Books for Younguns, Young Adults and the Young-at-Heart

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Young Adult Books of 2012

I wanted to do a year-end recap, but in an informal way.  So I'm listing my top ten favorite young adult, middle grade and picture books of 2012.  In order to limit my options, books are only eligible if they are a standalone or the first in a series, and--of course--they must have been originally published during 2012.  Other than that, this is a completely subjective list and is not meant to be *the best*, only my favorites.  They are not ranked, but listed in alphabetical order by author.  I'd love to hear your favorites in the comments.

My Favorite Young Adult Books of 2012


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Everyone is tired of hearing me talk about this book.  The story of loner-by-choice Greg and the connections that are foisted on him when his mother decides he should be friends with his classmate who has terminal cancer, this doesn't sound like the most likely candidate for funniest book of the year.  But while Greg and Earl's banter is always crass and profane, it's also definitely funny.  That's the reason you can keep reading while the story shatters you.  I don't usually get too personal here, but since it's a subjective list and it might help people trying to place this book with the right readers, I think it's appropriate.  Over the last few years, I've lost two very important people in my life long before their time, both to illnesses that were completely unexpected, but also long.  Reading Greg's internal struggles with his instinct to distance himself and put up a wall to preserve his emotions and the accompanying guilt no matter what he did gave me a connection and validated some of my feelings in a way I hadn't encountered before or since.  While the basic appeal of this book is broad, it's deeper meaning may be a niche market.  But those who need this book really need this book.


The Diviners by Libba Bray
I cannot stop thinking about this series.  This first book is an introduction to a timeline which has just started to diverge from our own, right in the middle of the Roaring '20s.  A rift has been opened, introducing young people with strange powers who slowly find their way to each other during a serial killer scare in New York City.  What the plot description lacks, however, is any implication that this is one of the most sophisticated YA reads of the year.  The complicated intertwining storylines and huge ensemble cast of distinct and compelling characters make its 592 pages fly by.  Bray also brings the horror with the story taking us straight to every supernatural murder scene and giving us the victim's point of view.  I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that there is at least one element of this book that will appeal to everyone.  Seriously, 600 pages isn't too long, it's too short.  More please.


The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
I absolutely devoured this book.  To say this is a book about Katharine's internal struggle on whether or not to allow herself some personal freedom by being trusted with her aunt's bookkeeping by betraying her uncle and sending all 900 people he employs to the poorhouse is accurate, but doesn't tell you how much happens in this book.  To say too much would be to give away too many delicious secrets, but I will say this feels very much like a Victorian Gothic novel.  Not just because it's set in the time period, but because the plot's twists and turns and the way they are revealed feel like they could be written by a Bronte.  Cameron's writing peels away layers so subtly that you may find yourself having an aha moment three-quarters of the way through and becoming more and more impressed as you realize all the steps it took to get you there.


Poison Princess by Kresley Cole
Before reading this, I would have bet you any amount of money that this book wouldn't even be enjoyable, much less on my top ten list.  And I still think the cover's awful.  But the story inside will suck you in.  Evie Green goes from spending the summer in a mental institution to realizing her hallucinations were really visions of the coming apocalypse.  With much of the world decimated, she discovers a connection to other survivors, all of whom are reincarnations of Tarot's Major Arcana, prophesied to reenact a battle where only one can survive.  While post-apocalyptic is widely regarded as played-out, everything about this book feels unique, from its started before the cataclysmic event to its emotionally and politically complex interactions between characters.  Even its wrong-side-of-the-tracks love interest is more nuanced than most.  Give it a try.  I'm pretty sure you'll want to pick up the next one.


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
What else is left to say about this book?  It's the best from the best.  Narrated by the terminally-ill Hazel about the relationship with totally-in-remission Augustus that completely shatters her defenses and changes the life she never thought she'd be living in the first place, this is a book that will take you apart and put you back together.  Hazel's experiences reach beyond the "cancer kids" to really examine why we live and love when it will all end eventually.


