SUMMER READING 2016: 5 Guest Reviews from Tweens & Teens

Summer Reading is on! We’re having a great summer at BCPL with events ranging from fitness activities to a lab with the Kentucky Science Center to awesome magic shows. But the heart of Summer Reading will always be books and reading.

And we’re so excited with the response we are receiving from the participants in our 2016 Reading Challenges. Here are just a few of the book reviews we’ve received so far; more will be posted here over the month to come. Thanks to all of our guest reviewers for sharing!

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson
Reviewer: Tyler W., Age 10
Tyler’s Rating: 3/5 Stars
Genre: Graphic Novel/Mystery
Audience: Tween/Teen

Tyler’s Summary & Review:  A boy and his mom move into a mansion only to find out weird things keep happening. It’s ok. Kind of a long book.

Quarterback Sneak by Jake Maddox
Reviewer: Tyler W., Age 10
Tyler’s Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Sports Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween

Tyler’s Summary & Review:  A quarterbacks suddenly starts acting very strange, which puts the team in major jeopardy.I enjoyed this book, I can relate to one of the characters because he wants to help his team. I also have a passion for football.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Reviewer: Katelynn W., Age 11
Katelynn’s Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction/School Story
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween

Katelynn’s Summary & Review:  A boy has a facial disease and has a hard time “fitting in” at school and out of school. I am here to tell you that I really think you should read this book. First, the book makes me feel like I’m in the story experiencing what is going on. Next, the book has really good detail to make me imagine everything that is going on. Last, the book has a really good story behind that and it has a good plot. That is why you should read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Enjoy!?

EXTRA: Tracy’s Thoughts: I couldn’t agree more with Katelynn’s rating and review! I loved this book back when I read it, hence its inclusion on our Best of 2012 book list for middle grade and tween readers and my whining over its exclusion from the 2013 Youth Media Awards. Here’s my brief overview from one of our Book Picks lists:

Ten-year-old Auggie was born with extreme facial abnormalities. When he was younger, he used to wear a space helmet all the time just to hide from the stares. Now Auggie—homeschooled all his life—is ready to come out of hiding and is set to begin fifth grade at a private Manhattan middle school. Heartbreaking, funny, and simply wonderful in every way, Wonder is a must-read for book lovers of all ages. Ages 8 and up

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield
Reviewer: Katelynn W., Age 11
Katelynn’s Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genre: Animal Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade

Katelynn’s Summary & Review: A zebra and other animals get captured and have to train to be gladiators. Once they train, they have to fight to earn their freedom.

I think you should read the book Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield. First, this book has some great facts about the Romans and other things. Next, the book has really great humor. Last, the book has a lot of feeling in it. That is why I think you should read the book Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Reviewer: Kaylee F., Age 12
Kaylee’s Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Audience: Teen/Young Adult

Kaylee’s Summary & Review: The storyline is about a girl named Bella Swan and when she moves in with her dad at the town of Forks. I thought this book was a great start to an amazing series.The story itself was great because it explained how Bella felt at all times in amazing words and vocabulary. I loved the characters a lot because they all were a big part of an amazing story. I loved the setting because when the author wrote to explain the setting she made it feel like I was actually looking at it myself. I just enjoyed this book so much I couldn’t even put it down. You should really read this book and fall in love with it just as I did.

EXTRA: Tracy’s Thoughts: As Kaylee says, this book is compulsively readable. I couldn’t put it down and read the entire book (about 500 pages) in a single night. I have a few issues with the book (Edward’s stalker tendencies, for one), but nothing that prevented me from staying up till about 6:00 in the morning until I finished!

Are you interested in submitting a guest review? Use the submission form on our website to share your thoughts (positive, negative, or in between) about your latest read. And remember: eligible BCPL patrons earn an entry in our Summer Reading Grand Prize Drawing for each review they submit!

Awesome NEWS + REVIEW: Bluffton by Matt Phelan

NEWS: Earlier today we hit a major milestone. We surpassed 50,000 page views! I would like to thank all of our readers and followers for their support. Here’s to 50,000 more views, and years more of posts and reviews at Book News and Reviews!  –Tracy


Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction (Graphic Novel)
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween

Summary: The year is 1908, and a vaudeville troupe has arrived in sleepy Muskegon, Michigan to summer in nearby Bluffton. Henry—bored of the everyday sameness of Muskegon and working in his father’s shop—is fascinated by the animals and performers, but mostly with a slapstick comedian his own age named Buster Keaton. Henry quickly becomes a fixture in Bluffton, palling around with Buster and another boy traveling with the troupe. He yearns to perform like Buster, but all Buster wants to do is orchestrate pranks and play baseball.

First Lines: “Life in Muskegon, Michigan, was quiet. Ordinary.”

