Friday, January 30, 2015

Classic MG Read-along of Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Tuck Everlasting readalong
January's pick for the Classic Middle Grade Read along with the Midnight Garden was the Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.  You can follow along or join in the discussion at or #tmgreadalong on Twitter.  

84981 This was the cover on the edition that I read, but I like the 40th Anniversary one so much better.  I believe it captures the essence of Winnie.  What do you think?

From Goodreads: "Doomed to - or blessed with - eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune."  

This was my first time reading Tuck Everlasting and I absolutely adored Babbitt's beautiful descriptions of the setting, and the imagery she conjures with phrases like "The sky was a ragged blaze of red and pink and orange, and its double trembled on the surface of the pond like color spilled from a paintbox.  The sun was dropping fast now, a soft red sliding egg yolk, and already to the east there was a darkening to purple."  It's the kind of story that I know I will be reflecting on long after reading it.  

Winnie is this lovely 10 year-old girl who is talking to a toad about her reasons for wanting to run away from home.  It wasn't initially clear to my why Winnie wanted to run away from home.  That is until she said,  "I'd be nice to have a new name, to start with, one that's not all worn out from being called so much."  It's then that I really began to feel for poor Winnie and her desire to just have a moment of peace from her overbearing mother and grandmother.  It isn't a wonder that she goes off looking to explore the music coming from the woods, curiosity seems to get the best of her.  Babbitt does a wonderful job of illustrating Winnie's struggles over being afraid to leave, but needing to find out what was making the noise.  It's then that Winnie see's seventeen-year-old Jesse drinking water by a tree.   Jessie is waiting for his older brother and mother, and once they find out that Winnie saw him drinking the water and she wants to drink from the spring as well,  they decide to kidnap her.  Winnie's kidnapping is not only to protect their secret but as a means to explain things to her.   After Winnie is kidnapped by the Tuck's, she goes through a range of emotions from shock, to fear, to sadness, understanding, happiness and loneliness.   The hardest one to read about was when Winnie says she wants to go home.  When it struck her that she wasn't going to be sleeping in her bed with her pajamas on, it was like a child who is really excited about having a sleepover and then nighttime hits and everything becomes scary all of a sudden.  I love the quiet way the story is told and how Winnie moves from being afraid of the Tuck's to adoring each of them.  

 I also loved how there was a large distinction between the ages of each of the characters and the way that they looked at mortality/or their immortality in the Tuck's case differently.  It certainly highlights the differences between youth, teenage, middle aged and elderly.  The idea that immortality may be a curse and not a blessing is a very interesting one to explore.  Winnie being the youngest, initially was thinking of Jesse's handsome looks and had not given much thought to death and dying before. What child really does at this age?   It left me sad that she was faced with all of these thoughts,  it seemed like a pretty tough topic for someone so young to be dealt with, but in a lot of ways one that children seem to hear about in the news sadly now-a-days anyways.   Jesse, envisioned that Winnie would drink the magical water and join him when she turned seventeen.   He sort of represents the wanderlust of living forever, the idea that you could go anywhere, see anything you want and be whatever you want. Miles had the experiences of being married and having children who grew up past him in age, he seemed to have a more practical way of looking at things and Ma and Pa tended to the day to day happenings and shy away from people.  I felt the most for Pa Tuck, who was envious of those that could die and move on from this world.  He was still one of my favorite characters and I especially enjoyed when he looked at Winnie like she was "an unexpected present, wrapped in pretty paper and tied with ribbons..." Although, Ma is pretty courageous for standing up to the man in the yellow suit too.  

**As a side note I saw a video in which the author describes the inspiration for her book and is reading from a chapter.  Natalie Babbitt reading from Tuck Everlasting   She says that "time is like a wheel and we need to accept the pattern that we've been given and see the good things about it and not worry about the changes that come to us because of it."  Overall, I think it sums the book up pretty well.  Would I want to live forever?  As a child most defiantly, I'd be like Jesse and want to explore the world.  As an adult, I think it would depend on whether or not I would be on my own or not. Having an eternity to spend with the love of my life and best friend sounds appealing, it seems like that would be hard to pass up.  Yet I tend to weigh the pros and cons, so would need more time to think about it.   

