Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review - Crown: an Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James


The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut makes boys fly.

Who doesn't feel just a little bit better about themselves after a fresh new haircut? Barnes captures the feeling perfectly, for young and old. From the crisp lines of the narrator's cut, to the locs and cornrows and intricate designs of the other customers, "Tip that man! Tip that man! It was worth it. It always is."

What I really can't get over is the VOICE. Several books I have read lately inspired a mental accent of some sort while reading it, but this is the first book I have read in a while that took on a completely different voice in my head. I do not know Derrick Barnes and have never heard him speak, but it was definitely his voice reading those words, not mine. It is a true gift to be able to take the reader so far out of their own head and personality in just a few short pages.

James's illustrations do not let the text down. You cannot help but smile back at each of the faces, and leave the book walking with a little extra swagger of your own.

Or, you know, a desperate urge to call whoever does your hair, asap.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill

Ack! Holidays, kids sick, me sick, dance class, holidays, new employee, new scouting group, winterizing, Cybils, holidays, summer reading prep, jury duty...and did I mention the holidays? I seem to be a bit behind here (and everywhere else), time to do some catching up!

Nothing like a good murder mystery to read right before you have jury duty:


It seems too good to be true when Daniel Tate, missing since he was abducted from one of California’s most elite private enclaves at the age of ten, turns up on a snowy street in Vancouver six years later. At first too traumatized to speak, he is eventually able to tell the authorities who he is and is reunited with his overjoyed family. In time, they tell him, he’ll recover the memories he’s missing; all that matters is that they have him back.

It’s perfect. A miracle. Except for one thing:
That boy isn’t Daniel Tate.

But he wants to be. A young con artist who’s been taking on false identities for years, this impostor has stumbled onto the scam of a lifetime. Daniel has everything he’s ever dreamed of—wealth, privilege, the chance to make a fresh start, and most importantly, a family that loves him. Now that he’s finally found a place to belong, he doesn’t question his luck.

Until he realizes that maybe Daniel isn’t missing at all. Maybe someone knows what really happened to the boy he’s pretending to be...and if he can’t uncover the truth—he could be next the next Daniel Tate to disappear.

I was immediately drawn into Daniel (well, fake-Daniel)'s life, rooting for him from the start. You know that what he is doing is wrong, and even fake-Daniel doesn't try to convince you it isn't, but you still just can't help liking him. All of the characters are fairly well-developed, but most are held at arm's length. It is fake-Daniel's head that the reader is inside, and it is hard to pull yourself out again to do mundane things like drive your car and cook supper.

The story premise had me intrigued, and it did not disappoint. I figured out "whodunit" by the end, and had an inkling of the final 'shocker', but there were enough red herrings along the way that I kept second-guessing myself. While I can't say the conclusion made me happy, I was satisfied with it. Intense, suspenseful and sharp, hand this off to teens or adults who appreciate a good thriller!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review: Alfie (The Turtle That Disappeared) by Thyra Heder


Nia loves Alfie, her pet turtle. But he’s not very soft, he doesn’t do tricks, and he’s pretty quiet. Sometimes she forgets he’s even there! That is until the night before Nia’s seventh birthday, when Alfie disappears! Then, in an innovative switch in point of view, we hear Alfie’s side of the story. He didn’t leave Nia—he’s actually searching for the perfect birthday present for his dear friend. Can he find a gift and make it back in time for the big birthday party?

I love the imagination of Heder's earlier book, Fraidy-Zoo, so I was looking foward to this one. I found it a mixed bag: I liked her watercolor illustrations in Alfie much better - the illustrations in Fraidy-Zoo were too busy for such a small space, I felt like there were details I was missing due to size. 

The story of Alfie is one kids will enjoy, as well. Many will be familiar with getting a new pet (or toy or whatever) and losing interest after a while. Hearing the same story told from Alfie's point of view can be a refreshing eye-opener, and could lead to some great story extensions (what does the class guinea pig think of our days together?)

I think kids will enjoy this book quite a bit, but the adult in me can't get over the fact that there are absolutely no repercussions from Nia completely forgetting about her pet. He just pops back up again A YEAR LATER, and all is well! As someone who often sees the end results of impulse pet buying/gifting, I just can't get past that enough to really enjoy it myself.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review: The Love Interest, by Cale Dietrich


There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.
From debut author Cale Dietrich comes a fast-paced adventure that is full of both action and romance and subverts common tropes.

I wasn't sent this book for review, I picked it up myself because I was intrigued by the premise: (minor spoiler alert because it happens early on) In this particular love triangle, the two boys fall in love...with each other.

Overall, this is a great story, well-told and with more facets than I expected. If you teens are looking for an entertaining and intriguing adventure story, this will fit the bill. As an adult reader, however, I was disappointed by elements that did not add up, particularly toward the end. I could suspend enough disbelief to accept the general premise of the organization's existence and how the Love Interests were trained. There were too many unanswered questions, however, to make the ending work for me at all: Major spoilers in them, though, so read on with warning.

In all the centuries if this organization's existence, no one has been caught? Any rebellion has been shut down and covered up? Basically every famous or powerful person in the world has a 'fake' spouse, and we're supposed to believe they are so well-trained that they never break their cover - yet these two characters do so before they even meet their target?

Juliet is a genius but nobody knows about her inventions? Her father is overprotective but lets her build and test bombs without supervision? She and Travis up and leave their whole lives on a moment's notice, immediately after finding out they have been horribly betrayed? Not to mention the time crunch pf packing all that crap and getting to the right location in ten minutes...

