since the National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones (2011), Ward renders richly drawn characters, a strong sense of place, and a distinctive style that is at once down-to-earth and magical.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2017)
Ward (Men We Reaped, 2013, etc.) follows her excellent, National Book Award–winning novel Salvage the Bones with her third book-length work of fiction, a searching study of all the ways in which people damage each other, sometimes without meaning to.Leonie, a young African-American woman, lives in the eternal childhood of addiction and dependency; her life revolves around trying to escape from herself, which is no help to her children, one a toddler named Kayla, the other a 13-year-old boy named Jojo. The three live with Leonie’s parents, the gruff but tender grandfather a font of country wisdom (“Goats is mean and pigs is smarter than you think. And they vicious too”), the grandmother steadily being eaten alive by an aggressive cancer. “Each time Leonie told me something mean, Mam would tell her to leave me alone,” a grateful Jojo recounts, devastated to see his mother hollowed by her illness. Clearly the older couple cannot take care of the children, but when Leonie’s white boyfriend is released from prison—Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm, no less—things go from bad to worse. It’s not necessarily that the drugged-out couple is evil, but that they can’t take care of themselves, much less anyone else, leaving the children to their own resources—and, as the story progresses, Ward makes clear that those resources are considerable, just as Leonie, who is haunted by the ghost of her dead brother, realizes that she has been dealt a hand that, while tragic, is simply part of the business of life: “Growing up out here in the country taught me things,” she thinks. “Taught me that after the first fat flush of life, time eats away at things: it rusts machinery, it matures animals to become hairless and featherless, and it withers plants.” Time doesn’t improve most people, either: it leads them into adulthood, makes them mean and violent and untrustworthy, all lessons the kids must learn the hard way. Though rough and cheerless, Ward’s book commemorates the resilience of children, who, as in the kindred film Beasts of the Southern Wild, are perforce wise beyond their years. Not as strong as its predecessor, but expertly written all the same, proving Ward’s position at the forefront of modern Southern letters.

About the Author

Jesmyn Ward is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped. She is a former Stegner Fellow (Stanford University) and Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University.

Her work has appeared in BOMB, A Public Space and The Oxford American.

Teacher Resources

Sing, Unburied, Sing Reading Guide

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Sing, Unburied, Sing on Amazon

Sing, Unburied, Sing on JLG

Sing, Unburied, Sing on Goodreads

Sing, Unburied, Sing Publisher Page

 

 

The Player King by Avi

The Player King by Avi. October 17, 2017. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 208 p. ISBN: 9781481437684.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.9; Lexile: 690.

From Newbery Award–winning author Avi comes the gripping and amazingly true tale of a boy plucked from the gutter to become the King of England.

England, 1486. King Henry VII has recently snatched the English Crown and now sits on the throne, while young Prince Edward, who has a truer claim, has apparently disappeared. Meanwhile, a penniless kitchen boy named Lambert Simnel is slaving away at a tavern in Oxford—until a mysterious friar, Brother Simonds, buys Lambert from the tavern keeper and whisks him away in the dead of night. But this is nothing compared to the secret that the friar reveals: You, Lambert, are actually Prince Edward, the true King of England!

With the aid of the deceitful Earl of Lincoln, Brother Simonds sets out to teach the boy how to become the rightful English king. Lambert has everything to gain and nothing to lose, or so he thinks. Yet in this dangerous battle for the throne, Lambert is not prepared for what’s to come—or for what it really means to play at being a king.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Realities of war

 

