Childrens book reviews by StorySnoops, judge a book by more than its cover, serving fresh scoops of new books for you every day
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Archive for January, 2013

Shannon’s 2013 Newbery Predictions–no bias here!

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

The ALA will be announcing their awards on January 28th, and we will soon learn who will win this year’s Newbery Award.

I have been hesitant to make predictions in the past becomes sometimes those winners come straight out of left field and I never could have guessed them! But where is the fun in that? There are some solid books from 2012 that most would agree deserve, if not the Newbery Medal, then perhaps a Newbery Honor award. These are just my opinions however, so don’t laugh at me if I completely miss the mark come January 28th. With that disclaimer, I bring you my darlings for the 2013 Newbery Award.

WONDER– I loved this book, and maybe I am not supposed to say this, but it was my personal favorite. It was released a while ago, though, so I am hoping no one has forgotten about it. I love it because I know it is a book that not only moved me (a great deal) as an adult, but every kid I have given this book has loved it too. I’ve even seen it go home in the backpacks of reluctant readers. Could have something to do with that awesome cover, but the kids love it, and that is because it is just one awesome story. The strong anti-bullying message is one that all kids everywhere can benefit from, and I could go on and on…. It seems to me that Newbery tends to go to a historical fiction book (which this is not), but I am hoping this has a chance.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN – Sweet, loveable, book that reminds me so much of a Charlotte’s Web. I also love this book for a classroom, and the story is just beautiful. Not sure if quite up to the Newbery, but a memorable story not to be missed.

LIAR AND SPY – Rebecca Stead’s last book, When You Reach Me, quite deservedly won the Newbery Award, so we know the lady can write. The writing in this book is great – hallmark Rebecca Stead. Very witty and smart with lots of twists and turns you can tell she plotted out ahead of time. The other great thing about Rebecca Stead is that she writes FOR kids, meaning she has the unique ability to write exactly what they want to read – very well. As much as I loved this book, I am not sure that it will win as it is sure to be compared to her last book, and it is not quite the masterpiece that When You Reach Me is, but I can hope, right?

SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS – Loved this book, loved the quirky characters, heartfelt moments and the fact that you had to suspend belief to get wrapped up in the story. I wonder about kids, though–not sure what they will think of this book. It might be one of those charming stories that we adults adore, but kids, not so much. I could be wrong, though…

STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY – This is the one I THINK just may win it. The companion book to the popular and acclaimed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is just as lyrical and well told as its predecessor. Grace Lin is one of the truly excellent writers for children of our time. Her last work won a Newbery Honor,  and this one just may take home the big prize. Released late in the year, I think it knocked off a lot of its competition. It is just a flawless tale, and I think the award giving peeps will be smitten.

So those are my biased predictions. What are yours? Please share your them with us, and we can compare notes when the big announcement is made.

Looking forward to January 28th!

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Super Scoop–Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Monday, January 21st, 2013

One day that changes the course of your life. Paris. Romance. Self-discovery. Adventure.

I could not put Just One Day by Gayle Forman down, and now I want to go to Paris. And re-read some Shakespeare. And go back in time and be 18 again. Sigh…

This compelling and engaging story is a true quality read. Teen girls may see plenty of themselves in main character, Allyson, though even if they are nothing like her, they will certainly enjoy her story. Sheltered by her extremely controlling, “helicopter” mother, and always the quintessential “good girl,” Allyson shakes things up on a whim while on her high school graduation trip in Europe.

She meets free-spirited, adventurous and handsome Shakespearean actor, Willem, in London and spontaneously decides to leave her tour and go with him to Paris. Completely out of character for her, and out of her comfort zone, she becomes a different person with Willem, and falls in love with him over the course of their whirlwind, perfect day. When he disappears, her heart is broken, and she spends the next year depressed, floundering in school, trying to figure out who she is and how to re-capture how she felt in Paris.

I loved this story for the journey, both the physical one, and the internal one that Allyson experiences. She finally comes into her own, figures out what she loves, who she wants to be, and learns how to speak up for herself. Supporting characters are equally as fabulous.

I was dreading reaching the end of the book, and was delighted to see that there will be a sequel, which cannot be published soon enough for me! Until then, I might have to give this one a re-read. Put this one in the hands of the teen girls in your lives, or pick it up to read on your own. Be ready to yearn for adventure and youth and macarons.

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Super Scoop — The Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Crown of Embers, by Rae Carson

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

I seem to have a knack for picking up books that turn out to be the first installment in a series. After spending lots of time reading children’s books, this talent is not something I am particularly happy about.  When a series is good, there is nothing like longing to get your hands on the next book because you can’t wait to find out what happens or reunite with beloved characters. But when a series isn’t so good, well, the next book is often accompanied by dread!

In this case, picking up The Girl of Fire and Thorns was a happy accident because I enjoyed the second installment in the series, The Crown of Embers, even more than the first!