And then this multinational, age-old corporation is completely taken down by the killing of one man? With no global repercussions - the other Love Interests just fade into the woodwork, both trainees and those already married off - everyone is just living a happy normal life now?

As I said, the story is good, and if your teens aren't bothered by inconsistencies, by all means hand it off to them. The characters are interesting - the target girl got much more depth and personality than I was expecting, and the romance was a definite twist on the familiar. If you have one who will get angry with gaping holes, however, you might want to steer them to a different title.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Review: Lock and Key - the Downward Spiral by Ridley Pearson


This is the second book on the Lock and Key series, a fascinating imagining of how Sherlock Homes and James Moriarty first met - and how they ended up such mortal enemies. Not just that, but a tale of how two young boys grew up to become the great detective and the criminal mastermind to begin with.

In addition to the two obvious main characters, we have Moira, James Moriarty's sister. She narrates a great deal of the story, and is every bit as intelligent and involved as the two young men, however much they try to shield her or keep her uninvolved. It's not just sexism or the innate sense of superiority both boys have: females in the Moriarty family inevitable come to bad ends. Particularly clever ones. It makes the reader a bit unsure as to how things are going to turn out - especially as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never mentioned Holmes being involved with any women...

The series occurs in modern times, and in the US, complete with cell phones and computers; but the boarding school atmosphere brilliantly lends an overall feeling of still being in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's time period.

At the end of the first book I was definitely intrigued, and ordered the second before the publisher had a chance to send me a review copy (which they still did - score!). I had pretty much written James off as being beyond redemption at that point, but I underestimated Ridley's ability to create and maintain many-faceted characters. I mean, I know in one part of my brain that Moriarty isn't suddenly going to turn into the Pope, but the reader in me is still holding out hope, even after finishing book two!

Younger readers do not need to be familiar with the original tales to thoroughly enjoy these, but will probably want to explore those while waiting for book three. These would be an excellent choice for a book discussion group, with plenty of opportunity to share theories and sift out clues from red herrings. With that, here is one of my theories, with a good-sized spoiler, so - reader beware!

Lois is obviously trained as more than an assistant/nanny, as Moira has deduced. I think she has some sort of connection with the person they have decided is responsible for the Moriartys' father's death. Once you get to that part, you will understand the possible connection - although I do not think she is actually working for him. I also have some interesting theories about the love vs. loyalty angle, but that would give too many spoilers!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: You Know What? by Carol Gordon Ekster and Nynke Mare Talsma


Oliver should go to sleep. But there is so much he wants to tell his mother about: what happened that day at school, the things he read in books, everything he sees around him. 
A touching and familiar picture book about (postponing) the ritual of going to sleep.

So, basically, Ekster transcribed parts of a typical bedtime conversation at my house, and Talsma illustrated it (rather adorably). Both humorous and sweet, striking the balance we try to find each night between listening to the things they want to tell us when they still want to tell us things, and getting them to actually BE QUIET AND GO TO SLEEP at some point!

A book that makes you, the parent, laugh out loud and immediately hand it to another parent to read. But, how does it do with children? If mine are any indication, swimmingly! They caught the humor at all ages, enjoyed looking to see what the bunny was doing in each picture, and probably came up with a few new stalling ideas...

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: Love, Santa by Martha Brockenbrough and Lee White


In a series of letters, a young girl writes to Santa to ask about the North Pole, Mrs. Claus, and of course, Christmas goodies. Year after year, Santa writes back, and a heartwarming relationship develops, until one year, the girl writes to her mother instead: Mom, are you Santa? Her mother responds to say that no, she is not Santa. Because Santa is bigger than any one person — we bring him out through kindness to one another and the power of imagination. This transformative tale spins a universal childhood experience into a story about love, giving, and the spirit of Christmas.

There are quite a few books out, now, (and a few "my mother's cousin's dentist did this" stories going around Facebook) with variations on the everyone-is-Santa theme. This looks to be one of the better ones!

Books with removable items...the bane of every librarian's existence, but fun for individual kids. The first page tells us, "When Lucy was five, she wrote Santa a letter." The second page in the spread has a real envelope containing the note, "Dear Santa, The North Pole is freezing! How do you stay warm? Love, Lucy" Santa writes back to tell her about the matching red coats that keep him and Mrs. Claus warm, and gives Lucy one of her very own!

Through the years, Lucy writes to Santa with different questions, and both his notes and his gifts to her show just how well he knows and cares about her. Finally, Lucy asks that inevitable question, and her mother lets her in on that little secret that opens up a whole new world of sharing.

I am going to add this book to our collection, but among the nonfiction, so it is less likely to be browsed by a young one whose parents want to believe in Santa a bit longer. Always the parents' choice! If yours are ready to take that next step into feeling like part of the adult world, or if they have grown up knowing all along, this book is a wonderful conversation starter, and one they will go back to time and again. Just make copies of the notes, so you can replace them when they inevitably get lost - or, have the kids write their own letters and responses!

So, what about you? How did you find out about Santa? Or did I just spoil it for you? I was kind of a brat. I suspected at a rather young age, and asked my parents, who turned it back on me with, "What do you think?" I hazarded a "no", and they confirmed it. I immediately ran upstairs and broke the news to my baby brother, probably ruining Christmas for him forever. Tell me your stories in the comments!