Book Reviews: Hatchling Hero by J. A. Watson and Two’s a Crowd by Flora Ahn @JollyFishPress @funaek @Scholastic

Hatchling Hero
A Sea Turtle Defender’s Journal
J.A. Watson
Jolly Fish Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-161-0
Trade Paperback

The move from Puerto Rico to North Carolina was not an easy for one twelve-year-old Clarita. It wasn’t just geography, or missing friends; there was a life-style change as well. With both Mama and Tio having such busy schedules, Clarita felt isolated and in-charge-of her younger brother, Hector.

So, while she wasn’t particularly pleased to be forced into anything, this Science Squad thing that Mama insisted on might be a good idea after all. When the team chooses to track sea turtles for their project, Clarita is excited to finally find a familiarity. With her first American school-year behind her, she is starting to think that summer with the Science Squad should be fun.

With the recently laid eggs so close to their new home, Clarita and Hector were happy to host their fellow turtle lovers. But when keeping check on the nearby nest turns to witnessing criminal activity, the Sea Turtle Defenders are going to require adult assistance.

Not only did I (a Not-Young-Adult) enjoy this story, but it was educational in a sneaky way. I’m fairly certain I had not seen the word “skeletochronology” before. Now, I know what that means. Although the tiny tome is incredibly informative, it is in no way intimidating or complicated. And, while there’s no doubting the Sea Turtle Defenders’ outstanding deeds, deliberately disobeying rules will not be overlooked.

J.A. Watson’s Hatchling Hero: A Sea Turtle Defender’s Journal will absolutely appeal to Middle-Grade readers, but I kind of want everyone to read it.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2020.

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Two’s A Crowd
Pug Pals #1
Flora Ahn
Scholastic Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-11845-2
Hardcover

Sunny lives the perfect pug life. When her human goes to work, she does, too. She has her yoga and Mr. Bunny to tend to. She needs nothing.

So, Sunny was far from pleased when her human came home with another pug. The human calls the spastic pup Rosy. Sunny has nothing to say to wiggly, happy, fuzz-ball following her around.

Until Rosy accidentally loses Mr. Bunny. And then Sunny loses Rosy!

In Sunny’s search for Rosy, she finds fault in her own behavior and vows to make some changes. If she can only find that perturbing puppy.

I absolutely adore this Juvenile Fiction chapter book, but you don’t have to take my word for it. I spoke to the first-grader currently reading it and she says “it’s great” and that Sunny’s yoga poses are “so funny”.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2020.

Book Reviews: The Search for Baby Ruby by Susan Shreve and Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender @AALBooks @kacencallender @Scholastic

The Search for Baby Ruby
Susan Shreve
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-41783-9
Hardcover

Jess has been looking forward to her oldest sister’s wedding, particularly being able to participate in the celebratory events surrounding it, for an entire year. Dressing for the rehearsal dinner in the swank Los Angeles hotel suite, she felt a mix of nerves and excitement.

Until her feckless brother barged in, Baby Ruby in his arms. To no one’s surprise, the babysitter he’d arranged did not show up. Danny was determined to attend the event, as he had a ‘very important’ speech to make. He needed Jess to stay in and babysit. She would miss the entire evening’s festivities.

To soothe her soul, Jess lets the baby stretch out on a blanket on the floor while she…admires…the intricately beaded wedding gown and gobs of brand-new make-up. In a typical, sulky-teen-kind-of-way, Jess quickly becomes distracted and is unsure of how much time has passed since she’s checked on Baby Ruby.

When she sticks her head out of the bathroom, she is shocked to see only wrinkles where Baby Ruby once was. The child is gone.

Jess pulls her shop-lifting-sister, Teddy, into her panic and the two pair up to find the infant before anyone else knows she’s missing. Unaware that housekeeping has alerted the authorities, the teen sleuths separate to search the hotel.

The Search for Baby Ruby by Susan Shreve is a Middle-Grade mystery with a quick start and fast, but not frantic, pace that makes for an engaging, effortless read.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2020.

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Hurricane Child
Kacen/Kheryn Callender
Scholastic Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-12930-4
Hardcover

Sometimes I’m stunned by how hard a Middle Grade book can hit me. Hurricane Child by Kacen/Kheryn Callender serves as a stellar example.

