Tuesday, October 30, 2012

ENDANGERED by Eliot Schrefer

Title: ENDANGERED
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: October 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 272
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at ALA
The compelling tale of a girl who must save a group of bonobos--and herself--from a violent coup.

The Congo is a dangerous place, even for people who are trying to do good.

When one girl has to follow her mother to her sancuary for bonobos, she's not thrilled to be there. It's her mother's passion, and she'd rather have nothing to do with it. But when revolution breaks out and their sanctuary is attacked, she must rescue the bonobos and hide in the jungle. Together, they will fight to keep safe, to eat, and to survive.

Eliot Schrefer asks readers what safety means, how one sacrifices to help others, and what it means to be human in this new compelling adventure.
ENDANGERED is one of those books that has a powerful impact, makes you think, and sticks with you long after you've closed the final pages. Full disclosure: I did read ENDANGERED right after I had finished rereading THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN four times as a read aloud for my students, so I was already in the mindset of wanting to protect and save the animals. However, it didn't take me reading very many pages into this book to clearly see why this is a National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature. ENDANGERED starts off with meeting Sophie, and from the very beginning pages of being introduced to her, I was already adoring her spunkiness and honesty and intelligence and heart for doing what's right to help others. However, she isn't necessarily able to fully see the big picture, but as she struggles through the events of this story, she has to start thinking more in that way. As she bonds with her bonobo Otto and spends the summer with her mother in Congo, while waiting to go back to her father in the United States, she becomes an even more engaging character. She's very real and very determined to help those she loves.

When the war hits Kinshasa, everything changes for Sophie as her story becomes one of her own survival rather than saving one baby bonobo. At this point Sophie has to grow up very fast if she's going to survive this insurgency. One of the things I liked most about this book was the way Eliot Schrefer deftly handled the honesty of the writing in a way that made me alternatingly cry, cringe, and cheer. I felt like I was right there with Sophie feeling her emotions and I was drained by the time I turned those final pages. Schrefer draws the reader into the story in such subtle ways, and guides the reader through the journey Sophie is on with different "Parts" of her journey to survive. There are various segments of this tale, not just staying in one place, but having to figure out how to save herself and Otto while getting safely to her family. Within this, there is information about bonobos and the conflict that add depth to the story and contextualize it within the larger society. Thanks to an author's note at the end, and a Q&A, it allows the reader to more fully understand how much was fact and where to go for more information.

ENDANGERED was a can't-put-it-down book with an emotional and intelligent story that left me wanting to learn more about bonobos and the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I enjoy books that engage me and leave me thinking, and Eliot Schrefer has balanced that beautifully in this novel.

*Side note for teachers: The picture book FAITHFUL ELEPHANTS will make a logical tie-in to the themes in this story as well.

Friday, October 26, 2012

DAIRY QUEEN by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Title: DAIRY QUEEN
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Graphia (a Houghton Mifflin imprint)
Release Date: June 4, 2007
Number of Pages: 274
Source of Book: Paperback from my classroom library
When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D. J. can’t help admitting, maybe he’s right.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Stuff like why her best friend, Amber, isn’t so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret. Why her college-football-star brothers won’t even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.
I'm not completely sure of my feelings for this book. I'd heard rave reviews of it, and being that I'm in Wisconsin where it takes place, definitely wanted to read it. I enjoyed it for the most part, but at times I was a little bored with it and felt like I was waiting for something to happen. It was a different type of book than I expected it to be. It was more of an inside look at one girl's summer of discovering how to speak up for herself and repair her family relationships. And then there's the football, which was great, and there was a bit of romance, but not quite as much of a focus on that as I expected, I guess. I think the beginning was a bit slow for me and I kept going because I wanted to see what everyone had liked so much, and it did get more exciting in the last part, but it's definitely not as much of a plot-driven book as I guess I prefer.

