Cultural Traditions in Germany

Cultural Traditions in Germany by Lynn Peppas, Crabtree Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 9780778780601. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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This book is part of a series introducing youngsters to celebrations, festivals and holidays in other countries. It does a fine job of showing Germans celebrating events, some dating back 600 years or more. Many are filled with fun, a few have political meaning and one, the National Day of Mourning which began in February after World War One, before being moved following WW2 to November, is a day of mourning and remembrance.

The author shares interesting facts about each one including dates, locations, special features and collections between any that provided impetus or influence to ones celebrated in our country. In addition to being a good introduction and cultural springboard, this book would be a good one for families planning a trip to Germany in terms of planning it.

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Filed under Grade K-3, Nonfiction

Dawn of Rebellion

Dawn of Rebellion by Michelle Lynn, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 9, 2016). ISBN: 9781537509235. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Dawn and her older and more reckless sister Gabby live in an alternate history version of London. Global drought and climate instability created world chaos and the United States was among the countries that fell. Great Britain is now the most powerful nation and uses wild and uncivilized America as a prison colony.

The sisters have been in survival mode ever since their father was killed in an auto accident on the way home to Dawn’s birthday party. As soon as their mother received the news, she walked off and has never been seen again.

When Gabby is arrested for a petty crime, her current boyfriend, whose dad is a very powerful government official, is unable to intercede and she’s sent off to a prison colony in what used to be Florida. Dawn must shed her shyness and fear of bucking the system if she has any hope of saving Gabby. She has no way of crossing the Atlantic, but when Gabby’s boyfriend, Drew seeks her out with a wild plan, she finds the courage to accompany him as stowaways on a cargo plane.

What happens after they land makes for a riveting and highly engrossing story with one heck of a cliffhanger at the end. Admittedly there are some small editing defects and wrong words (to instead of too, for example) in the print edition, but the strength of the story far outshines them. I look forward to reading the second and third installments. There is violence and some British profanity, but neither are at a level that should deter libraries from adding a copy.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Science fiction

The Secret of a Heart Note

The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, Katherine Tegen Books, 2016. ISBN: 9780062428325. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Mimosa is one of only two aromateurs left in the world. The other is her very controlling and tightly wound mom. At fifteen, Mim has just started public school after winning a battle with her mom over not being homeschooled any more. Most of her time before now has involved keeping the big garden on their property in shape and assisting Mom in the creation of carefully crafted love potions.

While she really wants some normalcy in her life, the way other girls except her friend Kali, treat her and the cruel comments they make have her feeling like a pariah. The boys are problematic, but in a different way. The traces of scents, pollens and oils on her hair and clothes create an unwanted attraction, requiring her to spray them quite often with the guy equivalent of insect repellent.

When she messes up a potion delivery and the wrong woman imbibes it, she must rely on the star of the high school soccer team to remedy things. Since she’s been told from day one by her mother that falling in love is forbidden, working with Court to get the herbs and flowers needed to create an undo potion is both heavenly and hellish. Then something happens while they’re in the ocean retrieving the last ingredient that turns her life upside down.

By the time readers finish the book, they’ve been on quite the romantic roller coaster, one that involves Mim fearing she’s screwed up her life forever, almost losing her best friend and discovering what really happened years before between her mother and her aunt who she’s never met. Teens liking a quirky love story with a bit of magical realism will like this a lot. It’s a good book for any library to consider.

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Gladiators

Gladiators by Natalie Hyde, Crabtree Publishing, 2016. ISBN: 9780778722885. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

gladiators

This is an extremely information rich book. Young readers curious about gladiators will find their curiosity more than sated. In fact, they may well know more than most adults about the social structure, class system and history of gladiators after reading it. The information, presented in chronological format, introduces readers to many key players, both gladiators and emperors, covers topics like how and why female gladiators came into being, that certain emperors competed as gladiators, how the competitions affected the Roman Empire financially as well as what effect they had on the wildlife population.

It is a worthy addition to any school or public library.

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Filed under Grade K-3, Nonfiction

Maya and The Book of Everything

Maya and the Book of Everything by Laurie Graves, Hinterlands Press, 2016. ISBN: 9780997845303. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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From the moment you meet Maya on a Boston bound train until the very surprising twist at the end which so smoothly sets up the next book, you’re in for an adventure.

