23 Minutes

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but I’m a huge fan of thrillers, especially those that have something of a paranormal element to them. Time peeking, monsters, interdimensional travel – you name it, I’ll likely read it. This week, Vivian Vande Velde brings us an exciting read.

The Story: When Zoe steps into the bank on Independence Street to get out of the rain, the last thing she expects is to get caught in the middle of a robbery. When she watches a kind customer get shot right in front of her, Zoe knows that she must. She has to say it. Because the truth is Zoe is not quite normal. She has a special ability – she can travel back twenty-three minutes into the past. If she can just alert someone, maybe she can stop death from happening again. But she’s only got ten times to make this work before her playbacks stop and the more Zoe attempts to change the future/past, the worse things get. The truth is Zoe’s not even sure if she can stop it and she might die trying.

My Thoughts: With a well-paced plot, great use of character, and excellent exposition woven throughout in a way that seems natural, Vivian Vande Velde proves herself to be an excellent writer. 23 Minutes is an exciting read that keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next. Readers will enjoy reading this tale that keeps them guessing as to what the final future will be and whether Zoe will even live to see it.

Parental Advisories: I would not recommend this book for younger readers as there is some slight mention of violence and gore (e.g. Zoe is spattered with blood from a character being shot in front of her, descriptions of someone being shot, [nothing too profane or grisly]) and there is some cussing [d**n, a**, bull****]. That having been said for older teenagers or adults, I highly recommend this novel. The cussing appeared maybe three times and the violence was played down, with the emphasis being on the urgency to stop the bank robbery from taking place. Read at your own discretion.

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The League of Secret Heroes

This week we’re reading through some very heroic material for our latest book review. Interested in superheroes, historical fiction, and female leads? You’ll love this one by Kate Hannigan.

The Story: Josie O’Malley knows that superheroes don’t exist – not now anyway. They disappeared a while back, but she’s crossing her fingers that they’re still out there, fighting the good fight across the ocean. Maybe they’ve hung up their capes here in America, but she’s certain no true hero would forget about the war with Germany and Japan. If only she was superhero enough to take up the fight on her own home turf. When she decided to try out to become a puzzler and help the war effort, she soon discovers she’s not the only one who wants to contribute to the war effort. Mae and Akiko both believe in their country and fighting injustice, despite the injustice they face in their own lives. Through a bizarre turn of events, the three girls find themselves transformed into the very heroes they aspire to be. Everything finally seems to be working in their favor. But what happens when you’re not sure who you can trust, you’re fighting to be recognized by the people you’re trying to protect, and you’re not even sure the war you can’t fight will even end?

My Thoughts: I’m a big fan of historical fiction. What with the plethora of WWII novels being released, there’s plenty to enjoy, but The League of Secret Heroes: Cape stood out to me. With its unique format (graphic storytelling scattered throughout the book) and plucky heroines, this is a book that will teach, inspire, and enthrall.

Parental Advisories: None! A clean read all the way through. The book does touch on racism, the Japanese internment camps, and WWII though, topics worthy of discussion if your reader hasn’t come across them.

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Pie in the Sky

There’s nothing like a story that allows us to take a peek into different worlds and understand what it feels like to be the outsider. This week on the blog we’re reading a particularly unique book by author Remy Lai.

The Story: Jingwen is pretty sure he’s just landed on Mars. Where else could he be? What with the weird languages, new smells, and sights – everything his little brother Yanghao seems to pick up on and he doesn’t – Australia is about as far from home as it gets. If only he could understand English, if only he weren’t so s l o w. For Jingwen it seems the only thing he can do to fix everything is to make Pie in the Sky cakes like his father did. Maybe then he can help his little brother remember everything about the past. Maybe then he can make up for everything he did. Maybe, little by little, his cakes can fix everything…sort of.

My Thoughts: I absolutely powered through this read. With its half comic, half narrative format, Pie in the Sky, is an utterly unique way to tell a story. Remy Lai does a remarkable job of conveying what it’s like to not only be the new kid, but to communicate the language barrier of moving to a new country. Jingwen is a relatable protagonist and the character dynamics feel very natural and enjoyable to read.

Parental Advisories: Given that these characters are new to life in an English speaking country, there is some mention made of cussing, though the worst that is printed is cr*p. For parents who are concerned, they could wait to hand this book off to younger readers, though I highly recommend this book for at least junior high students. It’s a good read for those trying to get into heftier fiction, without quite as high a word count.