Reviews

Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Grades 4-7. In 1486, Oxford, England, a lad named Lambert works, sleeps, and lives at Tackley’s Tavern. A friar lifts him out of hunger and poverty in exchange for his learning to play the role of the Earl of Warwick (heir of Richard III) not on stage, but in earnest. He agrees and subsequently rallies others to rise up against King Henry VII in order to place himself on the throne. It’s a fool’s game, since others are plotting to kill the young pretender once the Tudors are overthrown. Can he win the kingdom or, failing that, his life? Told from Lambert’s point of view, the first-person narrative effectively avoids the complicated political backstory and focuses on the boy’s experiences as he learns the unfamiliar speech, manners, and knowledge and plays his part. Avi, whose Newbery Award-winning Crispin (2002) was set in fourteenth-century England, again makes the past vivid and personal in this relatively short, accessible book. An author’s note reveals what is known of the actual Lambert Simnel, whose story inspired the novel.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
From prolific, Newbery winner Avi, a novel set in the Middle Ages that is replete with authentic period details, page-turning brief chapters, and a plot filled with twists, turns, and political intrigue.Avi expands on the historical footnote of an unnamed boy who challenged the kingship of Henry VII, was crowned briefly in Ireland, then led an army to England where he was soundly defeated. Lambert Simnel is a young orphan of unknown age who works and lives in a tavern where he is treated cruelly. A friar with his own selfish motives sees Lambert, purchases him, and schools him in the rules of behavior in order to pass him off as the previous king’s nephew, supposedly escaped from imprisonment. The first-person narration adds immediacy to Lambert’s fears and confusion. Having previously watched street actors, Lambert determines his best chance is to be a convincing player king, perpetuating the sham and nearly convincing himself. Although Lambert rises from a “loathed nobody” who spent “his life in a cellar, like a rotten turnip,” his fortune rapidly plummets. Touches of humor, brought about by both Lambert’s need for spiffing up and a colorful vocabulary (“gundy-gut,” “bootlicker,” “want-wit”), are sprinkled throughout. Unsurprisingly, the cast is an all-white one. An appealing protagonist pursuing a grand adventure and struggling with themes of power, pride, and identity will appeal to fans of historical fiction. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

About the Author

Avi is a pen name for Edward Irving Wortis, but he says, “The fact is, Avi is the only name I use.”  Avi is the author of more than seventy books for children and young adults, including the 2003 Newbery medal winner Crispin: The Cross of Lead. He has won two Newbery Honors and many other awards for his fiction.

He lives with his family in Denver, Colorado. His website is www.avi-writer.com/

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The Player King on Amazon

The Player King on Goodreads

The Player King on JLG

The Player King Publisher Page

Satellite by Nick Lake

Satellite by Nick Lake. October 3, 2017. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 464 p. ISBN: 9781524713546.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 700.

A teenage boy born in space makes his first trip to Earth in this engrossing sci-fi adventure for fans of The Martian from award-winning author Nick Lake.

He’s going to a place he’s never been before: home.

Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known.

Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight.

But has anything really prepared them for life on terra firma? Because while the planet may be home to billions of people, living there is more treacherous than Leo and his friends could ever have imagined, and their very survival will mean defying impossible odds.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 8-11. Lake (Whisper to Me, 2016) has penned a heavily researched and meticulously detailed—but no less exciting—science fiction story perfect for young fans of Andy Weir’s The Martian (2011). Leo and his best friends, twins Libra and Orion, were born on Moon 2, a space station orbiting Earth. Now, at 15, Leo wants nothing more than to set foot on the planet he’s always been circling but was never able to see up close. When mechanisms on the space station fail, Leo and the crew of Moon 2 must return to Earth sooner than planned. What he finds when he lands turns out to be much more difficult and complicated than he always dreamed it would be. Lake’s decision to write the entire novel in textspeak, enhanced by precise, realistic science, throws his futuristic society into sharp relief. By the end, Leo’s strength comes across not only through his ambition to fight for what makes him happy, but also through the compassionate, delicate way he explores his sexuality and relationships.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2017)
Leo and his friends, twins Libra and Orion, were born and raised on Moon 2, a space station that orbits Earth. Now that Leo is almost sixteen, he and the twins are being flown “home” to Earth, where they look forward to new, “normal” experiences–hearing a live concert; planting a garden; going to high school. But as Leo settles into life on his grandfather’s California ranch, he realizes he hasn’t been told all that he should know about his role in space research. Nor has he been told that his body, formed in zero gravity, might not survive Earth’s gravity long-term. Gradual revelations of plot and the suspense of astronautical near-misses make for steady momentum, and the future setting is cleverly reinforced in the prose style–the book uses text message–like abbreviations and lowercase letters at the beginnings of sentences (“on a screen in front of her i c Moon 2 come into view”). Throughout, the tone of Leo’s account is reflective, the poetic musings of a boy who has absorbed a (perhaps improbable) abundance of contextual understanding during his education in space. Gay romance, racial identity (all three teens have brown skin), politics of space exploration, and notions of colonization and home all combine with Lake’s overarching poetic theme of a teenager experiencing Earth and, indeed, life for the first time. deirdre f. baker

About the Author

Nick Lake is the Michael L. Printz Award winner for In Darkness and has written several other novels for teens. Nick works in publishing in the UK and lives near Oxford with his wife and family in a 16th century house with almost 19th century amenities. Sometimes the heating even works.