Maya’s bound for East Vassalboro, Maine for the summer. Still hurt and angry about her father’s abandonment and new family in North Carolina, she and her artist mom are spending more than their traditional month this time. When she notices a grim and evil looking man a few seats down on the train, she realizes the object of his attention is a nervous looking young woman further down the compartment. Sensing something amiss, Maya creates a distraction while walking past him and the woman who drops something in her messenger bag.

The mystery object turns out to be a book, and what a book it is! Maya learns it’s Earth’s edition of The Book of Everything, a volume that constantly changes, has unique powers and can interact with certain people, Maya being one of them. There are evil people who want the book as well as a group of dedicated librarians who are equally determined to protect it.

Once her bond with the book forms, Maya’s life changes in unexpected ways. Time no longer stays constant, the book takes her to a neighborhood ion Waterville years before where she meets Andy, a boy two years older than Maya who’s fifteen. Meeting him is just an intermediate step, leading to another world where she finds a toad queen, an ancient oak, feuding brothers, magic and another side trip to The Great Library where Books of Everything are carefully crafted for worlds all over the universe.

This is an excellently crafted urban fantasy, one that teens and adults will like a lot. Maine and librarians play significant roles in the story and Maya and Andy are strong and very likable protagonists. Laurie has created a full and intriguing world with equally intriguing characters. It’s an excellent choice for both school and public libraries.

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Filed under Fantasy, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

The Catalyst

The Catalyst by Helena Coggan, Candlewick (October 11, 2016). ISBN: 9780763689728. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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A dozen years ago, an experiment gone terribly bad opened the sky over London. What followed was a horrible war that left mankind split between the magical Gifted and non-magical Ashkind. Most survivors are fuzzy about the exact details of that war, but those like David Elmsworth, who fought in it, have terrible and vivid memories of the death and destruction involved.

He’s now high up in the feared Department, a government branch that is powerful, full of Gifted and charged with maintaining order. David has spent the last fifteen years raising his adopted daughter, Rose, who he found abandoned as a baby during the war. They share something else, a frightening secret that could get both of them killed. There’s a lot that Rose isn’t sure about and David isn’t the most forthcoming. When she’s confronted by a gaunt man who escaped from the Department, she goes against her initial instinct and helps him. As time goes on and they start talking, she begins to question more and more about her life and whether the Department is what it’s supposed to be.

Rose’s journey to discover the truth isn’t easy, nor without violence. There are opposition forces that have no qualms about killing innocents in the quest to destroy the Department and the Angels who have ruled everything since the end of the war. This is a complex book with numerous plot twists, not perfect, but a very good read, more so since the author is in her middle teens. I’m really looking forward to the sequel.

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Filed under Grade 10-12, Science fiction

With Malice

With Malice by Eileen Cook, HMH Books for Young Readers (June 7, 2016). ISBN: 9780544805095. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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You wake up, or more accurately, come to in a hospital room. As your brain begins functioning, you realize you’re pretty badly injured. When you start thinking more clearly, you realize that a chunk of your life has been ripped from your memory and that words elude you when you try to speak. Welcome to Jill’s new world. When she asks to call her long time best friend Simone, her estranged parents stonewall her and before she can start putting the pieces together, have an overbearing lawyer intruding in her life.

As Jill ever so slowly starts putting things together, she’s horrified to learn that not only are six weeks of her life missing, but she can’t remember anything from her long-awaited trip to Italy. Then she has to face the frightening reality that Simone is dead and lots of people think she killed her on the trip.

The story proceeds from there like very slick layers of an onion being peeled to reveal a bit more in every chapter. Many of the following chapters are interviews done by local police, others areby Italian cops of people on the trip as well as Italians who saw the girls in hotels or just before the event that killed Simone. Jill’s own attempts to regain her memory, deal with her parents, stepmother, the press and her lawyer, as well as a new friend she makes in the rehabilitation center, all add more pieces to the puzzle. Even so, the ending was a surprise to me and one I found to be well crafted. Teen mystery lovers will devour this book and feel a sense of satisfaction afterward.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

The Possibility of Now

The Possibility of Now by Kim Culbertson, Point (January 26, 2016). ISBN: 9780545731461. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Anxiety goes hand in hand with the pressure to do well. For Mara James, on track to be top academic dog in her class at a private high school in San Diego, it’s like her alter ego. That is until the day she has a complete meltdown in calculus just before a test. She had what’s later diagnosed as a panic attack and turns a bunch of tests that are about to be handed out, into confetti while sobbing uncontrollably. She might have been able to live with that, but someone in her class caught the whole humiliating event on a cellphone and posted it online. Over 600,000 people have viewed her mega-meltdown and after hiding in her room over a holiday break, she wants out.