Caroline is complex, particularly for an adolescent island-girl. She is carrying a bunch of baggage, and has no one to help with the load.

Years ago, an emptiness began to eat at her. Her mother inexplicably abandoned Caroline and her father. With her dad working all the time, and avoiding her questions when he was around, a frustration began to build and threaten to fill her completely. Nothing but negative emotions and absolutely not a soul to share with, Caroline was always angry and so very alone.

Until she meets Kalinda.

New students are rare in the tiny St. Thomas school, but Kalinda seems to handle being the center of attention easily. Caroline is immediately attracted to her confidence and poise and she quickly decides to befriend this intriguing young lady. As soon as possible.

Here, Ms. Callender considers the pseudo-taboo subject of sexuality. Simultaneously showing two sides of the same coin provides perspective and allows the reader to experience differing mind-sets, neutrally. The reason for her mother’s departure keeps me contemplative and has me considering various points-of-view.

Caroline’s stubborn and defiant actions almost over-ride the seriousness of some situations, making the punch a bit more surprising, thus proving to be more painful. And I mean that in the best way possible.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2019.

Book Reviews: Spin by Lamar Giles and Sideline Pressure by Kyle Jackson @LRGiles @Scholastic @JollyFishPress

Spin
Lamar Giles
Scholastic Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-338-21921-0
Hardcover

Mr. GilesSpin is a suck-you-in-so-fast YA suspense novel centered around teen-aged rising star, DJ ParSec. Or maybe more honestly, her murder.

Childhood friend and confidante, Kya, is incredibly proud of Paris’ success. Not just because of her own countless contributions in creating ParSec’s first set up. Kya has always been her biggest fan, staunchest supporter and most fierce defender. But, when one event shatters a huge part of Kya’s life and she desperately needs her best bud, she gets the persona, ParSec, and a cold shoulder instead.

That isn’t the only relationship crumbling for the frustrated DJ. She and fan-turned-friend, Fuse, had been spatting more than planning lately. Creative differences, nothing to do with the boy who may or may not have caused this wedge.

Oh, and the boy—well, his motives have been questionable since he’s come onto the scene.

From the outside looking in, it seems that there was a riff with Paris and three of the most important people in her life. But when delving deeper, the reader is reminded that things are not always as they appear and sometimes, the very real danger is cleverly disguised.

Spin epitomizes the stories I love to share with “my” students. Realistic, relatable characters with actual issues, sometimes solved by the very real strength of friendship.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2020.

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Sideline Pressure
Mac’s Sports Report
Kyle Jackson
Jolly Fish Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-236-5
Trade Paperback

It takes a responsible, disciplined person to make a reliable reporter. One who will remember his role. For example, a sports reporter provides a recap of the game. Sure, it can be colorful and somewhat opinionated, but it needs to stay on topic.

And that’s why Mac had to delete his original draft. While well-written, it had not exactly centered on the dismal performance of the Predators. But, by the last buzzer, none of the fans could concentrate on the middle-graders playing their hearts out on the court, either. The eruption of the anger-ball in the audience far overshadowed the basketball game.

I first ‘met’ Mac and his stellar statistician sidekick when I read Mr. Jackson’s Concussion Comeback. I adore the free-wheelin’ sports reporter, and I’m equally enamored with Samira. No surprise that I was super excited to start Sideline Pressure. Tackling yet another tough topic, this fast-paced Juvenile Fiction sports story shines a light on parents behaving badly and the rippling adverse effects.

Drew Borders is a strong starter for Coyote Canyon Middle School. Not good enough for the high-powered, ever-so-important attorney that is, unfortunately, his father. Stalking the sidelines, fired-up like a college coach during March Madness, Mr. Borders begins to angrily bark ‘advice’; but by game’s end and in-spite of the win, he’s just being nasty. Mac wants to do something and when Drew comes to him for help, of course he’s willing. If he can only figure out how.

I really enjoyed watching Mac work through the problem. When he made a mistake, or did not get the result he was going for, he tried a new tactic. And when he made up his mind, he stood his ground. Even after Mr. Borders threatened legal action.

If you’ve not recently had the pleasure of participation in youth sports, the irrational actions of this basketball-dad may seem a bit over the top. Sadly, speaking from (what feels like) extensive experience, this portrayal is particularly precise. I’m looking forward to sharing my new favorite sports story with my younger reader-friends. It’s a special kind of awesome to handily have something that makes the boys’ eyes light up.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2019.