His website is thus-spake-nick-lake.tumblr.com/

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Satellite on Amazon

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Satellite Publisher Page

A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck. September 26, 2017.  Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9781524716080.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 900

Seriously, how can you see a person nearly every day of your life and never think a thing of it, then all of a sudden, one day, it’s different? You see that goofy grin a thousand times and just laugh. But goofy grin #1,001 nearly stops your heart? 

Right. That sounds like a bad movie already.

Matt Wainwright is constantly sabotaged by the overdramatic movie director in his head. He can’t tell his best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her, he implodes on the JV basketball team, and the only place he feels normal is in Mr. Ellis’s English class, discussing the greatest fart scenes in literature and writing poems about pissed-off candy-cane lumberjacks.

If this were a movie, everything would work out perfectly. Tabby would discover that Matt’s madly in love with her, be overcome with emotion, and would fall into his arms. Maybe in the rain.

But that’s not how it works. Matt watches Tabby get swept away by senior basketball star and all-around great guy Liam Branson. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough, but screwing up and losing her as a friend is even worse.

After a tragic accident, Matt finds himself left on the sidelines, on the verge of spiraling out of control and losing everything that matters to him. From debut author Jared Reck comes a fiercely funny and heart-wrenching novel about love, longing, and what happens when life as you know it changes in an instant.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes

 

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Online))
Grades 8-11. Matt and Tabby have been neighbors and best friends since they were babies. Now they are freshmen in high school, and Matt has fallen in love with Tabby. To his dismay, handsome, highly likeable senior, Branson, is falling for Tabby as well. It’s exquisitely painful for Matt to witness Tabby’s delight, but he tries to ignore his feelings and channels his frustrations into basketball. Then Matt loses Tabby forever. In this debut novel, Reck creates a realistic and moving portrait of a 14-year-old guy clobbered by a grief he cannot express. Matt is a funny, good-natured teen until the tragedy, and in the days and weeks that follow, he copes by maintaining surface-level denial while a roiling mass of anger builds within. Sympathetic adults intervene to help get Matt on track without providing pat solutions, much like the adult characters in Chris Crutcher novels.

Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2017)
A young man loses the love of his life. Matt Wainwright has pined for his best friend, Tabby Laughlin, for years but has never struck up the nerve to tell her how he feels. Instead he seethes with jealousy when Tabby begins to date the big man on campus, Liam Branson. There’s friction between the two best friends for a bit, but just when things are starting to look up, tragedy strikes. The novel is startlingly similar to John Green’s Looking for Alaska, with lost loves, car crashes, and wise teachers. Even more startling is the novels’ mirrored structures: both take place over a school year and end with an essay written by the young man for a class taught by an inspiring teacher. The cherry on top of this comparable sundae is the fact that both books feature paragraphs in which the protagonist contemplates how long an instant death feels. Reck’s debut is competently written, but the ruminations don’t run as deep as Green’s. The tertiary characters don’t sparkle, spouting serviceable but unremarkable dialogue, and there’s little attempt to introduce diversity to the largely white cast. In the end, readers will have the feeling they’ve read this story before, and it was much better the first time around. (Fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Jared Reck lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two daughters. He teaches 8th grade Language Arts, where he has been reading awesome books and writing alongside his students for the past twelve years. A Short History of the Girl Next Door is his first novel.

His website is www.jaredreckbooks.com/

Around the Web

A Short History of the Girl Next Door on Amazon

A Short History of the Girl Next Door on Goodreads

A Short History of the Girl Next Door on JLG

A Short History of the Girl Next Door Publisher Page

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson. October 16, 2017. Candlewick Press, 208 p. ISBN: 9780763695088.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.6.

In an engrossing historical novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia follows a young Cuban teenager as she volunteers for Fidel Castro’s national literacy campaign and travels into the impoverished countryside to teach others how to read.

When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Lora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Lora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Lora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Lora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Lora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, War, Violence, Racism, Murder, Torture