I did enjoy DJ as a character and all of her inner conversation throughout the book and her observations about things that happened. I appreciated the way that she was so clueless and insecure about some things, and how she reacted when she figured them out. She is a flat-out honest character and a realistic portrayal of a small-town, farm-girl teen and she's very likeable. DJ's voice was very engaging to me the whole time also, in the way that she seemed to be talking directly to the reader, which all became clear in the very last paragraph of the book. All of the characters were intriguing, but it's really all about DJ and her family. The elements of the family dynamics and how things went wrong were some of the most interesting parts of the book for me. The setting also plays an important role as the family farm is where most of the story happens because DJ has had to take over for her injured father.

Overall I'm intrigued enough to maybe read the second book in the series to see if the plotting picks up a little bit, but probably won't make it through if I get the feeling again of waiting for things to happen. There are some strong messages in some of the major and minor stories in DAIRY QUEEN, and it was an enjoyable read, if I had been prepared ahead of time for the type of read it would be as a quieter, subtler type of book.

Monday, October 22, 2012

MMGM: AUDITION & SUBTRACTION by Amy Dominy Fellner

Title: AUDITION & SUBTRACTION
Author: Amy Fellner Dominy
Publisher: Walker & Company
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Number of Pages: 272
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at IRA Convention
For as long as Tatum can remember it’s been:

Tatum + Lori = Best friends

They do everything together, including a yearly clarinet/flute duet for District Honor Band auditions. But when a new boy transfers to their middle school and their band, the equation suddenly changes to:

Lori + Michael – Tatum = One happy couple

With her best friend slipping away and her parents recently separated, Tatum’s life has turned upside down. Plus her good friend Aaron thinks that they are secretly boyfriend and girlfriend, all because of one little lie Tatum told. Accepting change isn’t easy for Tatum, but just how much is she willing to give up to hold on to her friendship with Lori and life as she knows it? For Tatum, the best way to move forward may require a whole new formula . . .
AUDITION & SUBTRACTION is such a cute story. It's exactly what I've come to expect from Amy Fellner Dominy! Her writing voice is spot on for a middle grades book that will engage readers. Her books have middle school appropriate romance with a unique twist. This time it's the band students.

Some things seemed a little obvious to me as an experienced reader, but as a middle schooler, I probably wouldn't have realized them at that age. However, Amy's writing is that type of fun, school-set romance, with friendship/family elements. It's kinds of like the chick flick for the book set, which is a very good thing because so many of my students are asking for that, but with more depth of thought and lessons to learn and quality to it than some of the other books for this age in this genre. She also writes smart characters who are not the popular kids, but are the real kids that I see who are interested in a variety of things and want to be successful, but are also insecure at times.

AUDITION & SUBTRACTION is all about the reality of what happens when it's no longer just you and your best friend, but a boyfriend is introduced to the mix. It's the reality of how we move on in our lives and reevalute friendships and relationships as we grow up and sometimes grow apart. It also includes a very sweet start to a relationship with a really good guy who is fully supportive of the main character.

Beyond the friendship and romance elements, there's a strong message of figuring out what you want and going for it, no matter what others might say to try to hold you back. Doing what you can to reach your dreams by working hard is an important part of this novel. There are also strong parental figures who are supportive of their child, which is always nice to see.

Overall, Amy Fellner Dominy has written a cute, fun, easy to read romance and drama book that middle school girls are always asking me for. I think they'll really enjoy AUDITION & SUBTRACTION, especially those band students. I know I did!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Artifacts & Lies Blog Tour

Welcome to my stop on the Artifacts and Lies Blog Tour!
 
I'm excited to be hosting Jordan Jacobs, author of a new middle grade mystery with an archeological twist, SAMANTHA SUTTON AND THE LABYRINTH OF LIES.
A legendary ghost, an ancient treasure, a mystery only Samantha Sutton can solve.