Thanks again to the ladies at The Midnight Garden for another wonderful classic read.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Andy Smithson: Power of the Heir's Passion a Prequel Novella

L.R.W. Lee is one of those authors that I've been following for quite sometime, well since 2013 when she introduced me to her Andy Smithson series. I've been reading and participating in blog tours since then.  She independently publishes through CreateSpace and I've enjoyed watching the way she takes her fantasy series and is able to weave in life lessons, while keeping it non preachy with just the right amount of humor. Her newest book is a Prequel Novella, Power of the Heir's Passion and includes the first two chapters of Book 1 Blast of the Dragon's Fury.  You can read my thoughts about the other books here:  Book 1: Andy Smithson Blast of the Dragons FuryBook 2: Venom of the Serpent's Cunning and Book 3: Disgrace of the Unicorn's Horn

Goodreads description: "Before the adventure, before perilous quests…the tale of three royal ghosts. 

In a land far away, there lived a prince who loved power. Carried away by his lust, he surrendered to its devices and usurped the throne from his older sister in an act of treachery.

Imogenia unexpectedly finds herself in the Afterlife, having to navigate between Peace Paradise, the Unclaimed Baggage department, the Unfinished Business office, and other governmental agencies.

Against a backdrop of soul music, she encounters all manner of new experiences from black, frothing, arsenic-spiced drinks to guest services personnel and plays host to her parents when they join her. While the spirits are friendly and the experiences memorable, Imogenia has never forgotten the cause of her early arrival in the afterlife, and plots revenge. Her parents initially support a beta test she proposes to the Committee on Afterlife Affairs to punish her brother, but grow weary of the conflict over five-hundred-years and petition to withdraw their support. What will Imogenia do? How will she realize the justice denied her? How will her actions impact others? "  

Power of the Heir's Passion is a re-imaging/rewriting if you will of the Prologue from Book 1 in the series,  with some new additions or maybe it's tweaks and more humor. I don't have the two in front of me to compare, but I'm just going to mostly relate the things I noticed this time around.  First, I really got a better understanding of why Imogenia wanted to get even with her brother, not just because he stabbed her in the back, but how she hoped to make him have consequences for his actions.  Somehow before I also totally missed the idea of the Beta test (was that in the prologue?), but I find it hilarious to think about the curse being in beta testing.  I think the various committee members were also added, with names like Patty Amnul on the Social committee and Tor Nado with Media Affairs.  They seemed to me more prominent in the novella then I remembered from the prologue.  Andy's role in breaking the quest also seemed more clear to me in the novella.  Okay, so here we have Imogenia in the afterlife terminal needing to make a decision about where she wants to head, Peace Paradise or to the Unfinished Business department. So what's the first thing that comes to my mind while reading this? Michael Keaton sitting in the waiting room in Beetlejuice, who remembers that movie? That's the kind of thing that I mean when I'm talking about why I like these stories.  Lee takes the time to go back and add some more backstory to her series, tweaking and adding to peak your interest to learn more.  Great book for someone new to the series, with enough here for those that have read it before to enjoy.  

You can find more information about the book Here: Goodreads
 Thanks again to L.R.W. Lee for the ebook copy in exchange for an honest review.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

The Whispering Skull picks up the story about six months after Lockwood & Co. had their most successful case investigating the haunting's at Combe Carey Hall. The agency has made some notoriety, but compared to the other agencies in England, they are still one of the smallest. They don't even have uniforms. When a new commission lands Lockwood and rival Fittes' agency on the same job, the two decide to settle their differences over a wager.  On the next joint case they receive, they will match wits and skills to solve the case,  with the losing team admitting that the winning team is superior in the Times newspaper. 