Book Review: Out of the Wild Night by Blue Balliett @BlueBalliett @Scholastic

Out of the Wild Night
Blue Balliett
Scholastic Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-86756-6
Hardcover

Nantucket was settled by strong folks willing to work hard and, maybe more importantly, together. Of course, how else could a human take down a whale and make use of the entire animal? There is no reason for mainlanders to come to the island, and if not on a hunt, certainly no cause to leave. Living like this creates a unique bond, a bit stronger than even the tightest of communities.

Even generations after whale hunters, with tourists crossing over to visit and fantasize about a slow-paced, small-town lifestyle—which is simply the surface—the ties held tightly. And to be fair, it isn’t as if everyone eventually leaves the island. Rather, the spirits of so many souls seem to find solace in the homes built so long ago and still standing today.

The islanders, for the most part, are content to cohabit with the ghosts. Admittedly, most adults ignore, instead of acknowledge, their presence; but the children and the elderly are often wide open.

To Phee, her mother and grandfather; the spirits are no different than the living. The family treats them the same way—as they would wish to be treated. Although Phee’s mom has been on the mainland for some time now, she and her grandfather have been getting by just fine, minding their own business. Until they couldn’t.

A contractor has come to town and he has dollar signs in his eyes. Blissfully buying up old and cherished homes, gutting them only to fill them with cheap, modern amenities; he doesn’t notice that his actions are anger-inducing. Pranks in and around his work areas quickly morph into more dangerous sabotage-style attacks. Workers are injured. Still, he is not getting the message. Even with Mary Chase doing her best to bring it to his attention.

Mary is frantically reaching out to everyone around, to no avail. She worries that the folks of Nantucket no longer need the spirits of their ancestors. Then she remembers Phee and her grandfather. Soon, Mary has the help that she needs, but will it be in time to calm the ghost-culprits?

Ms. Balliett kept me captivated, guessing…and second guessing, in this Middle-Grade, ghost-story mystery. Easily evident is her admiration and adoration of Nantucket and I enjoyed learning about the island and its people.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.

Book Reviews: Colombiano by Rusty Young, Abby in Wonderland by Sarah Mlynowski and Otherwise Known As Possum by Maria D. Laso @SarahMlynowski @Scholastic

Colombiano
Rusty Young
Havelock & Baker, August 2017
ISBN–AU 9780143781547
Havelock & Baker, February 2020
ISBN–US 978-0648445319
Trade Paperback

You can’t truly know what someone else is going through without walking in his shoes. Unless Mr. Young writes about it. In Colombiano, those of us fortunate enough to be far removed from any war zone, see exactly what living amid battles entails; in day-to-day life, as well the overall impact it has on absolutely everything.

Certainly, most people know that the Guerilla evoke evil with their aggressive cocaine manufacturing and distribution. The gross misunderstanding is that the Guerilla are fighting the army and law enforcement; not citizens. Leading to the false conclusion that, if folks go about their business, there’s no real reason for this pesky fighting to bother them. The carefully controlled propaganda supports this theory. Even having the place of worship utterly obliterated by “errant” fire is only an unfortunate consequence.

Pedro has listened to placates until he thought his head may explode. Papi made sure he contained, or at least properly channeled, his rage. There was Camila to consider. Rounding out the small group of people close to Pedro is the somewhat goofy, undeniably adorable, Pallilo. Pedro can push his anger aside for them.

Right up until the Guerilla descended on his father’s farm. In front of his disbelieving eyes, Papi is surrounded as accusations are hurled. The feisty fifteen-year-old cannot watch the depraved tirade and hold his tongue. Boldly, stupidly, Pedro demands an explanation. His father’s crime was revealed with a hint of glee. The farmer had the audacity to allow soldiers from the army to drink water from his well.

The resulting punishment is a defining, dividing moment for Pedro. There are men like Papi. Those who believed, as people of God, it was never right to deny a thirsty man a drink. And there are monsters masquerading as men—the Guerilla.