What happens when Indiana Jones meets Nancy Drew? You get Samantha Sutton, twelve year-old archeology buff with sharp wit and an insatiably curious personality. SAMANTHA SUTTON AND THE LABYRINTH OF LIES is the incredible page-turner about a young girl from California who is given the chance to follow her archeologist uncle to the excavation of an ancient Peruvian temple.

What she doesn’t expect, though, is the legend haunting this ancient site. When important artifacts begin to disappear overnight, Samantha must navigate the disapproving eye of her uncle’s acerbic assistant, the bungling boyishness of her annoying big brother, and the ever-present stories swirling among the locals of the hysterical spirit that wanders through the town late at night. Using her keen sensibility and her knack for mapping the unknown passageways of Chavín de Huántar, Samantha uncovers a mystery far bigger than she could have ever imagined. This is a novel for children (and adults!) who love history, mystery, and heart-stopping plot-twists.
In SAMANTHA SUTTON AND THE LABRYNTH OF LIES real-life archeologist Jordan Jacobs brings to life Samantha Sutton, the curious, twelve year-old daring-do heroine of his debut novel. Combining everything you love about history, mystery, and heart-racing adventure, Jacobs weaves a plot full of non-stop fun and incredible facts. From what it’s actually like to be on a real archeological dig to the delightful tastes and smells of South America, the plot is woven from Jacobs own experience working at the actual site of this exciting adventure—an ancient Peruvian temple shrouded in mystery.
 
For my stop on the blog tour, I'm hosting author, and real life archeologist, Jordan Jacobs' guest post:
Did That Really Happen?
Chavin de Huantar almost killed me.

I lost 35 pounds over the 10-week archaeological field season--a not-so-pleasant combo of high-altitude labor, giardia, and the cunning Peruvian parasites that detected my innocent gut as soon as I arrived.  A mystery fever confined me to bed for three full days mid-summer, with only the team’s shared copy of Lord of the Rings to keep me company. To this day I’m not sure which remembered scenes I read and which I merely hallucinated.

And when I wasn’t ill or raving, I was struggling to adjust to life in the Andes.  Over the course of the summer, I was gored by cacti, attacked by bats, chased through the village by unfriendly dogs, and badly bruised when my shower exploded--clogged with mud from its riverine source.   A taxi I’d hired to take me back from an outing never appeared, and I had to hitch a ride back in a truck full of half-dead chickens.  A collision on a cliffside road almost sent our excavation van tumbling over the edge.  

I’m not a sickly person.  Not at all.  I tend to do well in remote and foreign places (in subsequent travels to Asia, Africa and elsewhere in Latin America, I’ve never encountered such a shock to my system). But my Andean summer took its toll.  In September, when my parents came to meet my return flight to California, I looked so weak that my dad insisted on carrying my filthy duffel. My mom just cried.
 
It was the best summer of my life.  

For a young archaeologist, there can be nothing better than Chavin de Huantar.  The site dates to about 1200 BCE, and continued in active use as a religious and political center for at least a thousand years.  Roughly 10,400 feet above sea level, it’s a vast complex of platforms, terraces, and plazas, all flanking a central temple--six stories tall and the width and breadth of a New York City block. Threading through the site are narrow passageways— called “galleries”--their entire network still unmapped.  Exploring the pitch black depths of the ancient temple was an unparalleled thrill, and realized some childhood dreams.

So, too, did the science.  The Stanford professor leading the project was exacting in his methods, and led our team patiently through the survey, excavation, and analysis.  All energy was applied to a simple series of questions: How had this place been built?  What was its purpose?  How had it been so successful?

The answers that emerged that summer--and in all the years of research before and since--have been as shocking and as thrilling as anything in the movies. The whole experience made me feel like I was twelve years old. The place was begging for a kids’ book.  

And so I wrote one.

I’d always wanted to write something for kids about archaeology--probably because, as a kid, I was always reading about archaeology myself.  And while I knew that most children might not have the patience I had had to track down dense college textbooks and dry academic journals, I wanted to present a realistic view of the discipline I love so much, and share with them the real-world excitement that it offers.