Elemental by Antony John
Another post-apocalyptic book with a different take.  The setting is a small colony on the Carolina coast where the inhabitants each have the ability to control at least one element.  Except for 16-year-old Thomas.  When an unpredicted hurricane sends the children to shelter on a neighboring island, after the storm they find the settlement on fire, the adults missing and pirate ship receding on the horizon.  When it turns back for them, Thomas and the others must fight pirates (along with their own hormones) and in the process discover things that turn their entire worldview upside-down.  What distinguishes this book is the totally relatable narrator and the relationship with his brother, who happens to be deaf.  The extra layer of decision-making and communication this adds to the plot complicate matters in the best way possible.  Also of note is the world that is informed much more by the past then the future, with a plague basically resetting society and eliminating technology, giving this world a different feel from the rest of the barren future wastelands.  Full disclosure:  Antony John is a local author and frequents our store, which has everything to do with why I read this book and nothing to do with why I like it so much.


Insignia by S.J. Kincaid
Amid the dystopias and apocalypses, there hasn't been much room in YA for straight science fiction lately.  This book has it in spades.  Tom is recruited to fight in a war for territory in outer space.  The war is fought by unmanned drones, all piloted by teenagers, the most fitting candidates due to their experience behind the controls of video games.  What the public doesn't know is that a new technology is aiding this war:  Neural implants that allow greater control of machines, but also allow the government to control you.  The most effective way I've billed it is as a cross between Ender's Game and Ready Player One, and it's a no-brainer for fans of either.  While it drags a bit in the middle, on the whole, this is a fantastic action-packed book for those who like a little more tech in their future.


Every Day by David Levithan
This is a book that defies categorization.  While the basic premise (A--while aging normally and staying in the same general area--wakes up every day having occupied a new person's body for just one day) is fantasy, the read feels more contemporary realistic.  While the two over-arching storylines (A's budding romance with Rhiannon and the threats from a boy who remembers being "possessed") are engaging on their own, the format allows for some really fascinating divergences and a general survey of growing up in America.  While it doesn't allow for much of an in-depth look at any one life, it is a really unique way of illustrating how very different and how very the same we all are.


Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Another science fiction read (although this one has a touch of the dystopian), this book hits on a major upcoming trend:  The fairy tale retelling.  This modernized Cinderella is a cyborg in a society that frowns on that sort of thing.  When she is sold by her stepmother into medical testing, her life goes in a direction she never would have imagined, including a strange connection with the prince of New Beijing.  Throw into that the duplicitous moon people, a race that has evolved separately on the lunar colonies, and there's a lot going on in this future society.  Because of the fairy tale angle, this would be a great introduction to science fiction for those who are reluctant to dive in, but it offers plenty for the avid fan as well.  The future books in the series promise to introduce other fairy tale characters, making this a sort of Into the Woods meets Blade Runner.  I can't wait.


Venom by Fiona Paul
This book had me from "historical Venice," seeing as that's one of my favorite things ever.  Readers who don't share my enthusiasm for the setting should still find a lot to like about Cassandra Caravello, the disenfranchised noble who discovers a murder victim in her friend's tomb and sets off to find out who she is and why she's there.  Along the way, she gains the help of the handsome and mysterious Falco, and the attraction is mutual, which might not be a problem if they weren't from different classes.  And if Cass's fiance weren't on his way back to Venice.  Cass is a smart, likable and realistic protagonist.  Her internal debates make sense both to who she is and her place in that society.  This is one of my favorite love triangles ever, since it's not so much "two guys she loves" but "one guy she loves but can't have and one guy she should love because he's very nice and she has to marry him anyway."  The mystery provides plenty of intrigue and creepiness and will keep you guessing even after the book is over.  (I just finished the second book, Belladonna, and it's worth it.)  And that disclaimer about Antony John?  That goes for Fiona Paul too.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Book Journey with a children's/YA version at Teach Mentor Texts.