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Knights vs Monsters

In 2019, Matt Phelan brought us a unique take on the middle ages and knighthood with his Knights vs Dinosaurs. This time the unique troupe of heroes are poised to take on an altogether different kind of foe in this exciting follow up read.

The Story: The quest for the Holy Grail drags on, but the Band of the Terrible Lizards knows this is not their place. They’re meant for more than journeying from town to town looking for an ancient cup, with the most exciting bit of news being Hector’s mustache being clipped down. When will they finally get back to their adventures of daring do? When a mysterious boat sails towards them, the knights decide to see where it will lead. But when they reach the Isle of Orkney, where Queen Morguase, Mordred, and her three sons inhabit the stone castle, the knights realize there’s more to this new quest than meets the eye. Indeed, once night has fallen, the brave troupe will realize there’s a lot more than just dragons awaiting them in the twilight, but perhaps something far worse…

My Thoughts: Having enjoyed the previous work, Knights vs Monsters was a welcome sequel. I think the story was well-written, with intriguing beats being woven in and certain story threads left open rather well to lead into yet another book (but if you haven’t read it, you’ll have to see what I mean and comment on whether you agree). Matt Phelan does a good job of honoring Scottish folklore by weaving in some traditional mythical creatures. This was a highly enjoyable read and I would definitely recommend it.

Parental Advisories: A clean read! Some mild violence, and mention is made of witchcraft, so parental discretion advised. However, the magic is no more than a mysterious mist that is controlled by a queen who supposedly is practiced in sorcery. Explicit ceremonies, spells, and the like are not made mention of.

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Ada’s Violin

If there’s something I love, it’s a story that focuses on characters who overcome their circumstances. Even better? When it’s based on true to life events as in this week’s read based off of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comfort.

The Story: In a trash heap in Paraguay, children like Ada yearn for a different life. There’s not much hope however. They must be content knowing their life is built on, in, and around trash. When music lessons are offered legacy, a little bit of hope emerges – only to be dashed once more. With only so many instruments available, instruments that cannot be taken home for practice given their high cash value, how can any of the children even dare to dream of becoming musicians? Still, there’s nothing that can-do attitude can’t fix and where better to find the material for instruments then in the middle of the biggest foraging spot ever.

My Thoughts: For anyone who says “can’t”, there are others around the world who say “can”. This is one of those books that will inspire readers to not only take comfort and develop gratitude for what they have, but to inspire them to reach higher. Nothing is impossible and your circumstances are not deciding factors in what will and won’t happen in your life. These children and their parents proved determination and courage are much more than the things that may seem to hold you back.

Parental Advisories: None! Clean and inspiring, regardless of age.

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The History of Rock

Yeah we know. Anything nonfiction with the word “history” in the title aimed at children and there’s an instant trepidation. But who says learning can’t be fun? Rita Nabais and illustrator Joana Raimundo certainly think it can be and they prove it with this week’s rockin’ read.

Summary: Rock n’ roll. Once a rebellious fad for teenagers, now a ubiquitous form of music featured everywhere from your local roller rink to blockbuster superhero films to your grandma’s living room. As wellspread as the genre is, it’s just as colorful and varied. To catalogue the Beatles with Alice Cooper? This is one genre that’s just got to be explored, and this book does that job well. From the roots of soul, country, and the evolution from Elvis to Led Zeppelin, this is the perfect introduction to the story behind rock n’ roll for big fans and little punks alike.

My Thoughts: Having been raised in a household where Van Halen (who deserved more than a footnote to Led Zeppelin based on Eddie alone but I digress) was considered to be one of the greats. That having been said, author Rita Nabais and illustrator Joana Raimundo do an excellent job of making rock n’ roll history fun to learn. If you were ever a music and/or rock junkie, this is the perfect book to get you back into the classics and introduce you to that vivid, showstopping (or dark and metallic – whatever your preference) world of rock music.

Parental Advisories: None! Clean nonfiction read that is suitable and enjoyable for all audiences.

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Welcome to Superhero School

We love our ARCs – and this one is an exciting read from author Gracie Dix! If you’re looking for an exciting middle grade book, you’re in luck. This one won’t disappoint.

The story: It’s not so easy being a superhero. Just ask Oliver and Jess, siblings at Superhero School. Their powers don’t come easy. There’s a lot of training involved just to become a quality leader. And if that weren’t enough, superheroes always have an opponent. Supervillains come in all shapes and sizes and this time the siblings are faced against the deadly villains of Vork. What with the secrets of twins Mason and Jason, the incredible locations, and the danger that lurks around every corner, it seems it’s not going to be dull school year.