Lockwood & Co. is soon hired by Mr. Saunders to help with "eradicating some active remains.”   Particularly that of a Doctor Edmund Bickerstaff, who reportedly died under horrible circumstances, eaten by rats to be exact.  Mr. Saunders, indicates that Dr. Bickerstaff was rumored to have also been practicing witchcraft.   Lockwood agrees to help seal Dr. Bickerstaff's coffin for transport to DEPRAC (Department of Psychical Research and Control) headquarters for disposal.   Yet, things don't go off exactly as planned.  While sealing the coffin, the trio come into contact with a Visitor and a mysterious glass mirror.  After dispatching the Visitor, a break-in occurs at the chapel where the body of Dr. Bickerstaff was being held and the creepy mirror is stolen.  Both Fittes' Agency and Lockwood end up commissioned by DEPRAC to solve the case.    

The Whispering Skull has been sitting on my TBR pile since its release, so I knew that it was one of the first books I wanted to get to reading ASAP.  Johnathan Stroud is my go to author when it comes to wanting to read something mysteriously creepy.  Something filled with cemeteries, tombstones, and bloody bones and sinew.  I just love his take on the British ghosthunter trio of Lockwood and Co. and the humor that he interjects into his stories.  Much like the Bartimaeus character that I so enjoyed reading before, it was again ever present in The Whispering Skull.   With lines like "Don't forget we're following a clue given to us by a malicious ghost-head in a jar.  It's not reliable." What's not to love?   Stroud's characters aren't perfect and have their own set of flaws, which makes them just that much more endearing to me.  George being prone to experiments and a need to research something until the very end.  Lockwood with his allusiveness and Lucy's mysterious connection to a ghost skull confined in a glass jar who spoke to her in the last book of "death coming."   It's these flaws that land them into some interesting predicaments, leaving me knowing that I can expect a story filled with adventure, rapier battles against ghosts, flashlights and explosions.  And that feeling of walking through a haunted house, with the anticipation that something is going to jump out at you any moment and despite knowing it you walk on through the dark anyway.  Just loved it!  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Classic read-a-long of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

classics challenge

Little Women (1994) Poster
Image from
I have to admit when I think of Little Women the first thing that came to mind was the movie.  I've never really thought about picking up the book before, I think the length (500+ pages) always scared me off.  Yet knowing that I've enjoyed so many of the books that the ladies at The Midnight Garden have selected thus far, I knew I was up  for the challenge.  It just took me a little longer then I expected.  

If you haven't read Little Women or seen the movie, you should know that there are some spoilers below.  Go read the book.  

First off, I'm very glad that I read the book. To have missed this would have been sad.  What a wonderful story filled with sisterly affection, motherly love and seeing these girls move into being women. The differences between the movie and book are glaring.  So much of the charm of the story is lost by having their scenes cut out of the movie.  I know I shouldn't be surprised, but reading the book I really learned so much more about the family and these four women.  The early parts of the story where the girls are discussing how to make Christmas special for their mother, bringing their breakfast to a neighbor and the beautiful relationship that develops between Beth and Laurie's grandfather over the piano.  Things I know I would have missed entirely had I not read the book.  I'm usually the type of person who tries to think of movies and books as two entirely different things, and not compare the two, but in this case the book is so so much better.    

Beth was the character that I most enjoyed.  Shy Beth, who was so caring and kind a lover of music and the one who kept the peace in the house.  I loved reading about how she overcame her shyness and went to thank Laurie's grandfather for the piano.   I was so saddened by her death in the story, you could see how Alcott drew from her own experiences when writing these chapters.  It was so difficult to read her and Jo's conversation before she died.   Amy on the other hand was one of the characters that I didn't care for very much.  I still can't wrap my head around the idea that her and Laurie ended up together.  It bothers me that Laurie thought he could replace one sister for the other in his heart.  Something about that just doesn't sit right and doesn't ring true. That doesn't mean that I think that he and Jo would have worked out, they really are so much alike, but no Amy doesn't work for me.  Of all the girls,  Amy seems to have grown up the least.  She never really changes in the story in a dramatic way.  Yes, she realizes that women shouldn't marry for money, but it's all superficial things.  For goodness  sake, Laurie's nose is "a comfort" to her?   I know that I would have enjoyed reading Little Women in high school,  it has a romantic appeal to it that I would have devoured.  With quotes like "I never knew how much like heaven this world could be, when two people love and live for one another"  and   "Love is the only thing we can carry with us when we go.." Such a wonderful story.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Looking Ahead 2015