I skipped posting last week since it was Christmas Eve, but it was just as well, because all I did the previous week was get a little further in Soulbound, the first book in the Legacy of Tril series by Heather Brewer.  Last week I managed to finally finish it.  This is probably my favorite Heather Brewer book to date.  I love seeing her voice applied to a more traditional fantasy setting.  I'm also really enjoying some of the stereotypes that are getting challenged.  I can't wait for more in the series.  I read an Advance Readers Copy from the publisher.

Next I read Belladonna, the second book in The Secrets of the Eternal Rose series by Fiona Paul.  This is shaping up to be an excellent series for fans of a wide variety of genres.  There's historical, romance, mystery, thriller, horror, but not too much of any one to turn off those who usually avoid it.  This second book avoids many of the traps follow-up books often fall into, furthering the larger plot and deepening the characters' relationships while having its own distinct storyline.  Cass is one of my favorite heroines, remaining true to herself while being realistic for the time period, and--most importantly--never making me want to beat sense into her.  I read an Advance Readers Copy from the publisher.

Finally I started Let It Snow: Three Holiday Stories by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle.  I'm barely into it, so I can't say much, other than that I like the narrator of Johnson's story quite a lot.

In an effort to familiarize myself with our new Kobo e-readers, I also downloaded the Kobo app to my phone and started reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  So far, I find it pleasant enough, but not really my style.

This week I'll be finishing Let It Snow and starting Please Ignore Vera Dietz for the January meeting of Teen Reads.

What are you reading?

Monday, December 17, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Book Journey with a children's/YA version at Teach Mentor Texts.

Last week, I finished Finicky, the fifth book in the Aldo Zelnick Comic Novels series by Karla Oceanak, illustrated by Kendra Spanjer.  I liked the focus on healthy eating that can also taste good (along with some suggestions), but thought this is the most insufferable Aldo's been and he never really got the message in this one.  I read a complimentary copy from the publisher.

Next I read Glitch, the sixth book in the series.  This one made up for Aldo's misbehavior in the last book by having him get the message of the true Christmas spirit before it had to be spelled out for him.  It took a slightly different angle on the greedy-kids-at-Christmas narrative (and also includes Hanukkah traditions), and I liked the Gnome in the Home parody.  I read a complimentary copy from the publisher.

Next I read The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee, the third book in the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger.  This series continues to impress with its nuanced view of child psychology that is still expressed in ways readers (even those younger than the characters) will understand.

Finally, I started Soulbound, the first book in the Legacy of Tril series by Heather Brewer.  This is a totally new angle for Brewer, with it's setting in a totally new fantasy world, but it maintains her distinctive voice.  I really enjoy the main character and can't wait to hear the answers to all the puzzles she's uncovering.  I'm reading an advance readers copy from the publisher.

This week, I'll be finishing Soulbound, then starting Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle for the December meeting of Teen Reads.

What are you reading?

Review: Insurgent

For the holidays, I'm reviewing a book or series a day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is Insurgent by Veronica Roth, the sequel to Divergent, one of last year's holiday picks for teens.  This review contains spoilers for Divergent.

In the aftermath of Erudite's attack on Abnegation, Tris and her friends and family attempt to preserve what is left of their lives while taking on Jeanine and the Dauntless traitors.

I've said all along that the truly compelling thing about Divergent is the relationships between character and how they change with each new circumstance.  Roth manages to keep her characters' actions realistic while still occasionally surprising; a difficult line to walk.  This second installment of the series maintains this theme, delving further into Tris's relationships with Four/Tobias and Christina, among many others. The action keeps moving as well, offering several heart-pounding scenes of infiltration and all-out battle.  While in many ways this is a classic middle-of-a-trilogy novel (tasked with expanding the worldview and raising the stakes, but not delivering a full payout for either one), I am definitely left eagerly awaiting the third and final book.

This is recommended for fans of The Hunger Games, teen girls looking for a kickass heroine and early-adopters of the next big thing (a movie is in the works).