My thoughts: Part Marvel origin story, part Percy Jackson, and all parts awesome, Welcome to Superhero School is yet another great read from authoress Gracie Dix! This is a novel definitely targeted towards younger audiences (no lengthy prose or intricate prose), but it serves its purpose well. Highly entertaining and a delightful book to while away the afternoon with, this is one to hand off to your middle grade readers who have graduated from lighter reads and are looking for something a bit more hefty.

Parental Advisories: None! This is a clean read straight through!

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Pretend She’s Here

It is the rare YA novel that manages to capture my attention so thoroughly and my regard even more so. This week we’re reading a thriller for teens that is well-paced, cunningly plotted – and impossible to put down.

The Story: Emily knows pain. Her best friend Lizzie has died of cancer and there’s no one who can quite understand that hurt. That is, until the Porters come back into town. Emily knows Lizzie’s family will understand better than ever. Maybe a little too well. When she finds herself kidnapped and transported to a completely different town, Emily wakes up to see a different girl in the mirror. It’s not just pain that she’s forced to live now, but her best friend’s life. In order to placate the forces who have taken her, she’ll have to walk the fine line between being her dead best friend and herself, before she loses Emily Lonergan forever.

My Thoughts: Pretend She’s Here thrihooked me right from the middle. Yes, that’s right, the middle. I opened the book up a few chapters in, and was so caught up that I never bothered to go back. After my first read through, I went back and read this a second time because wow. This book is written so well and the thriller genre is never forgotten, even when familiar slice of life elements make an appearance. Luanne Rice weaves her tale deftly, managing to balance the dark and the light as masterfully as she manages to convey the tragedy of the situation as well as the multi-faceted character dynamics.

Parental Advisories: We love a clean read. I was especially shocked given that this was a thriller and I expected a fair amount of cussing, but this was a clean book the whole way through! Highly recommend it for any reader. This is a thrilling read clean and clear enough for any audience.

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The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth

This year has brought us some excellent nonfiction books and this next one is no exception. With beautiful illustrations and chapters broken down easily for reading, The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth is a book worth checking out.

Summary: Rachel Ignotofsky does a remarkable job with this book. The introduction breaks down the definitions of ecosystems and classification of animals before diving right into each section showcasing the wonders of different living conditions all around the world. From the hot savanna plains of Africa to the icy Arctic caps, the book is a comprehensive guide to the beauties of the world. Each chapter has a lovely illustration and a description of the environment. At the end of the book is a brief look at how the different cycles of the weather and elements work.

My Thoughts: This book is worth a read for the pictures alone. The graphic designs are colorful and wondrous to look at. I think parents and children alike will enjoy flipping through this. Given the nature of the book, this is also a great introductory read for educators to hand off to their students.

Parental Advisories: This book does have a strong bias towards the evolutionary theory of life and writes from a point of view that believes in global warming as a viable threat to the state of humanity. Otherwise, this is a clean read that is highly enjoyable.

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Showtime at the Apollo

Sometimes the most interesting stories surround places and the people who fill them. There’s nothing quite like music to bring people together, as proved by the Apollo in Harlem, as brought to life once more by author Ted Fox and illustrator James Otis Smith.

The Story: In 1933, a theater started with a singular dream: to be a haven for people of color, a place where thy could hone, share, and take pleasure in their considerable talents. From performers like Jay-Z in 2007, Bo Didley in 1955, to Paul McCartney 2010, this is a place that has hosted the best of the best – those whom modern audiences may have forgotten, those whom history has revered and will likely to revere for ages to come – but it came from humble origins. Though it may not have started as a location of rebellion, it quickly grew into a haven for performers of color. Here music evolved as dancers and singers took the stage, turning the place from a place of questionable nature to a well reputed establishment. It’s story doesn’t end in the past though – the story continues as the theater continues to evolve and grow even today.

Entertaining, well documented, and cleverly packed with photos of real documents, performers, and more, this is the nonfiction read that readers deserve. You’ll find yourself fully immersed in this tale of what it takes to do more than just survive – but thrive.

Parental Advisories: This book is definitely marketed towards an adult audience, but is pleasantly clean, with only the occasional mild cuss (though there are scattered cuss words and topics throughout that parents may want to keep kids from). I definitely think young adult audiences could enjoy this book depending on their maturity and parents’ comfort level. Read at your own disclosure.

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