Setting the book in Chavin made things easy.  In writing Samantha’s adventures, I was able to throw all my adventures on her and her compatriots, the good as well as the bad.  I chase them with dogs and bats.  I explode their showers.  I threaten them with falls off Andean cliffsides, and strand them, then retrieve them, in trucks of half-dead poultry.  But they get a stake in the scientific discoveries, too.  I took pains to get these right--both those made during my summer in Peru and in the years of excavation that have occurred there, before and since.   

In many ways, Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies is a true story. It’s my story.  And it’s a story that my younger self would have been eager to read.


Thanks so much for visiting, Jordan! I'm eager to get this story into the hands of my middle school readers.

Monday, October 15, 2012

MMGM: Author Guest Post~Amy Fellner Dominy

I have a very special MMGM this week with a guest post from author Amy Fellner Dominy. Her first book, OyMG was released last year, and her second book, AUDITION & SUBTRACTION, came out in September. She writes cute, fun books that are perfect for her middle school audience. Check them out!
Audition & Subtraction Book Trailer
Where Ideas Come From
When I visit schools, there’s one question that I’m asked about over and over:  Where do you get your ideas?  Authors like to joke about there being an “idea” store where we go and shop.  But the truth is there is a place where I go to find my ideas.  I can even show it to you.
Yep, Audition & Subtraction (and OyMG for that matter) came right out of the pages of my diary.
Did you ever keep a diary?  Have you gone back and read through it?  I started writing my first diary when I was thirteen.  The entries are ridiculously stupid.  I stepped on gum.  I had a horrible hair day.  A boy said hello to me in the hall.
When I read them, the grown-up in me remembers how silly all of it was.  How I wasted so much energy worrying over people I can’t even remember existed.  How I was lost in the details and unable to see the big picture.
But the writer in me is reminded that the small details of my day WERE the big picture.  My imagination could turn a single hello from a cute guy into a potential marriage proposal by the end of a day.  If my hair was wild, I might be teased into tears. Gum on my shoe…well, it still grosses me out.
In fact, Audition & Subtraction sprang to life from one of these “small” moments.  My best friend in the world showed up to the cafeteria to meet me for lunch and…(cue the dramatic music)…she brought a guy with her. 
Even as I’m writing this, I know it sounds lame.  That’s it?  A guy carrying a brown-bag lunch rocked my entire world?
Well, yeah, as a matter of fact.  That guy who joined us for that first lunch became her first boyfriend.  And her first priority.  I had to figure out how to be okay on my own.  Of course I did.  It’s part of growing up—relationships shift and change.  As an adult, we get that; it’s no big deal.  But when you’re thirteen… 
Youch.
My diary takes me back to that, with its faded cover and the broken lock and my messy entries—many of which began “nothing much happened today.”  Because nothing BIG ever did happen.  But that doesn’t mean that each day wasn’t full of drama and angst and possibility and excitement and well…life.  It was the little things that often led to the big questions:  Who will I be?  What kind of relationships will I build?  How will I cope?  Where will I fit in?   When I wrote a diary entry about that day in the cafeteria I didn’t know what was ahead of me.  But I know now.    
So I always tell students when I visit classes, “Keep a journal.  Write down the things that happen, and the way you feel and what you’re thinking.”  Besides the fact that it creates a habit of writing and a personal history, it also might inspire them to write a book one day.
It did me.


You can find Amy online at all of the usual spots...
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/amyfellnerdominyauthor

Come back next week for my review of Amy Fellner Dominy's newest book, AUDITION & SUBTRACTION.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

THE EVOLUTION OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin

Title: THE EVOLUTION OF MARA DYER
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 23, 2012
Number of Pages: 544
Source of Book: ARC borrowed from teacher friend Lea
Mara Dyer once believed she could run from her past.

She can’t.

She used to think her problems were all in her head.

They aren’t.

She couldn’t imagine that after everything she’s been through, the boy she loves would still be keeping secrets.