Insurgent is published by Katherine Tegen Books and retails for $17.99 (hardcover) or $19.99 (hardcover collector's edition with a short story and other extras).  I bought my copy.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: Venom

For the holidays, I'm reviewing a book or series a day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is Venom by Fiona Paul, a local Central West End author.

Cassandra is growing up a ward of her aunt in Renaissance Venice when her childhood friend dies.  One night she visits her tomb and finds a stranger's body, the victim of a gruesome murder.  In her quest to find out who this women is and what happened to her friend's body, Cass crosses paths with Falco, a mysterious artist.  She is immediately drawn to him, but the attraction could risk everything, especially with her straight-laced fiance on the way back to town.  And there's also the fact that it looks like Falco might know more about the murder than he's let on.

This is historical mystery/romance done right.  The mystery is compelling and the romance isn't over-the-top. (Just enough to add intrigue and raise the stakes, not enough to be nauseating.)  But the real stars are Cass, the disenfranchised noblewoman chaffing at the role society has prescribed for her, and the city of Venice itself, which is illustrated in beautiful detail from the glamorous society events to the seedy underbelly.  All the characters are engaging and memorable and the plot will keep you guessing with some genuine moments of suspense.

This book is recommended for armchair travelers, fans of a strong heroine and those who like intelligent romance.

Venom is published by Philomel and retails for $17.99 (hardcover).  I read an advance readers copy from the publisher.  You can get your autographed copy at Left Bank Books today!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: Elemental

For the holidays, I'm reviewing a book or series a day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is Elemental by Antony John, a local Central West End author.

The population has been wiped out by a plague, leaving only small colonies on the coast of the United States.  The residents are each born with the ability to control at least one of the elements.  All except for Thomas.  At age 16, he has yet to develop an element, but that becomes the least of his problems when a hurricane hits and the children emerge from the storm shelter to a smoldering colony empty of adults and a pirate ship receding on the horizon.

Yes, this is another post-apocalyptic YA novel.  But it is one far more informed by the past than the future.  The plague has resulted in a regression in both technology and social structure, making the colony feel more like New World colonization than post-disaster scavenging.  The addition of elemental control introduces a fantastical aspect that should ensnare readers imaginations.  Through it all, Thomas's narration is compelling as he navigates totally unfamiliar territory with concerns that will be recognizable to your average modern-day teen.  The story is elevated further by the presence of Thomas's deaf brother, Griffin, whom only Thomas has bothered to communicate fully with, meaning he must decide how much to share and when.

This book is recommended for fans of genre-blending, those looking for a fantastical story with contemporary sensibilities and middle grade readers who are ready for more challenging material.

Elemental is published by Dial and retails for $17.99 (hardcover).  I read an advance readers copy from the publisher.  You can get your autographed copy at Left Bank Books today!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: The Diviners

For the holidays, I'm reviewing a book or series a day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is The Diviners by Libba Bray, my holiday staff pick.

It's the roaring '20s and Evie is being punished by her parents.  Her only problem with that is pretending that being sent to live with her uncle in New York City is a punishment instead of an adventure.  Well, that and keeping it a secret that the scandal she caused by outing the son of an influential man as the father of a servant's baby wasn't something she found out through gossip, but through her powers of divination.  Evie is one of a growing number of teens with special powers, and when an evil spirit is unleashed and starts a killing spree across the city, they begin finding each other in the quest to stop him before it's too late.

This isn't quite like anything else on the shelves today.  If the words "1920s paranormal murder mystery" appeal to you, pick it up immediately.  If you're still not sure, let me tell you about the richly drawn settings that bring prohibition-era New York City to life and the large and diverse cast of characters that gives every reader someone to connect to.  Add to that the fact that this is NOT a whodunnit, but rather a book that brings you to the scene of each horrific crime and you have thoroughly engaging, often chilling series debut that will have you hooked from page one.

This book is recommended for flapper wannabes, fans of the occult and those who like their plots dense and the characters numerous.