So today I donated my first batch of Cybils books that I received to the Elementary School.  Later today, I hope to deliver the remaining ones to the Middle School.  There is something about clearing out my shelves that has me looking ahead to books to read in 2015.  I'm pretty excited's what I'm looking forward to in no particular order.  

I already pre-ordered these beauties:

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #1)Norse Mythology, yes please.  I've been waiting to see what Riordan does with this. Fingers crossed.  

Mark of the Thief (Mark of the Thief, #1)

 Loved the False Prince series and Nielsen's writing.  I also really like the concept.  

17571248I love this series to pieces and that cover.  My absolute favorite so far this year.  

Authors and books that I want to continue reading:

22914236  22856146  
or ones that I want to explore:

22718727  21996359

No covers yet sadly:

Pirate Code (Hooks Revenge  2) by Heidi Schulz
A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen

ETA 1/27/15  We've got covers :)

24397055                                        22024488

Throw in some YA:    

16069030  Red Queen (Red Queen, #1)

Add in a classic read that I've been meaning to finish and complete.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Blog Tour and Giveaway: ARRGH! (MG fantasy adventure) by Stacey Campbell

I'm really excited to be a part of the blog tour review for ARRGH! by Stacey Campbell.  Be sure to check out all the other tour stops listed at bottom, plus don't miss out on entering the giveaway!


 ARRGH!  by Stacey Campbell
Forced to remain silent after being kidnapped by pirates Christopher must find a way to save an innocent merchant ship’s captain and his daughter from the evil grasp of Captain Redblade proving that friendship and family are worth fighting for no matter the costs.

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy Adventure
Paperback, 270 pages
Published November 27th 2014
by Green Darner Press
In exchange for an honest review, an ebook was provided from CBB Book promotions for free. 

Twelve-year-old Christopher has spent the last eight months at the Norphan Home for Wayward Boys, having been sent here by the elders from his village who assumed his missing parents were dead.  Vowing that he has had enough of making pickled herring for Father Svenn, the master of the orphanage, Christopher makes plans to run away in hopes of finding an Uncle he may have living in London. Thus the story begins with Christopher sleeping in an abandoned alley preparing to find a captain who will allow him to exchange work for passage on one of their ships.  Instead, Christopher stumbles upon two pirates....  


Boots put his hands on his hips and raised his chin to the sky. “This be the chance we be waiting for, matey. A way to show Red Blade what we’re made of. Perhaps even earn’n a ship of our own.”
A second cat that had been perched on top of an abandoned cask vaulted onto the pallet next to Christopher. “Meow,” the feline said and then began to purr while eating the small silver fish that had fallen from his cuff. The cat on top of the nets lowered his head and leapt down to join his friend. A fish float crashed to the cobbles.
The pirates stilled.
Shoo,” Christopher whispered, pushing the cats away. He stripped off his fish-riddled coat and crawled to the next pallet as a third cat wandered their way. A hissing battle commenced.
The crate hiding Christopher shifted. “And what do we have here?” The man in the boots sneered.
Christopher turned, but the words he wanted to speak lodged in his throat as the blade of a saber brushed the side of his face.
I asked ye a question, boy. I expect ye to be answer’n.”
Christopher choked, but still no words came.