She’s wrong.

In this gripping sequel to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, the truth evolves and choices prove deadly. What will become of Mara Dyer next?
I'm not totally sure how to express my feelings about this book because there are so many! My immediate thoughts at the end of it included some unprintable words because I was so blown away. I obsessively loved THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER when I got an early read of it last year, and was eagerly anticipating reading the sequel, THE EVOLUTION OF MARA DYER, and was extremely lucky to be able to get an early copy loaned to me, and it completely lived up to the anticipation I had going into it. This was a strong second book that definitely matched up to my love of the first book.

I adore Michelle Hodkin, but I finished this book feeling like she's a diabolical genius of a writer. It surprises me that she wasn't a writer before this, and I hope she continues to be one for a long time. Maybe that's part of the reason that I enjoy her writing so much, it came from a spark of an idea for a story, and because her background is diverse, there's a spark to the writing that just really clicks for me. The way the writing is paced, the intelligence to it, the unreliable narrator, the mood, the witty banter, the uncomfortable suspense of not knowing what's going to happen, the love and support of family, the heart at the center of this chaotic psychological thriller, and, yes, the romance, too...it all grabs me and doesn't let me go. I read 544 pages in two days (and those were teaching/working days!) because I just couldn't stop reading. It's a long book that doesn't feel long. It's a sequel that keeps the story moving, but is interesting in its own right. So much was revealed in this book about what's really going on with Mara and Noah and everything that happened. I appreciated that we were given so much information and many questions were answered, but some still are not and more were created that make me anxious to see where this is all headed.

Interestingly, I didn't think this book had as much of the creepy feeling as the first one, but it definitely had suspenseful and psychological tension to it. Favorite characters were back, and new intriguing ones were introduced. Family support and love is still central to the relationships that hold Mara together. And I can't forget the romantic storyline between Mara and Noah Shaw, which because of their unique abilities, becomes even more difficult for them to manage. At its heart, there are questions of truth, reality, trust, faith...all the things that make for a conflicted character who is just trying to hold it all together against odds that seem stacked against her.

As much as I loved this book, there was one thing bugged me. There was a clue fairly early on to a twist that seemed so obvious to me, and Mara is very intelligent, and so it seemed like she should have realized it, but I guess she is dealing with quite a bit of psychosis stuff at this point, so I should cut her some slack for not catching it. I'm still thrilled there is going to be a third book, THE RETRIBUTION OF MARA DYER, coming in 2013, especially after the twists and reveals of the ending of this book! Not sure how I'll be able to wait so long!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

#WONDERschools Blog Tour

 
The wonderful publicists at Random House Children's Books were inspired by all of the talk of teachers using Wonder by R.J. Palacio in the classroom, and created the #WONDERschools Blog Tour running October 1-9, with a very special post on October 10th on R.J. Palacio's own website in celebration of Auggie's birthday and also to honor "Unity Day" as part of Bullying Prevention Month.

 

Ever since I first heard of WONDER, I knew that it would probably be a book I'd want to use with my students. Once I read it, there was no doubt in my mind that it is a book that needs to be shared with students. Since I teacher 7th and 8th grade, it's an especially important time for them to be thinking about always remembering to #choosekind. 
So this year, all of my classes will be hearing WONDER as a read aloud and having discussions in class. We will also be sharing our thoughts with our Sister Classroom and figuring out ways to spread the word through in school and online public service announcements reminding others to always #choosekind.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Out Today: KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES by Shannon Messenger

Remember three months ago when I posted that early recommendation for KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES by Shannon Messenger? No, you missed that one? Well, that's OK, since it releases today, I thought I'd remind you, so you can see why I think it's so great and you should go buy it today!

Title: KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES
Author: Shannon Messenger
Publisher: Aladdin (a Simon & Schuster imprint)
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Number of Pages: 488
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at ALA
In this riveting debut, a telepathic girl must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world--before the wrong person finds the answer first.

Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit into her life. She's skipped multiple grades and doesn't really connect with the older kids at school, but she's not comfortable with her family, either. And Sophie has a secret--she's a Telepath, someone who can read minds. But the day Sophie meets Fitz, a mysterious (and adorable) boy, she learns she's not alone. He's a Telepath too, and it turns out the reason she has never felt at home is that, well...she isn't. Fitz opens Sophie's eyes to a shocking truth, and almost instantly she is forced to leave behind her family for a new life in a place that is vastly different from what she has ever known.

But Sophie still has secrets, and they're buried deep in her memory for good reason: The answers are dangerous and in high-demand. What is her true identity, and why was she hidden among humans? The truth could mean life or death--and time is running out.
Today you'll be able to get this book, and you should (especially if you live or work with middle schoolers in any capacity)! KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES blew me away. I knew I really liked Shannon Messenger from following her on twitter and on her blog, and then when I heard she had a middle grades and a young adult book coming out as her debut, I was really looking forward to reading them-especially when I read the summary of each. As a middle school teacher, I was hoping I would like KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, and I am happy to say that I loved it! I would definitely recommend this middle grades magical fantasy to fans of HARRY POTTER and THE UNWANTEDS. It is a long book, but as it is written so well for the middle grades level, it isn't overwhelming. There is something just so engaging and fun and entertaining in Shannon Messenger's third person, descriptive, writing style, and I devoured this book in two days and didn't want to stop reading until I knew what would happen to these characters and world I wanted to be a part of.

Let's talk about Setting: Shannon Messenger has created an astoundingly creative fantasy world within KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from the summary alone, and I never expected the "place that is vastly different form what she has ever known" to be so well-developed and thought out. As I was reading an advance reader copy, it was missing the map artwork, so I look forward to getting a finished copy to enhance the reading experience even more. The world of the elves (and not what you ever pictured elves to be) is filled with fantastical creatures (especially love Iggy!), magically evolved elements, and cities built with beyond-this-world materials. This parallel world is such a discovery, not only for Sophie, but for the reader as well. The way it is described made me want to go live there as well. Beyond the Lost Cities within the elven world themselves, there is also Foxfire, which is the school for the nobility that Sophie ends up in. It is a school where she will be trained in her special ability and where she discovers people, places, things, strength, and friendships beyond what she ever would have imagined, and what I would have imagined as well.

We have to talk about Characters: KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES is full of interesting, multidimensional characters. The only thing that threw me a little bit as I read this book was the number of characters because their names are not ones we're used to hearing, so it did take awhile to keep track of who was who in the beginning. Not only do we get Sophie who has to make some tough decisions and look for people to support her, but we also get Fitz and his family, along with a multitude of other characters throughout the elf world. We see some of the most interesting jobs as Sophie meets these characters which adds to our understanding of how this world works. As she goes to school, we also meet Dex and Keefe among other classmates, and these two become some of the most entertaining characters to interact with Sophie. I kind of adore Keefe myself. He is the snarky guy who brings the humor that Sophie so desperately needs as she adjusts to her new life, and deep down, he is a really good, caring boy. We get some hints as to deeper things going on with Keefe, and I hope we get more of him in the next book. I also really adore Sophie. She has core values that I admire and fights for what she believes and knows is the right thing, even if it means she might get into trouble. I rooted for her as she is a young girl with so much strength and determination to do the right thing and help those she cares about. She is a strong character for the audience of this book.

Talking about Family is important: Sophie has to leave her family to join this hidden world where she actually belongs, and that means she is in a new place, realizing everything she thought she knew is not the way the world actually works, and has no family to rely on and call her own. When she gets placed with guardians to take responsibility for her, she has a whole new set of relationship dynamics to work on. In the end, the storyline with Sophie searching for family and her understanding of loss, adds such depth to the character and the overall book, and adds a dimension that I think many kids will relate to. I know these elements of searching for family to love her and support her and call her own brought some of the most poignant moments of the story for me. Because what child doesn't want a family to feel safe with and loved by? There was much more of an emotional element to this book than I expected going into it, and that's a great thing.