The Diviners is published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and retails for $19.99 (hardcover).  I read an advance readers copy from the publisher.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee

For the holidays, I'm reviewing a book or series a day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger, the third book in the Origami Yoda series, last year's pick for middle graders.

With Dwight attended Tippett Academy now, the kids at McQuarrie are lost without Origami Yoda.  That is, until Sara comes to school with the Fortune Wookiee and his interpreter, Han Foldo, both gifts from Dwight.  The Fortune Wookiee's advice is working out pretty well, but then things start to not add up.  Not to mention the suspicious going's-on with the elective teachers.

This is a welcome addition to a surprising nuanced series, but you need to have read the previous books in order to make sense of the plot.  All the characters have appeared previously (other than a one-chapter drop-in) and the narrative thread is picked up right from where Darth Paper Strikes Back left off.  That said, fans of the series won't be disappointed by two new origami (okay, technically origami) creations and a fun new case file and parents will appreciate the ongoing message that kids should embrace their differences and get a well-rounded education.

This book is recommended for fans of Star Wars, origami lovers and kids who could use some help empathizing with those who think differently than they do.

The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee is published by Harry N. Abrams and retails for $12.95 (hardcover).  I bought my copy.  You can get yours from Left Bank Books today!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie

For the holidays, I'm reviewing a book or series a day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie by William Joyce, the second picture book in the Guardians of Childhood series, of which The Man in the Moon, last year's holiday pick, was the first.

The Man in the Moon is dedicated to protecting the children of Earth from nightmares.  But what can he do when the moon isn't full?  He decides to ask his friend, Sanderson Mansnoozie, for his help.

This is another truly gorgeous book from William Joyce.  His lush illustrations harken back to the fantastical children's stories of the early 1900's, and the level of detail is amazing.  Each page can be examined for quite some time without finding everything.  That's one of the things that makes this the perfect read-aloud bedtime story.  It's relative text-heavy nature means while someone is narrating, kids can explore the pictures.  The message is great for that time of day as well, encouraging kids that nightmares aren't real and can't hurt them as long as they fight back.  This is a fine installment in what is becoming a fascinating mythology of Joyce's own creation.

This book is recommended for fans of the recent movie based on the series (which also includes middle-grade novels), anyone looking for a classic bedtime story and those who like their illustrations magnificent.

The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie is published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers and retails for $17.99 (hardcover).  I read a copy off the shelves.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review: Egghead/Finicky/Glitch

For the holidays, I'm reviewing a book or series every day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's books are Egghead, Finicky and Glitch, this year's installments in The Aldo Zelnick Comic Novels series by Karla Oceanak, illustrated by Kendra Spanjer, last year's holiday pick for reluctant readers.

Egghead brings us Halloween, Aldo's study of Albert Einstein, and his insistence that he can't learn Spanish. In Finicky, a new policy brings healthy--but terrible tasting--food to the school cafeteria, and Aldo and friends decide to lead a protest.  Glitch brings the holiday season where Aldo learns about Hanukkah and the values of giving and togetherness.

As always, Aldo starts each of these books headstrong and short-sighted, caring primarily about himself, and ends each equally headstrong, but more sensitive and caring to those around him.  His friends and family provide excellent counterpoints when he is setting a bad example, so there's little danger of readers taking away the wrong message.  The illustrations continue their trend of adding humor and occasional insight.  These books also include the series-trademark Word Galleries written in easy-to-understand terms, with Egghead adding a Spanish version as an extra bonus.  That book also includes some DIY science experiments, while Finicky brings some great-tasting healthy food ideas and Glitch suggests some homemade Christmas presents.

These books are recommended for those looking for books with a good lesson that don't hammer it over your head, anyone looking to expand their vocabulary, and older readers who still like a dose of pictures with their books.

The Adlo Zelnick Comic Novels are published by Bailiwick Press and retail for $12.95 a piece (hardcover). I read complimentary copies from the publisher.  You can get yours from Left Bank Books today (see links above)!

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Book Journey with a children's and YA version at Teach Mentor Texts.