Cat got yer tongue?” asked the thin giant’s friend. Stinky was shorter by a head, rounder by half, and covered in filth. Earrings dangled from both sides of his head and a long waxed mustache spun to his ears.
Kill ‘em!” Boots ordered. “He done heard what we said.”
Christopher’s eyes widened as the round man cocked his pistol.
A group of children ran across the start of the lane. “Your work is not done! Come back here!” their mother yelled.
Wait,” Boots said, raising his hand. “I got me an idea.” He stroked his chin. “A healthy young boy could be useful, if not worth somethin’ when we reach the Caribbean. Two bags of gold at very least.”
He’s thin,” Stinky snorted.

He’ll grow.”

But what happens if he opens his yap?” Stinky asked, bringing the butt of his pistol down on Christopher’s head. Christopher crumbled to the ground. Stinky placed his pistol back into the scarlet sash tied around his waist.
Boots shrugged. “We’ll cut out his tongue.”

OK, wow what a wonderful beginning that instantly drew me into the story.  I thought it was a very convincing set up illustrating how Stinky and Boots are these mean pirates who are not afraid to harm Christopher or any of the crew on board ship.  I knew I wanted to read Arrgh! as soon as I took one look at that cover, just gorgeous.  When Christopher lands himself in the middle of overhearing Stinky and Boots plans to help steal guns, we are left with thinking that it's all over for Christopher.  Lucky for him help comes in the way of a talking mouse named Leonardo Mousekins.  Actually, Leo describes himself more as a "human guide, a protector or teacher."   But, Leo doesn't solve all of Christopher's problems.  Instead,  he is present to give him advice.  I love stories that feature talking animals and enjoyed how Leo didn't take center stage.  Leo allowed Christopher to try and solve things for himself, making Leo more of a friend.  I also really enjoyed Lucy, the Captains daughter. She comes to Christopher's aid and attempts to help him prove that Stinky and Boots are up to no good. Another aspect that I particularly enjoyed was how some chapters alternated between the view point of the various characters.  The ones with Christopher and Lucy's perspective were quite sweet.  My favorite character would probably be Lucy because she was frank, headstrong and pretty much did whatever she pleased. I just adored how close she and Christopher become. Overall, Arrgh! was a wonderful pirate adventure story.  With its short chapters and engaging characters, this certainly has middle grade appeal.      



Shelf Life - Review
Book Lovers Lounge - Review & Excerpt
Books and Ashes - Review & Excerpt
Brooke Blogs - Excerpt
Book Lovers Life - Excerpt
She's Got Books on Her Mind - Review & Excerpt
Ogitchida Kwe's Book Blog - Review & Excerpt
WS Momma Readers Nook- Author Interview
Log Cabin Library - Review & Excerpt
Red Moon- Excerpt
Books are Love - Review
Deal Sharing Aunt - Excerpt
Gin's Book Notes - Review
                                                                                                       About the Author:
Stacey R. Campbell lives in the Pacific North West with her husband, three daughters, three dogs, and a pet turtle named Todd.  She is a graduate of the University of Washington.  At the age of seven Stacey was told that she would never be the writer she dreamed of being because she is dyslexic. Finally Stacey found that she could not look her children in the eyes and tell them that they could be what ever they wanted to be if she did not do the same. Now Stacey can’t stop writing and loves to help children pursue their own dreams. Stacey is the young adult author of Hush, A Lakeview Novel and Whisper, A Lakeview Novel. ARRGH! is Stacey’s first middle grade book.
For more books from this author, visiting information, and author events please visit Stacey at:
You can also learn more about Stacey R. Campbell on

ARRGH! Blog Tour hosted by 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

MG Fiction Finalists for 2014

Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards

Today is the day that the MG Fiction shortlist comes out and I thought I'd reflect on some of my thoughts AND Finalists, can't forget the finalists list.  I've followed the Cybils for the past few years and even nominated a book here and there.  This year, I finally decided I would take the plunge and apply.  I feel most fortunate for having been selected as a round 1 judge for the MG category and enjoyed discussing books with my fellow judges.  