Now let's talk about Plot: While all of the subplots going on in this book add depth and interest to the story, the overall conflict at hand is a mystery as to why Sophie was living in the human world. Unfortunately, as Sophie is so young, the adults looking into things don't want to include her in the search, but as the clues build up, Sophie has to take it upon herself to try to find out what's happening and why and who is behind it. Messenger has written a novel with a tightly woven plot strongly balancing small elements, character development, descriptive details, world-building information, and enough action to keep things moving at an engaging pace.

I want to talk Sequel: I know a sequel is coming, and I can't wait to read it! Although I knew there would be a book following this one, I still feel that this book wrapped up its storyline in a satisfying way. There are no major cliffhangers here, but it still sets up where the second book will go for the next school year. I appreciate this so much because I don't feel like I've been left hanging, but I'm left with enough of a love for this book/world/characters that I definitely want to get my hands on the next book asap, and I hope you'll feel that way about this one, too!

I think this book will be a big middle grades hit for those who like fantasy and mystery books. From the Preface at the very start, I was hooked on the story as I was instantly pulled into what would have happened to get Sophie to this point. As the story wound it's way toward that time near the end, it became even more engaging. I think if you are a teacher or librarian or parent of middle school age kids, you and they will feel the same. I absolutely recommend you get KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES in October.


Monday, October 1, 2012

MMGM: PARTNERS IN CRIME by Kim Harrington

Title: PARTNERS IN CRIME (Sleuth or Dare Book 1)
Author: Kim Harrington
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 179
Source of Book: Bought the paperback from Scholastic Book Clubs
Whodunit?

When best friends Darcy and Norah have to create a fake business for a school assignment, they come up with a great idea: a detective agency! Darcy loves mysteries, and Norah likes helping people, so it's a perfect fit.

But then their pretend agency gets a real case. Someone is missing, and it's up to Darcy and Norah to take on the search. Unfortunately, there's someone else out there who doesn't want the two detectives stirring up any trouble. . . .

With the help of hidden clues, spy gadgets, and trusted friends, can Darcy and Norah crack the case in time?
I really enjoyed Kim Harrington's young adult debut book, CLARITY, also a mystery book, so when I saw that she had a middle grades mystery series also, I made sure to get it right away. Part of the reason is that so many of my students liked CLARITY also, so it's always nice to have a favorite author in the classroom, but also because some of my students aren't ready for the maturity of the young adult book yet, so I was hopeful that the SLEUTH OR DARE series would be a good fit for my other readers, and I'm sure it will be.

PARTNERS IN CRIME is a perfectly middle grades book. The writing level and complexity of the subplots and main mystery are all right in that sweet spot. The mystery was a bit obvious to me, but again, I'm not the age or ability level of the intended audience. It didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book at all though. One thing that is really nice is that the mystery is such that it's a great fit for younger middle grades students who want to try mystery but aren't ready yet for more complex novels.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the characters in this book. There was quite a bit about their relationships with their families, and the arc the characters take to accepting and appreciating their own families is a nice message.  In addition, the two main characters are not the popular girls, but instead each have their own interests aligned with their intelligence and abilities. It's nice to see a story with these characters who are into astronomy and technology being the strong leaders of the book, and even though they're not popular, they still have good relationships and confidence in themselves. There are some subplots relating to bullying and typical middle school dynamics that are handled well also.

Once again Harrington has struck just the right voice. The book is written with a strong female lead and in such a way that it sounds like she's talking right to the reader. This allows us to get insights into what's happening, but also stay fully engaged in the story. Overall PARTNERS IN CRIME is a fun, quick mystery with heart. I look forward to reading the next two books in the series: SLEEPOVER STAKEOUT and FRAMED & DANGEROUS and handing these off to my students.
 
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