Last week I finished Lair of the Bat Monster, the fourth book in the Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon.     This continues to be a super-fun series with nothing going quite the way you expect it to.  This installment has a great message and the bonus of an adult character (in addition to Danny's awesome parents) that both kids and grown-ups should love.

Next came No Such Thing As Ghosts, the next book in the series.  This one delves into the extremely bizarre realm.  Be warned though, it's scary enough that it was kind of creeping me out.  Definitely don't give it to anyone who's scared of clowns.  For kids who are always looking for a good scare, though, it's perfect. I love the introduction of Christiana, the junior skeptic.  She adds a lot to the series.

Book six is Revenge of the Horned Bunnies.  While this looks like just a silly romp with cute characters, there are some underlying messages of compassion for others that make it a good discussion book.

Finally, there's When Fairies Go Bad.  This is perhaps the most fanciful yet, but with plenty of historical information about fairy tales backing it up.  It's nice to see some of the supporting characters from previous books making appearances.

Lastly, I started the sixth Adlo Zelnick Comic Novel, Finicky by Karla Oceanak, illustrated by Kendra Spanjer.  I must say, Aldo's attitude is a bit trying in this one, but I'm guessing that he comes to his senses by the end and learns lessons about healthy eating and effective negotiation in one fell swoop.

This week, I'm finishing Finicky and continuing the series with Glitch.

What are you reading?

Review: This Is Not My Hat

For the holidays, I'm reviewing a book or series a day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, the follow-up to last year's holiday pick, I Want My Hat Back.

A fish has stolen a hat.  He knows he probably shouldn't have, but it just looks so good on him.  And it's not like the giant fish he stole it from will ever find out who took it, right?

When I heard there was going to be a sequel to I Want My Hat Back, I assumed it would follow at least one of the characters from the original.  Instead this is a variation on the theme of stealing hats, and I think I prefer it this way.  This book contrasts the original in almost every way possible:  horizontal orientation rather than vertical, dark backgrounds instead of light, internal monologue narration instead of dialogue, and, not least, following the thief instead of the victim.  What it does preserve from the original is the rustic-looking watercolor illustrations, memorable characters (that crab!) and a wicked sense of humor.  The two books combined would be a perfect introductory lesson on different ways to tell a story.

This book is recommended for those who have outgrown warm and fuzzy picture books, beginning readers who still want nice art and anyone with a twisted sense of humor.

This Is Not My Hat is published by Candlewick and retails for $15.99 (hardcover).  I read an advance copy from the publisher.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review: Dragonbreath Series

For the holidays, I'll be reviewing a book or series every day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's series is Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon, our holiday picks for reluctant readers.

Danny Dragonbreath is a real live dragon living in a world of lizards and amphibian where no one thinks he exists.  It doesn't help that he has a little trouble breathing fire.  In Dragonbreath, Danny has a report about the ocean, so for research, he and his best friend Wendell visit his sea monster cousin under the Sargasso Sea.  Attack of the Ninja Frogs sees Danny and Wendell traveling to mythical Japan to stop a series of ninja attacks on their exchange student classmate.  In Curse of the Were-Wiener, Wendell is bitten by a cut-rate cafeteria hot dog from Transylvania and starts to exhibit strange symptoms.  Lair of the Bat Monster takes the boys to Mexico to visit Danny's researcher cousin where they discover a new species of giant--really giant--bat.  In No Such Thing As Ghosts, Danny and Wendell are joined for trick-or-treating by junior skeptic Christiana, but even she can't explain what's happening when they get locked in a haunted house.  Revenge of the Horned Bunnies takes the whole crew to summer camp, along with Danny's annoying cousin, who promptly befriends a jackalope whose family is missing.  In When Fairies Go Bad, Danny and friends travel to the fairy realm to rescue his mother, who has been stolen for destroying a fairy ring.