The situation that Pedro is forced to face is tragic. His retaliatory actions, atrocious. And yet…the author manages to demonstrate how a furious and yes, frightened, adolescent can morph into a ruthless mankiller—all the while reminding the reader that Pedro remains, essentially, a boy.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2019.

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Abby in Wonderland
Whatever After Special Edition #1
Sarah Mlynowski
Scholastic, Inc., October 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-74667-0
Trade Paperback

Sustaining a series is no simple task. Inserting a special edition story that is somehow as fresh and fun as the very first book seems insurmountable. Except to Ms. Mlynowski.

This fairy-tale-esque fantasy adds adventure and humor absolutely appropriate for younger readers, while maintaining a subtle, something-more; making it compelling and quirky enough for older audiences as well.

I enjoyed being the proverbial parrot-on-the-shoulder as four friends share a day off from school. Per usual, Penny’s parents are not around, but her house is huge and her nanny is happy to host. Penny has planned the entire day and she is not going to let a little cold air or a brisk breeze ruin the card game on the patio.

But when the wind whipped a card across the yard and into the neighboring golf-course, Abby abruptly abandoned the game to give chase. The other three follow until Frankie falls into a hole. Penny’s agenda is pushed aside. The girls have a real problem to solve.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.

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Otherwise Known As Possum
Maria D. Laso
Scholastic Press, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-93196-0
Trade Paperback

Possum, to me, is kind of a country Pippi Longstocking. Both young girls are wise to the ways of the world, if not properly educated. Tough, fiercely independent with lasting loyalty and a heart bigger than her small body should be able to hold, Possum is another exemplary young lady.

Certainly a smile-through-tears kind of story combining spunk, mischief and intuitive, undeniable kindness, I thoroughly enjoyed the bitter-sweet reflections from the late 20th century in this captivating Juvenile Fiction from Ms. Laso.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

Book Reviews: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater and War Spies by Daniel Polansky @mstiefvater @DanielPolansky @Scholastic

Call Down the Hawk
The Dreamer Trilogy, Book 1
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, November 2019
ISBN 978-1338188325
Hardcover

There’s an inexplicable way that Ms. Stiefvater wields her words so that the reader is comforted by the cadence and speeds along the stripped-down, short statements that say so very much. If this book were a car, it’d be the 2020 Lotus. Call Down the Hawk doesn’t warm up, it’s already impatiently revving, mirroring the barely-held-back growl that vibrates inside of Ronan Lynch.

Yes, my fellow Raven Cycle fans, Ronan Lynch is back! And, we are in his world now. Beyond the barns.

Ms. Stiefvater, of course makes no time for traipsing down memory lane, but there’s no need. New readers won’t need the background of The Raven Cycle to thoroughly enjoy this story centered around the Lynch brothers. I will not be surprised however, if readers of this first tantalizing tale in the Dreamer Trilogy seek out Raven Cycle series while waiting for the second, simply Stiefvater, Dreamer Book.

Ronan Lynch is a Dreamer. But that isn’t what makes him so surly and somewhat terrifying. Those traits are mainly because he is always thinking. Working out complicated puzzles in his head means that any interruption, even as innocuous as a casual greeting, is enough to have him snarling.

Declan, the eldest Lynch sibling, exists in a severely serious state of being. His dogged determination to be boring infuriates Ronan, while Ronan’s recklessness gives Declan heartburn. But both brothers adore their younger brother Matthew. The elder siblings are viciously protective of the blissfully unaware boy, in his constant state of content.

Despite their differences, the brothers Lynch are going to have to find a way to work together. The recent loss of both parents has made the trio a target. Turns out, Dreamers aren’t quite as secret or unique as the boys had been led to believe. In fact, there is a group of people banded together for the sole purpose of finding and eliminating all of the Dreamers.

If the brothers Lynch are to survive the assault, they will have to finally be completely honest with each other. Facing the folks set out to obliterate Dreamers could be exponentially easier than unleashing the secrets each sibling has been desperately trying to keep.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2019.

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War Spies: One Mission, Six Bios
Daniel Polansky
Scholastic Paperbacks, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-57655-0
Trade Paperback

Spies seem to have always been significant in warfare, serving not only to steal and share information, but often sabotaging plans as well. This non-fiction collection contains six scintillating, snap-shot bios of some of the most effective double-agents throughout history.