Some of the things I learned:

1.  There will be a lot of books nominated, 139 in MG Fiction alone.  But with a library card in hand, inter-library loans and the generosity of publishers, you can almost read most of those books. Those last eight were really elusive.  I still wish we had a bookstore that sells new books in town, Costco and Target just aren't the same.      

2.  MG Fiction encompasses a wide range of topics, has you travel to other destinations and times, and included some lovely diverse characters.  Yeah for #WeNeedDiverseBooks this year.  

3.  I also learned that MG Fiction made me read with a box of Kleenex near by for those sad moments.  And yes, boy were there a lot of those too, I think it's why Ms. Yingling developed the "Sparkly Unicorn label."   But oh, there were some beautiful heartfelt stories that I want everyone to read.  

4. It's OK if I don't finish a book.  Yep, it was a hard lesson to learn.  Although, I still have to read at least 50%, because well it might get better.  Yeah, I'm an optimist.    

5. Finally, being on the Cybils helped me to look deeper in the books that I'm reading and reviewing and to always keep in mind that it's about the Middle Grade reader. Is this a book that they would want to read and recommend to their friends?

Would I do the Cybils again? You bet!  

Now the Finalists for Middle Grade Fiction....

18378827Bajaj, Varsah. Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood
Albert Whitman and Company
Nominated by Flowering Minds

Abby Spencer is, almost, your typical 13 year old.  She has great friends, plays the violin, and rolls her eyes when her friend flirts with the older boy at the yogurt hut. Abby is raised by her single mom in Houston, Texas.  Abby knows that her father returned to India, but she really wants her father.  After a severe allergic reaction Abby’s mom seeks out her father to see if there are other medical issues. It is then that Abby and her mother discover that Abby’s father never knew that her mom was pregnant.  They, also, discover that Abby’s father is a huge Bollywood actor. Thus the adventure begins when Abby travels to Mumbai to meet her dad.

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj is a delightful middle grade novel.  Ms. Bajaj includes the magic of a famous Bollywood actor and the harsh reality of the poverty of Mumbai.  The reader has the opportunity to see that Abby is a carefree girl, but struggles with learning how to adapt to different cultures, both Hindi and that of a wealthy father she has never met
Kyle Kimmal, The Boy Reader,

18289482Dairman, Tara. All Four Stars
Putnam Juvenile
Nominated by Jenny Goebel

Gladys Gatsby is a young food critic who loves to cook just as much as she loves to talk about the foods she tries.  Her parents feed her microwaved meals and take out, completely oblivious to her interests… until a blow torch incident in the opening chapter threatens to burn up Gladys's dreams along with the kitchen curtains! When an opportunity to write for a major magazine as a replacement food critic presents itself, Gladys knows they think she’s an adult but is convinced she has to take the job to prove herself to her parents.

Dairman manages to create a perfect balance between almost over-the-top silly scenes and the real-life concerns of family and fitting in for a middle grade girl chasing her dreams. The cast of secondary characters contributes to the plot and Gladys's growth with just the right amount of spice. All Four Stars is a tasty book that will have readers begging for a second helping.  

Deb Marshall, Read, Write, Tell,

18782850Gephart, Donna. Death By Toilet Paper
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Nominated by Cathy Potter

Death by Toilet Paper is a hilarious novel about a boy who enters contests in hopes of helping his mom out financially. 

Ever since his father died, Ben has taken it upon himself to be the man of the house which hasn't been easy lately. There's the threat of being evicted from their place, the stress of middle school, and the surprise of having his grandfather move in with them. He's sure that if he can come up with a clever slogan for Royal-T Bathroom Tissue, the grand prize money will solve their problems.

While addressing serious issues such as the loss of a parent and school bullying, I found Ben's coping skills to be funny and refreshing. Readers will root for him and his money making schemes. Donna Gephart portrays a family who is learning to live with their new realities in honest and heartbreaking but hopeful ways. 