When I started this series, I anticipated liking them for what they are and recommending them to the seven-to-ten set.  Now that I've read them all, I actively love them and am recommending them to adults for their own reading.  These books are both fun and funny, touching on many out-there day-dream subjects and bringing them into Danny's real life.  Vernon's writing never feels dumbed-down and even adults will be laughing out loud.  Think of these as the Pixar movies of the book world.  As a bonus, two of the characters are routinely identified as nerds, but never as a negative thing and--while the series is named after Danny and Wendell is his constant companion--Suki and Christiana are just as compelling as characters and given plenty to do.  Earlier installments of the series focus more on education (the first two books have fact boxes), but most books have a learning component.  Even if it's about something like fairy legend, there is a lot of research going into the story.  The seamless transitions from traditional format to graphic novel and back again make this a slam dunk for those who balk at more serious looking novels without compromising quality.

This series is recommended for reluctant readers, fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and anyone with a quirky sense of humor.

The Dragonbreath series is published by Dial and retails for $6.99 a piece (paperback; books 1 and 2 only) and $12.99 a piece (hardcover).  I bought my copies.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Review: Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama

For the holidays, I'll be reviewing a different book or series every day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko.

Sadie's father grew up celebrating Christmas while her mother grew up celebrating Hanukkah.  That means Sadie gets to celebrate both!  Her house is full of blended traditions like leaving latkes for Santa, and Sadie thinks that makes her the luckiest kid of all.

New family traditions of celebrating two or more holidays in the winter season are increasingly common, whether due to blended families or a desire to expand kids' worldview.  This book is an unflinchingly positive take on the scenario.  In Sadie's eyes, she gets the best of both worlds and her parents aren't competing, but collaborating.  Kids who share Sadie's background will enjoy seeing themselves in the pages, and kids who don't may learn something.  Regardless, the colorful, collage-inspired illustrations will give them all something to enjoy.

This book is recommended for kids celebrating both the Christian and Jewish traditions this holiday season and those looking for a little education on a non-native culture.

Christmas Daddy and Hanukkah Mama is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers and retails for $16.99 (hardcover).  I read an advance copy from the publisher.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Review: Olivia and the Fairy Princesses

For the holidays, I'll be reviewing a book or series a day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer, one of our holiday picks for picture books.

Everyone wants to be a princess!  Everyone except Olivia, that is.  She has bigger dreams for her life.  Like modern dance.  Or corporate acquisitions.  But everyone wants her to sparkle and be pink.  It's very frustrating.

Olivia has definitely become a classic character and kids today recognize her more than ever with her popular TV show.  This latest installment in her picture book series is fun and sassy with Olivia rebelling against expectations.  This isn't about rejecting girly stereotypes, though.  The book goes out of its way to point out the boys in her class who want to be princesses and the princesses who don't dress in frilly tutus.  This is about being yourself and not conforming.  Amid the message, there are a few truly laugh-out-loud moments and Falconer's gorgeously detailed illustrations.

This book is recommended for kids who are finding themselves, fans of picture books with humor and those collecting the modern classics.

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses is published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers and retails for $17.99 (hardcover).  I read a copy off our shelves.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: Little Bird

For the holidays, I'll be reviewing a book or series a day from December 1 through the 24th.

Today's book is Little Bird by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine, one of our holiday's picture book picks.

A man releases a group of birds into the wild, but one little bird stays behind and makes a friend.

This is a hard book to give a plot summary for without being totally misleading.  The pictures show the relationship between the bird and the man growing into one of attachment and generosity.  The words tell a different story, one applicable to the illustrations, but far more universal.  It teaches the quiet lesson to appreciate the small moments in life that can turn a normal day into something truly special, but all too often go by unnoticed.  This is truly an all-ages picture book.  Young ones will have fun identifying the story told in the pictures while older readers will appreciate the rich philosophical message.

This book is recommended for fans of wordless stories, those who like some depth to their kid's books and any adults longing for a picture book that speaks to them.