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 3))
Grades 5-8. Fidel Castro’s rise to power elicited many different reactions from Cubans—see, for example, Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s The Red Umbrella (2010). Paterson’s latest focuses on how Castro implemented a successful national literacy campaign. Havana resident Lora, an amazing reader, volunteers to be a teacher in the mountains of Cuba for one year. Lora has never been away from home before, and must leave behind all her city comforts to embark on a journey that will change her life. Readers interested in Cuba will find a wealth of information here; both a time line and political background are supplied between pages. While Lora’s adventure is based on a true story, the weakness of the novel lies in the presentation of danger: the looming threat that Lora could be killed by the enemy at any time does not quite resonate. Readers will find that the strength of the book lies not in Lora’s adventures but in the critical question she asks: Which country is truly perfect? A fascinating, possibly controversial portrayal of a turbulent time in history.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
It is 1961 in Havana, Cuba. Despite her parents’ misgivings, thirteen-year-old Lora becomes a member of the Conrado Benítez Brigade. She, along with thousands of other young brigadistas, travels hours away to live with poor mountain farmers and become teachers in order to fulfill Fidel Castro’s vow that the country become one hundred percent literate in one year. In this idealistic and informative coming-of-age novel, readers experience alongside Lora her triumphs and challenges as she exchanges her sheltered city life for the experience of living on a farm and seeing how learning to read and write changes lives. Lora comes across as a distinct, individual character, but through her readers also learn many details about the brigadistas: how they were expected to work in the fields alongside their host families and help out as much as possible in the home; the dangers they faced due to “counterrevolutionaries,” including threats that they “would come and kill all the literacy teachers in the area.” Though all the brigadistas were young, none faltered in his or her duty to educate rural campesinos for the cause. Paterson also brings in Cuban politics, covering Castro’s rise to power as well as reasons why many Cubans resented America’s interference in their country. Lora’s story helps readers see the Cuban people’s resilience and fortitude in the face of extreme hardship. Though Castro’s literacy campaign happened fifty-six years ago, Cuba has still maintained one of the world’s highest literacy rates. Appended with an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history. alma ramos-mcdermott

About the Author

Katherine Paterson is the internationally acclaimed author of over 35 books for children and young adults.

She has twice won both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award. She received the 1998 Hans Christian Andersen Medal as well as the 2006 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for the body of her work, and was the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature for the Library of Congress.

Two of her best-selling books have been made into feature films – “The Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Great Gilly Hopkins”. An active promoter of reading, education and literacy, she lives in Barre, Vermont. She has four children and seven grandchildren, and her beloved dog, Pixie.

Her website is www.terabithia.com

Teacher Resources

My Brigadista Year Teacher’s Guide

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Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi. October 31, 2017. Razorbill, 298 p. ISBN: 9780448493909.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

A gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Discrimination, War, Violence, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Gore

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Online))
Grades 7-10. Taj is an aki, a sin-eater. After Mages pull the sins out of people, he and his fellow aki fight those sins and, if they win, consume them, leaving only the tell-tale tattoos on their skin, the signs that mark them as outcasts. But when the supposedly pure King has Taj eat one of his sins, Taj is caught in a battle between the all-powerful members of the royal family over the true role of the aki and their powers. Onyebuchi crafts a compelling tale for his first novel, seamlessly blending fantasy, religion, political intrigue, and a touch of steampunk into a twisting tale of magic. Taj, who narrates the tale in present tense, is a great stand-in for teen readers, equal parts afraid, determined, cocky, smart, and clueless. As he moves out of the slums he knows and into a world of wealth and power, readers will discover whom he can trust and what the other characters truly want right along with him. Hand this intriguing fantasy to fans of Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch (2011).

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2017)
Taj, the black teenage narrator of Onyebuchi’s debut, is an aki, or sin-eater—meaning that he literally consumes the exorcised transgressions of others, usually in the forms of inky-colored animal-shaped phantasms called inisisas that reappear as black tattoos on the akis’ “red skin, brown skin.” This really isn’t his most remarkable trait, however, even as he ingests greater and greater sins of the Kaya, the brown-skinned royal family ruling the land of Kos. What makes Taj extraordinary is the tensions he holds: his blasé awareness of his exalted status as the best aki, even as the townspeople both shun yet exploit him and his chosen family of sin-eaters; his adolescent swagger coupled with the big-brotherly protectiveness he has for the crew of akis and, as the story proceeds, his increasing responsibility to train them; his natural skepticism of the theology that guides Kos even as he performs the very act that allows the theology—and Kos itself—to exist. He must navigate these in the midst of a political plot, a burgeoning star-crossed love, and forgiveness for the sins he does not commit. “Epic” is an overused term to describe how magnificent someone or something is. Author Onyebuchi’s novel creates his in the good old-fashioned way: the slow, loving construction of the mundane and the miraculous, building a world that is both completely new and instantly recognizable. This tale moves beyond the boom-bang, boring theology of so many fantasies—and, in the process, creates, almost griotlike, a paean to an emerging black legend. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

About the Author

Tochi Onyebuchi is a writer based in Connecticut. He holds a MFA in Screenwriting from Tisch and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. His writing has appeared in Asimov’s and Ideomancer, among other places. Beasts Made of Night is his debut.