Tracy’s Thoughts: With gentle nostalgia, humor, and perfect pacing, award–winning graphic
novelist Matt Phelan brings to life a bygone era in this compelling
fictionalized account. Watercolor washes bring the place and period to life through soft focus, and yet the characters’ actions and emotions—from Buster’s pranks to Henry’s envy—are powerfully visualized. Like the illustrations, the story is a quiet one, but dynamic just the same. There are plenty of laughs (some of Buster’s pranks will delight and inspire mischievous kids) and there are many small, though-provoking moments of note. For example, there are small subplots about child labor laws and a romantic rivalry, but moral judgements aren’t overt; instead, readers are left to examine their own beliefs and draw conclusions of their own.

Despite its historical setting, many of the events and situations of the book have a timeless feel and are perfectly relevant to today. It might be tough convincing kiddos who have no idea who Buster Keaton is to give this book a try, but then the book isn’t really about Buster. It’s about Henry, who in his summers with Buster is encouraged to think more widely about the world, but also learns to appreciate the world closer to home. It’s a coming of age story about taking the things you love and becoming the person you are meant to be in adulthood.

FLASH REVIEWS: YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge, Check-In #2

Eight down… and seventeen more to go. That’s not a very encouraging statistic considering I began this challenge back in February and I now have only until 11:59 p.m. (because every minute counts!) on Saturday, June 22nd to live up to my reading pledge. But as this is Summer Reading season and I HATE to fail at anything, I still think I can do it. Maybe. Possibly. Okay, my chances aren’t great, but I refuse to give up!

Anyway, here are the three books that I have read for the challenge and haven’t yet reviewed. (Thumbs up on all three, by the way. Although one definitely stands out for me far and above the others.)

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Fantasy/Mystery/Paranormal Romance
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
I soooo wanted to love this book. And I did like it—a lot. But for me it did not quite have the same magic and ingenuity that made The Scorpio Races so enthralling. I think part of the problem is that I missed the first-person narration that allowed me to empathize so strongly with previous Stiefvater characters. (Although switching to third-person narration does fix the tendency I’ve noticed wherein Steifvater’s dual narrators often read as too alike and not fully distinct from one another.) But ultimately The Raven Boys lacked the lyrical qualities that drew me to Shiver and (most particularly) The Scorpio Races.

That is not to say that the book isn’t well written. It is, very much so. And the premise is intriguing. Blue is an interesting, likeable character who comes from a family of clairvoyants but remains a bit of an outsider. After all, she is not clairvoyant herself, though her presence somehow acts as an amplifier for others’ gifts. Meanwhile, there are the “Raven Boys” of Aglionby Academy. Gansey is the de facto leader of a group of misfits at the prestigious boys’ school. He feels responsible for guarding his troubled friends’ well-being and is obsessed with unraveling a mystical mystery that becomes key to the book (and presumably the rest of the series). Like most of the locals, Blue wants nothing to do with the stuck-up Raven Boys, but then she meets Gansey, whose fate seems tied to Blue and a deadly curse. All the elements—mystery, heartbreak, friendship, betrayal, moral dilemmas—are there, but they only began to come together for me near the book’s end. It was well past the mid-way point that the characters and their relationships began to fully engage my interest, but once this happened I was hooked. Luckily, this is only the first book in the Raven Cycle quartet. I think now that the characters have been introduced and the tone set, The Dream Thieves (due out in September) has the potential to far surpass its predecessor.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Genre: Graphic Novel/Realistic Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

This graphic novel from the author of Smile is a quick and amusing read. I loved Callie and really enjoyed all of her
interactions with her drama club pals, particularly her friendship with Liz. However, I do feel like the book reinforces stereotypes by [POTENTIAL SPOILER: Highlight to read!] having all three of
the male performer characters turn out to be gay (or potentially gay)
and making the only female performer into a self-absorbed, melodramatic
diva. But then this title was selected as one of the Great Graphic Novels Top Ten 2013 and as a 2013 Stonewall Honor Book, so maybe it’s just me. I have yet to see any other reviews that raise the same concerns. But regardless of my quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed this story about a perpetually lovestruck 7th grader who adores the theater and her role on the crew of the school play. This title should find particular favor with middle-school Glee fans.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Genre: Horror/Historical/Speculative Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

As The Diviners was a 2013 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Top Ten selection, I chose to listen to this book in audio format. It was a much better experience than my last encounter with a Libba Bray audio book. At first, the 1920s slang and historical background seemed a bit gimmicky and overdone, but I was quickly drawn into the creepy, atmospheric world Bray creates. The Diviners is shamelessly excessive—the slang, the numerous characters, the mysteries—but this perfectly reflects the sumptuous excess of the era and lends the book an epic quality that promises good things to come. Featuring disparate teen protagonists with nothing in common other that a secret special ability, a ghostly serial killer, and the vivid setting of Prohibition-era New York, this is one of the most memorable series openers I’ve read in ages. Even better, while reaching a satisfactory resolution to the main plot of this book, there are overarching mysteries that have me eagerly awaiting the second book of the planned quartet.