Earl Dizon, Chronicles of a Children’s Book Writer,

Johnson, Terry Lynn. Ice Dogs
HMH Books for Young Readers
Nominated for the Cybils by Irene Latham,

14-year-old Vicky knows that the key to winning the White Wolf dog sledding race will be acquiring just the right team of dogs. But after her dad died during a sledding race, Vicky's mom is cautious about her competing and even refuses to take her to the dog yard to find some more race leaders. Vicky waits until her mom leaves and takes off on her dog sled. Using her dad's knowledge of dog sledding, skills in trapping and some supplies against the harsh winter conditions, Vicky is confident that she can find the way on her own, Even with the best laid plans, she didn't anticipate finding an injured boy involved in a snowmobile accident. Vicky tries to help him find a path back to safety for some needed medical help. When they get hopelessly turned around on the trail, Vicky needs to use all of her skills, experiences and the strength of her beloved dogs to get them home.
Drawing from her own personal life experiences as a musher, Terry Lynn Johnson has written a compelling survival story. Ice Dogs appeal comes from immediately immersing the reader in the gripping details of the cold harsh Alaskan woods, the constant struggle for their survival and warmth, the reality of needing to find civilization quickly, and their race against time. The overall strength that Vicky portrays, as well as the individual personalities of each of her dogs, gave this story instant appeal.  

Brenda Tjaden, Log Cabin Library,

Pitchford, Dean. Nickel Bay Nick
Putnam Juvenile
Nominated by Always in the Middle

Someone has been spreading cheer throughout the depressed town of Nickel Bay for the past seven years by secretly passing out $100 bills, but he hasn't been heard from during this Christmas season. Meanwhile, Sam is a problem child. It's been years since he had his heart transplant, but he's now hanging out with older kids, vandalizing property, and stealing from stores. However, he makes a big mistake when he destroys the Christmas decorations of the old man down the street. It turns out this man in a wheelchair was once an international spy, and he has collected enough private information to blackmail Sam. He forces Sam to use his skills as a liar and thief to sneak into stores and people's pockets, and it causes quite an uproar. Sam must continue to follow orders, while avoiding the police, or he'll be taken from his father and sent to a juvenile facility.

This book is a feel-good story. Sam's missions are surprising adventures and share a positive message for readers. Although he seems to be a sassy, self-centered boy, Sam's missions allow his good qualities to shine. The author is able create a sense of mystery surrounding the old man and Sam's travels through the city offer suspense. The book shares a heart-felt tale of adventure and shows the power of giving second chances.

Mark Buxton, Buxton’s Blog O’Books,

18263725Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover
HMH Books for Young Readers
Nominated by Brandy Painter

Twins JB and Josh Bell both play basketball, but have different styles on and off the court. JB showboats a little less and concentrates more; Josh is loud and proud and fond of rap-style poetry. The boys' mother is their school principal, and their father is a former basketball player who is an at-home dad because of his ill health, so when JB and Josh have arguments or get in trouble, they know that their parents will take them to task, but always with good humor. When their father doesn’t take care of himself, however, sports and school take a back seat to a family emergency.

Told in free verse that supports Josh’s fondness for rap, Alexander’s book will appeal to readers who like their sports books short and snappy with a side helping of serious issues.

Karen Yingling, Ms. Yingling Reads,

Sovern, Megan Jean. The Meaning of Maggie 
Chronicle Books
Nominated by Compass Book Ratings

In the 1980s, eleven-year-old Maggie wants to be president one day. Maggie is engaging and quirky, and manages to retain her sense of humor and light as she navigates middle school and family life. There are Science Fair and Student of the Month titles to defend, Coca-Cola stock to keep an eye on, and her family can't seem to operate without her. Her family's challenges may increase, especially has her father's health fails due to his struggles with multiple sclerosis, but she keeps moving forward, often propelled by her close relationship with her dad, who also uses his sense of humor to hang on as things fall apart around him.

The author draws upon her own life to tell Maggie's story, bringing a real authenticity to Maggie's voice. Anyone whose lives have been touched by chronic illness will appreciate this story.

Rosemary Kiladitis, Mom Read It,