 

 

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Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict. January 16, 2018. Sourcebooks Landmark, 288 p. ISBN: 9781492646617.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the author of The Other Einstein comes the mesmerizing story of love, power, and the woman who inspired an American dynasty 

In the industrial 1860s at the dawn of the Carnegie empire, Irish immigrant Clara Kelly finds herself in desperate circumstances. Looking for a way out, she seeks employment as a lady’s maid in the home of the prominent businessman Andrew Carnegie. Soon, the bond between Clara and her employer deepens into love. But when Clara goes missing, Carnegie’s search for her unearths secrets and revelations that lay the foundation for his lasting legacy. With captivating insight and stunning heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one lost woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Immigrant farm-girl Clara Kelley clambers out of steerage and, by assuming the identity of a fellow passenger with the same name, hops onto the dock and straight into a position as lady’s maid to Mrs. Carnegie, the exacting mother of Andrew, captain of industry. By turns tirelessly ambitious, philanthropic, and deeply influenced by his bootstrap-climb from poverty, Andrew is the personification of the American dream. He values Clara’s intellect and seeming honesty, but their burgeoning relationship jeopardizes her position and ability to aid her family, desperately struggling back home in Ireland. Despite the Civil War setting, Benedict’s (The Other Einstein, 2016) novel has a Gilded Age feel. Info dumps occur, and sustained suspension of disbelief is required, yet the story is engaging. The chaste romance will draw readers of inspirational fiction, while the novel is constructed to appeal to those seeking a tale with an upstairs-downstairs dynamic and all-but-invisible female characters who are either the impetus for or the actual originators of great men’s great ideas. For Fans of Liz Trenow, Erika Robuck, and Nancy Horan.

Library Journal (September 1, 2017)
In 1863, Clara Kelley, a farm girl from County Galway, sails to America to procure employment, hoping to send money back to her impoverished family in Ireland. When she answers a call for a girl of the same name who perished aboard ship, Clara quickly assumes the identity of this unfortunate, which leads her to obtaining a better position than she could have hoped: lady’s maid to Mrs. Carnegie, mother of the successful, talented businessman Andrew Carnegie. Clara quickly renders herself indispensable to her employer. However, her good sense and intelligence come to the notice of Andrew, and a bond formed over talk of commerce turns to a deeper affection. Unfortunately, Mrs. Carnegie learns of Clara’s true origins. Can Andrew’s love withstand learning her secret-or should Clara simply leave it all behind? Benedict’s (The Other Einstein) second novel captures the rush of industry that accompanied the American Civil War and the men like Andrew Carnegie, who were truly self-made. VERDICT With its well-drawn characters, good pacing, and excellent sense of time and place, this volume should charm lovers of historicals, romance, and the Civil War period. Neither saccharine nor overly dramatized, it’s a very satisfying read.–Pamela O’Sullivan, Coll. at Brockport Lib., SUNY

About the Author

Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus in History and Art History, and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. While practicing as a lawyer, Marie dreamed of a fantastical job unearthing the hidden historical stories of women — and finally found it when she tried her hand at writing. She embarked on a new, narratively connected series of historical novels with The Other Einstein, which tells the tale of Albert Einstein’s first wife, a physicist herself, and the role she might have played in his theories.

Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also published the historical novels The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare.  Her website is www.authormariebenedict.com.

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Touchdown Kid by Tim Green

Touchdown Kid by Tim Green. October 3, 2017. HarperCollins, 320 p. ISBN: 9780062293855.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.0.

Cory has always been passionate about football. But life for him and his single mom has been hard, making it difficult for Cory to play. And though Cory is a good kid, he’s constantly surrounded by negative influences. But when the coach from an elite private school with one of the best football programs in the country recognizes his talents on the field, Cory is presented with an unbelievable opportunity.

Cory knows that football could be his ticket out. But leaving to attend private school also means struggling to fit into a world where most people look at him and just see a scholarship kid from the wrong side of town. Cory knows that if he can fight hard enough—both on and off the field—he may be able to secure a bright future that looks different from his unpromising past.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination; Classism

 

About the Author

Tim Green, for many years a star defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons, is a man of many talents. He’s the author of such gripping books for adults as the New York Times bestselling The Dark Side of the Game and a dozen suspense novels, including Exact Revenge and Kingdom Come. Tim graduated covaledictorian from Syracuse University and was a first-round NFL draft pick. He later earned his law degree with honors. Tim has worked as an NFL analyst for FOX Sports and as an NFL commentator for National Public Radio, among other broadcast experience.

He lives with his wife, Illyssa, and their five children in upstate New York.  His website is timgreenbooks.com

 

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