Out for Mara means moving in with Trick, the father she barely knows 700 miles north in Lake Tahoe. She’s seen him once when she was seven and he took her to the San Diego Zoo. Mom won’t talk to her about what led to their breakup and is less than thrilled about letting Mara go. In fact her reluctant permission comes with numerous strings including seeing a shrink and keeping up with the assignments she can access via a portal to stay current at her high school.

Despite initial misgivings, Mara soon discovers that there’s something magical about Lake Tahoe, a something that includes learning to see herself better, learning to trust new people, learning that lists aren’t always the best way to live and most importantly realizing, as one man she meets tells her “Most people don’t care what you’ve done. In my experience, they’re just trying to find their car keys.”

Following Mara’s journey from overstressed humiliation to feeling good in her own skin makes for a delightful read. It’s a book many teens dealing with the uncertainty of competition and family craziness will easily relate to. It’s a good addition to any library serving teens.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

The Weight of Zero

The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunate, Delacorte Press (October 11, 2016). ISBN: 978.1101938898. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Zero is out there, patient, menacing and powerful. That’s the name seventeen year old Cat Pulaski has given to the depression aspect of her bipolar disorder. It came out of nowhere immediately after her beloved grandmother died of a stroke. Cat was there, but at age thirteen, felt powerless, yet somehow responsible for what happened. Now, four years later, she’s experienced both Zero and the manic side of her disorder and is terrified that Zero is about to return, more powerful than ever.

It’s this paralyzing fear that clouds her judgment to a point where she is unable to be honest or tell what parts of her daily life are ‘teen-normal’ versus her disorder. When she begins an intensive outpatient program (IOP), she’s guarded, but the other teens in it, some from her own school, soon begin to show her, through reluctantly talking about their own illnesses and behaviors, that they’re going through similar stuff. This bonding, coupled with her exciting, but scary relationship with Michael, a boy in her class who wants to get to know her, start Cat on an uneven, twisted and often painful journey to realization about the real prognosis for bipolar disorder.

Reading about this journey is addictive and emotional. Having worked on an inpatient adolescent unit for years, I can attest to how realistic the author’s portrayal of Cat’s fears, hopes and behaviors are. Granted there’s strong language, but it’s consistent with what these teens are going through. The secondary characters are all extremely well drawn, making this a strong candidate for both school and public library collections.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Beast

Beast by Brie Spangler, Alfred A. Knopf, October, 2016. ISBN: 9781101937167. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Dylan has some large roadblocks between happiness and his daily life. One is his size. At fifteen, he’s well over six feet and weighs close to 250. It’s not fat, he’s big like his dad…His late dad who died of cancer when he was three. It’s just him and his mother, still living in the house his parents bought and had such dreams for. Then there’s his appearance. He’s hairy, really, really hairy, hence the nickname his best (and only) friend JP, gave him. Because of it, everyone has called him Beast for years.

Inside, he’s not really different from the rest of his classmates. He has fears, crushes and is above average intellectually, but has found himself a literal prisoner of his best friend, who uses emotional blackmail to get Dylan to strong arm other teens who owe JP money. JP’s no saint, but readers get an inkling of what makes him tick, thanks to his conversations with both Dylan and his mother. JP’s family is rich in money, but poverty-stricken in nurture and family warmth. In fact, he’s lived in a fancy tree house in his back yard for years.

When junior year starts, a new edict—no hats, no long hair, coupled with a really cruel act by JP lands Dylan on the roof outside his bedroom window and he breaks his leg in the resulting fall. Mom’s worried that it was a suicide attempt, and her worry lands him in a teen therapy group. It’s there he meets Jamie who is beautiful, funny and transgender. Unfortunately, he missed hearing her share that in group because he was in a major self-pity mode.

How he and Jamie navigate the uneasy path of attraction, gender issues, JP’s manipulative behavior, Dylan’s desperate wish for a cosmic sign, not to mention two moms who are on 24/7 helicopter status because of fears that their child will come to a bad end, make this a very hard book to put down. Despite language and one sex scene, it’s a very good book for school and public libraries to consider adding.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12