REVIEW: Lost & Found by Shaun Tan

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre:  Picture Book, Short Stories
Audience: All Ages (9 and up)

Summary: Three (very) short stories, each beautifully illustrated, are collected in this fantastical volume. The first two stories, “The Red Tree” and “The Lost Thing,” were written by Tan while the third, “The Rabbits,” was written by his fellow Aussie, John Marsden (Tomorrow When the War Began). Each story deals with varying themes of emotional disconnection and physical displacement.

First Line: “Sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to…” (from “The Red Tree”)

Tracy’s Thoughts:
The key to all three of these stories lies in Tan’s moody, evocative paintings. The paintings are immensely detailed and often offer hidden treasures to observant readers. Some of the images are truly stunning, especially juxtaposed with the simple, lyrical text. In my favorite story, “The Red Tree,” a young girl wakes up and moves though her not-very-good day, her feelings shifting from disappointment to alienation and depression. And yet all along, there are tiny glimpses of hope to find in Tan’s artwork. “The Lost Thing” is
a more upbeat tale of a boy who discovers a strange, lost creature in a chaotic and highly industrialized world. Both of these stories feel very intimate, but the final story has a wider scope. It is both an allegory about imperialism—specifically the invasion of Europeans in North America and Australia—and also touches on environmental concerns. Both of Tan’s stories feel more personal—and, for me, more powerful—but each of the three stories calls to the reader’s imagination and is strong enough to stand alone.

You might also be interested to learn that Tan adapted the second story in this volume into an Oscar-winning animated short. Here’s a peek at the trailer:

REVIEW REDUX: Previously Recommended Titles from our Fall Giveway

Do some of the titles from our Fall Giveaway sound familiar, but you’re not sure why? Several have been featured titles in our Recommended Reading Lists! Here’s a quick reminder of some of the titles I’ve recommended previously. All-new fresh reviews of some of the other titles up for grabs will be forthcoming over the next few weeks.

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Comedy

Set in the colorful world of modern India, this novel is a comedy of manners in the tradition of Jane Austen. Simpler in style than Austen’s work—many reviewers have compared it to Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series—The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is a light, engaging novel about relationships, family expectations, and Indian marriage traditions. The novel’s central characters are Mr. Ali, a Muslim retiree who decides to open a marriage bureau out of boredom and Aruna, the poor Hindi girl whom he hires as an assistant. There is nothing catastrophic in the plot, but the lack of angst, the vivid descriptions of everyday Indian life, and the amusing travails of marriage seekers combine to make a very pleasant, relaxing read perfect for an afternoon of lazing outside with a glass of lemonade.

American Widow by Alissa Torres, illus. by Sungyoon Choi
Genre: Memoir (Graphic Format)

American Widow is a beautiful graphic memoir that illustrates the author’s private grief in the wake of a national tragedy. On September 11, 2001, Eddie Torres left for his second day of work at Cantor Fitzgerald and never returned. His wife Alissa was 7 months pregnant. What follows is a raw and lyrical look at her resulting anger, confusion, and depression as well as the weary tenacity that allowed her to carry on—all perfectly highlighted by images that perhaps express more than words ever could. For me, one of the most poignant moments is when Alissa, surrounded in the maternity store by happy couples, shops for a black funeral dress. Thankfully, this novel avoids the pitfalls of over sentiment or self-pity by balancing its focus between Alissa’s life with Eddie, a young Colombian immigrant who “dreamed the American Dream,” and the aftermath of grief, helpless anger, media frenzy, and bureaucratic red tape.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
Genre: Magical Realism, Women’s Fiction, Southern Fiction

Little Giant is a tall tale with a bit of a dark side. Truly Plaice was born big—so big that half the men in Aberdeen were placing bets on how much the Plaice’s new son (everyone was sure she would be a boy) would weigh. Due to an unusual medical condition, Truly is continuously growing and becomes an object of curiosity and, often, disgust—especially in comparison to her delicately beautiful sister Serena Jane. In addition to a truly unique character, the novel also offers up bits of charming, rural folklore: an heirloom quilt, a rundown family farm, and a family’s healing tradition are all important threads throughout the book. Thanks to an intriguing plot that examines the questions of destiny, life, and death and a narrative style reminiscent of Alice Hoffman, first-time author Tiffany Baker stands out as an author to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if her debut becomes the next darling of reading groups and book clubs.

I truly enjoyed each of these books. If you haven’t read them yet (or loved them and want a copy of your own), enter our Fall Giveaway Event and let us know which ARCs interest you!