In The Girl of  Fire and Thorns (winner of YALSA’s Top 10 Best Fiction for Young Adults Award), we meet Elisa.  She, as bearer of the godstone, is the one person selected during the century whose destiny is to perform an act of great service. But as the younger of two princesses, Elisa doesn’t feel particularly worthy of her destiny. Her sixteenth birthday is also her wedding day, after which she leaves her home with the handsome young king she has never met to become the queen of his troubled desert country. Elisa may not feel useful, but a group of rebels thinks that, as bearer of the godstone, she could be their salvation.

Picking up where The Girl of Fire and Thorns left off, The Crown of Embers finds Elisa buoyed by her victory over her enemy, but struggling to overcome her inexperience as a ruler. The only way to bring stability to her ailing country is to harness the power of a mysterious magical force called the zafira. But first she must find it. To do so, she’ll have to elude many more enemies, even one from within her own court. She may return to lead as a stronger queen, but not without a price.

This series is a good choice for teen girls who enjoy a mix of fantasy, adventure, and romance. Much of the enjoyment comes from main character Elisa’s transformation. Initially, she has very little confidence, but as the story progresses, she evolves from a pampered princess into a strong, self-sufficient strategist and leader. She is loyal to her friends and family, and strives live up to the honor of the godstone. Elisa’s evolution continues in the second book, where she learns valuable lessons about relying on the power that is already within her and being guided by her own moral compass.

Each of these books also features an endearing love interest.  Romance, combined with an imperfect but likable heroine, a bit of suspense, and royal intrigue make these books a safe bet for teen girls.  And there’s a third book in the trilogy to look forward to.

Happy reading!

-Jen, StorySnoop

If the Cybils judges are listening…

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

It’s that time of the year when lots of book awards are about to be announced. One set that we get particularly excited about over here at StorySnoops is the Cybils, because they are given out by book bloggers and we like book bloggers a lot :-) In case you aren’t familiar with this award, it is given out for books that have both literary merit and kid appeal. Nothing more. Well-written books that kids will like to read. Go figure. Now that is my kind of award!

The nominations were open to the public in the fall, and the short lists of finalists were announced on Jan 1. Winners will be announced on Valentine’s Day. Bloggers who are members of the Cybils committee are reading furiously this month, and just in case any of those good people (who must surely be a bit cross-eyed right about now!) are looking for some outside advice on the books in question, we here at StorySnoops have a few opinions we’d be delighted to share :-) We don’t read books in all of categories in which Cybils are awarded, but for those in which we do, here are our votes:

Fantasy and Science Fiction (Teen/Young Adult):

Dark, powerful and suspenseful!
Well-written, thought-provoking!

Fantasy and Science Fiction (Elementary/Middle Grade):

Truly a heartfelt gem!

Middle Grade Fiction: (one of our favorite categories!)

Indomitable spirit!
Tremendous!
Just a great read!
Compelling, important!

Young Adult Fiction:

Discussion-worthy and different!
Intelligent, rich, extraordinary!

So there you have it. Just in case those judges need our help ;-) See the complete list of finalists here, and check back on Valentine’s Day to see if they took our advice…

Happy Reading!

-Eden, StorySnoop

A Junior Snoop’s Reading Pile

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Sometimes, you want a book recommendation from someone besides an adult.  You want to hear it from an actual kid–one in the trenches who is reading all of this stuff, and can give you an honest thumbs up or thumbs down, or even a few comments so you can judge whether your own kid will like a book.  For this reason, I ventured into my daughter’s room to check out her reading pile and asked her to tell me a bit about each book.

Her reading pile looks like this (you should see the rest of her room!):

Note that the book on the bottom of the pile is one I recommended long ago but keeps getting set aside.  I just know that Freak the Mighty is one of those books that she will love once she finally tries it.  Actually, she has read all of the books piled on top of it. A male friend recommended The Kill Order to her and they both loved it, so we can put that one on the list of crowd pleasers for both teen boys and girls. It’s the prequel to The Maze Runner series, and my daughter liked it even better than the other books. Interesting.

The Outsiders is also peeking out of the pile. Yeah, I made her read my old copy when she was starving for a book.  She “really liked it” but didn’t “love it.” Ahem. I guess we don’t have to see eye to eye on everything.

Monument 14 is a new dystopian novel with a very interesting premise. Six kids are trapped in a superstore during a kind of end-of-the-world apocalypse. Sort of reads like Lord of the Flies in a Target – she says it is her favorite that she has read in months.

Where Things Comes Back is another one I put in the pile. I loved this book, and it won so many awards last year. She liked it, and I think appreciated it for the quality book that it is. She said she’d recommend to “girl good readers.”

Yesterday. Now we are talking. She loved this dystopian thriller by C.K. Kelly Martin and would recommend it boys and girls.

Finally, she just bought the Ann Aguirre’s new novel, Outpost, and in her excitement to read it, is rereading the first book in the series, Enclave.  This should occupy her for about a week, if I’m lucky. To all of the YA lovers out there, let me know in the comments section what books I should add to the top of the pile!