While this may have been written with Middle-Grade and Young Adult readers in mind, this Not-So-Young reader found it to be incredibly interesting and enlightening. I know many of “my” students will definitely dig it.

From the ‘original spymaster’ to the ‘limping lady’, fascinating facts fill the pages. I even re-read the section on the British spy agency’s first female operative. Although I knew a good bit about Belle Boyd, I was delighted to discover the first crime she committed: as a child, she taught a young slave to read.

War Spies is the 7th book in the Profiles series and I learned so much, so quickly that I’m going back for more.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2019.

Book Reviews: The Furies by Katie Lowe and Don’t Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castellucci @fatgirlphd @stmartinspress @misscecil @Scholastic

The Furies
Katie Lowe
St. Martin’s Press, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-29789-1
Hardcover

Theoretically, it may be a bit easier to handle the aftermath of a tragedy if someone close suffers the same horror. Certainly, an adolescent girl could expect her mother to understand and to bear the burden with her. Vivian’s mom does know the shock, the overwhelming ache of emptiness. It’s almost as if she found a way to absorb it. Vivian no longer sees her mom, there is only a hollow shell where the warm, caring soul should still be.

Perhaps Vivian, too, would have just faded away, if not for the opportunity to attend the prestigious Elm Hollow. A curious campus—that, of course “has a history”—and the intriguing course-structures were appealing. But it was watching the girls making their way from class to class that truly began to stir something inside of Vivian. For the first time, in a long time, Vivian felt like learning again. Looking forward, making friends, maybe even dating: thoughts that had been gathering dust in the back of her brain tentatively slunk forward.

Young ladies gathered in pairs, loose groups and a few had chosen solo spots and were sprinkled throughout. One thing seemed the same, though. All seemed…content.

Ok, not “all”.

There are three…or to be more accurate, there is a trio standing out. Admittedly, the righteous red of Robin’s hair is impossible to miss, but Vivian is pretty sure there’s an undercurrent connecting the clearly-close friends. Inexplicably drawn to them, Vivian feels her heart beat again when she is welcomed into their fold.

Ms. Lowe doesn’t allow the uplifting illusion to linger.

As Vivian embraces all of Elm Hollow her mind happily gathers information, albeit by bits and pieces. She soon learns enough to put together a surprising, scary picture. Relationships are not new; backgrounds are tangled, gnarled roots and Vivian has been snagged. Entirely on her own, she will become eternally ensnared in Elm Hollow, or she will have to hack her way out.

I cannot wait to take this suck-you-in-and-spin-you-story to “my” students next month!

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2019.

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Don’t Cosplay With My Heart
Cecil Castellucci
Scholastic Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-12549-8
Hardcover

This Young Adult novel begins with (what I hope is) an atypical teen scenario. Completely overcome by complicated, conflicting emotions…currently manifesting as mainly anger, Edan dons her Gargantua mask before sitting down to her final family dinner. For the foreseeable future.

She didn’t know much about her dad’s business, other than his firm handled payroll for several Hollywood productions. Lately, she’s heard whispers of misappropriated funds and missing money. Now, her father is being sequestered. But this is not a tale of white-collar crime. Although, that may be a bit more pertinent to the plot than I initially anticipated.

To me, the story is about Edan’s exponential growth as life forces her into self-discovery and independence at a wholly unanticipated time. Sort of like learning to swim by being thrown into the water, having never even contemplated swimming lessons. And Edan is truly alone.

Her best bud, Kasumi, is spending the summer in Japan. Their conversations are quick and Kasumi seems so happy that Edan cannot bear to burden her with what’s happening at home. Edan has to do something to get out of the house and more importantly, out of her own head. Attending her first Comic Con, solo, should do the trick.

Despite her admiration and adoration of all things Team Tomorrow, the best comic-book ever, Edan didn’t know much about the fan-filled conventions. And, aside from the recent addition of the Gargantua mask to her attire, she absolutely knew nothing of cosplaying. After attending only one con though, Edan was wholly hooked and, with a goal: “…learn how to make a costume so great that it pulls me right out of my misery and changes my life.”

I appreciate the realistic and relatable mistakes Edan made, as well as how she corrected them. And, I’m always particularly fond of friendships formed in the most unlikely of places. I found this to be fun and entertaining, without being cotton-candy fluffy.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2018.