Little Bird is published by Enchanted Lion Books and retails for $16.95 (hardcover).  I read a sample copy from the publisher.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: Hippopposites

For the holidays, I'll be reviewing a book or series a day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is Hippopposites by Janik Coat, our holiday pick for babies.

It's an opposite book.  With hippos!

One of the first publications of a new design-focused imprint for young kids, this is a sleek and stylish way to illustrate opposites.  The basics are here (small/large, left/right) but many of these pairs illustrate more complicated concepts such as transparent/opaque and clear/blurry.  The illustrations are simple, but often display a cute sense of humor, and there are even some touch-and-feel elements.  The large size makes this an easy book to read and interact with together.

This book is recommended for developing toddlers, design-conscious new parents and anyone excited about the recent increase in kid's books about hippos.

Hippopposites is published by Harry N. Abrams and retails for $14.95 (board book).  I read a complimentary copy from the publisher.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: Three Times Lucky

For the holidays, I'll be reviewing a book or series a day from December 1st through 24th.

Today's book is Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, one of our holiday picks for middle grade readers.

Moses "Mo" LoBeau has grown up in the small town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, although she wasn't born there.  She doesn't know where she was born.  All she knows is she was found as an infant floating down the river after a hurricane and now she lives with an amnesiac Colonel and the delightfully dotty Miss Lana, the owners of the town cafe.  Mo spends her time writing to her Upstream Mother (both in her journal and in message she puts in bottles and gives to people headed north to drop in the river) and fishing with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III.  That is, until the day Tupelo Landing is visited by a detective investigating a murder.  Then Mo and Dale decide the natives are the only ones who can solve this small-town crime.

Here is yet another book where the plot is solid enough, but the real attraction is the writing.  This story is narrated by new sixth-grader Mo, and she brings the Southern charm.  Mo is smart and funny and feisty when she needs to be (and she finds a lot of need).  The character could easily become too cutesy, but the dark aspects of the book (Mo's missing mother, Dale's abusive father, and, you know, murder) balance out the presentation nicely.  In less sensitive hands, those real-world dangers could become too scary or heavy, but Mo's matter-of-fact, down-to-business style tempers that risk.  Saavy readers may solve some of the mystery before Mo and Dale, but I doubt they'll figure out all of it.  Besides, this isn't really a whodunnit at heart.  It's a story about a girl and her love for her family, friends and town.

This book is recommended for those who like some sass to their heroines, fans of a twisty plot, and anyone longing for Southern small-town comfort.

Three Times Lucky is published by Dial and retails for $16.99 (hardcover).  I read an Advance Readers Copy from the publisher.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Book Journey with a children's and YA version at Teach Mentor Texts.

Last week I finished Eleventh Grade Burns, the fourth book in The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer.  I like these books more and more as they go along.  It feels like they're growing into their subject matter, becoming darker and more violent as the audience ages.  Dorian is my favorite character in the series by far.

Next I read Twelfth Grade Kills, the final book in the series.  I loved the direction this took and found it a satisfying end to the series.  I found myself trying to guess what would happen and who to trust along with Vlad and getting it wrong as much as he did.  Some real surprises in this one.

Next up was Curse of the Were-Weiner, the third Dragonbreath book by Ursula Vernon.  I love this series.  This installment is truly absurdist and wacky fun.  I laughed out loud several times and even read sections to my fiance, who didn't hate it.

Next was Egghead, the fifth Aldo Zelnick Comic Novel by Karla Oceanak, illustrated by Kendra Spanjer.  It's a nice edition to the series, continuing Aldo's personal growth as he realizes the value of making an effort to communicate with others on their own terms rather than making them do all the work.  This book includes the standard English glossary, but also a Spanish one.  I read a complimentary copy provided by Bailiwick Press.

Finally, I started Lair of the Bat Monster, the fourth Dragonbreath book.  This one is back to a more educational focus, but still plenty of fun.  Where else will you get to learn about endangered species with a side of giant-bats-adopting-dragons?

This week I'll be continuing the Dragonbreath series with No Such Thing As Ghosts.

What are you reading?