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Best of 2012–part 4

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Now that we are solidly (one week!) into 2013, it’s time to wrap up the “Best of 2012″ here at StorySnoops. Looking back on the books I read this year, I see a theme emerging with my favorites. A lot of different stuff came across my nightstand, but a disproportionate number were from the teen girl category. Sorry fellow Snoops–New Year’s Resolution #12–I will branch out in 2013! Within that category though, my faves range from angsty realistic fiction to dystopian romance, and historical mystery–not too bad. So here goes. In 2012 I really loved…

The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George. In the interest of full disclosure, I knew this book would be high on my list before I even picked it up. I am a huge fan of Elizabeth George’s adult books, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE a good character-driven story that makes me sad to close at the end simply because I will miss the new friends I’ve made. The Edge of Nowhere did not disappoint, and I was delighted to find out that it is the beginning of a series. Whidby Island, Washington is the setting for this story about emotionally lost 14-year-old Becca, who has a psychic ability to hear “whispers” of other people’s thoughts. Can’t wait to see what is next for Becca and the residents of Whidby Island!

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley. The only thing better than a good love story is a tense, sometimes cringe-worthy, intelligently-written, page-turning love story. (How many hyphenated adjectives can fit in one sentence, I wonder?) If you plan to read this book, pick a day that is wide open, get comfy and settle in for a cover-to-cover read in one sitting. The story takes place over the course of one night in Melbourne, Australia, with a group of high schoolers looking for an “unforgettable” graduation night. Lucy wants to track down the secretive graffiti artist Shadow whose art speaks deeply to her, but she is stuck with Ed, a boy she has been trying to avoid for two years after the most embarrassing date of her life. Ed says he knows how to find Shadow though, so Lucy is on board for a single night that will change everything.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Ooh boy, can’t say enough about this one. I don’t normally seek out historical fiction but this one found me anyway. Code Name Verity is part spy mystery (always a winner for me), part tale of inspiring friendship and girl power (go sister!), and part historical fiction (always educational). I admit I had to work a bit to connect in the first part of the book, but was I ever rewarded for my perseverance! Richly drawn characters, a complex villain, a taut thriller and an ending that made me want to go back and re-read for clues I was certain I had missed. Let it be noted that this is one of two books on this list that I bought as a Christmas gift–for my mom, who will never know it is a “young adult” book :-)

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. Let’s just say that I have cleared my calendar for Tuesday, January 8th, the day the sequel to this one comes out. The dystopian/sci fi theme is interesting–the post-apocolyptic world in Under the Never Sky is divided between the Dwellers and the Outsiders. The Dwellers live in a controlled virtual reality world, while the Outsiders have scratched out an existence in what is left of the barren landscape. When Dweller Aria escapes the virtual realm, she is rescued by Perry, an Outsider who has been cast out of his tribe. Of course the two of them could not be more different, but they need each other in order to survive the harsh situation they find themselves in. This sci-fi romance is a page-turner and is the other Christmas gift I bought from this list (for my daughter–who will be banging down my door waiting for me to finish the sequel).

HONORABLE MENTION: A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Obviously, this one was far from being a new release in 2012, but I saw it on the high school English reading list and wanted to go back for a re-read from an adult perspective. Funny how much more I enjoyed it when there was no essay due at the end! It is a beautifully written classic about struggling against the enemy within–a theme which is relevant regardless of time or place. It’s a quick read and I can’t wait to discuss it with my daughter when her class reads it!

That wraps it up for the StorySnoops’ favorite reads of 2012. It was a good year in books! If you missed the other Snoops’ faves, you can find them here.

Wishing you a joyous 2013 and as always, happy reading!

-Eden, StorySnoop

The Best of 2012 – Part 3

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Hello everyone!

2012 was a great year for books, at least in the stack that I read! I always love these “Best of” lists – it’s like a cheat sheet for what to read – guaranteed to be great.

Here are my favorites from 2012:

Up first of my list is – of course – The Fault in our Stars. (Insert dramatic reverent sigh here.) When I read this last January, I knew it would be the best book I read all year, and I was right. My adult book club even read it, and they loved it, too. It’s a great book for your teen that you will value just as much.

Next up is Wonder, which is quite frankly, Wonder-ful. I adore this book and I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s my favorite middle grade book of the year. I hope it’s recognized as such come awards time.

The great Rebecca Stead never disappoints, and her new book, Liar & Spy, is clever and heartwarming. Middle school audiences are lucky to have this author writing just for them. I love an author who really hooks the reader from the beginning, but makes them really THINK the whole time they are reading.

And last by not least, the book that I think will become an instant children’s classic – The One and Only Ivan. This is a quiet, touching book for children and adults alike. Think Charlotte’s Web with zoo animals. It’s a gorgeous story that will touch your heart.

That’s my list. I could go on and on because there were so many amazing books in 2012.  Don’t miss The Best of 2012 Part 4 when Eden reveals her favorites!