Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky March 17, 2017

Spin the Sky, by Jill MacKenzie, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510706866

Recommended for readers 14+

Eighteen year-old Magnolia Woodson and her older sister, Rose, have to live with the sins of their drug addict mother, who abandoned them after a tragedy a year before. Living in a small clamming town in Oregon, everyone knows who they are and what happened; the only folks who seem to think differently are Magnolia’s childhood best friend, George, and his mother, who’s taken care of the girls whenever their mother fell short. To change the way the town sees Magnolia and her sister, she decides she need to win the reality dance show, Live to Dance. She and George head to Portland to audition, but they make it! Now the real work begins: will the competition be too much for Mags? Will her friendship with George survive the stress of the show, and will she be able to live in the fishbowl that is reality television, especially with a secret she doesn’t want made public?

Spin the Sky has a strong premise that isn’t afraid to tackle some hot-button topics like drug addiction, sexuality, abortion, and miscarriage. Some of your more conservative readers may shy away from this one; steer them toward books like Sophie Flack’s Bunheads, Lorri Hewett’s Dancer, or Sarah Rubin’s Someday Dancer. Magnolia is a tough character to crack: she’s consumed with what other people think of her, and obsesses over winning the competition, seemingly just so that the town will accept her and her sister. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her mother (understandably), and she has an unrequited crush on George, who she thinks is gay – and is really upset when it seems that isn’t the case. The other contestants all have their own issues that the author briefly touches on throughout the novel.

If you have readers who love reading about dance and are interested in reality television, Spin the Sky is a good backup for your shelves.

 

Regency, betrayal, superpowers: These Ruthless Deeds

These Ruthless Deeds (These Vicious Masks #2), by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, (March 2017, Macmillan), $10.00, ISBN: 9781250127952

Recommended for readers 12+

The sequel to These Vicious Masks (2016) picks up shortly after the first novel leaves off. Evelyn is grieving the loss of her sister and finds herself working with a secret society that promises her they are devoted to protecting and working with Evelyn and her friends: friends with special abilities. She’s reunited with Mr. Kent, and even manages to locate Mr. Braddock. Her reputation is intact, even if she does have to be around the awful Mrs. Atherton, who is somehow involved with the society’s work. Still, Evelyn has a bad feeling about things. She’s going to have to take a deeper look into the society, and what she finds may not sit so well with her, after all.

I loved These Vicious Masks, and was excited for the sequel. While it did take a little bit of reading to get as into the second book as I did the first, it was worth it. If you haven’t picked up These Vicious Masks, I suggest you read it before diving into These Ruthless Deeds – you’ll be at a disadvantage in terms of key characters and situations otherwise. Everything that made book one such a strong read is here: secret organizations, heroes and villains (and you may not always know who is who), intrigue, betrayal, witty banter, and a strong heroine.

Display and booktalk with Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen series (Dark Days Club and Dark Days Pact), and Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, for readers with a craving for more steampunk.

 

The Myth of the Minotaur? That’s BULL. March 7, 2017

Bull, by David Elliott, (March 2017, HMH Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544610606

Recommended for ages 13+

You may know the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the Labryinth, but I guarantee you’ve never read it like this. Told in verse, with each character’s voice using its own poetric form, from sonnets and stanzas to split couplets.  Poseidon acts as a kind of narrator, boastful and smug, laying out the lay of the land for readers: how Minos wouldn’t sacrifice a bull to him, so he decided to take it out on his wife and son. We have Minos, who’s not winning any father of the year awards; poor, insane Queen Pasiphae, who loves her baby boy and loses her mind when he’s taken from her; Ariadne, Minos’ daughter who just wants to take her brother, Asterion – the Minotaur – away from the hell he’s living, Daedalus, the engineer of the labyrinth, and last but never least, Asterion, the voice of the Minotaur himself.

There are inevitable Hamilton comparisons to be made, and this is a good thing: it’s a modern, compulsively readable, update of the classic myth, full of dark humor, angst, and betrayal. Elliott fleshes out the story by giving his take on the characters’ internal dialogue; most notably, Asterion’s growing despair and rage, also depicted by the progressively darker pages on which his dialogue runs. I’d love to see this staged, and I’m sure many, many high school and college students will, too.

Bull received (well-deserved) starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. Language and situations may give some more conservative readers pause, but it is a Greek myth, after all.

Author David Elliott’s webpage has more information about the author and his books, plus information about author visits. There is also a link to Mr. Elliott’s Pinterest page, where readers can find more links to information about the players in Bull and their mythology.

 

Girl Power! Girl Code! March 6, 2017

Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done, by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser, (March 2017, HarperCollins), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062472502

Recommended for readers 12+

Two teens attend NYC’s Girls Who Code Program, become friends, and create a viral video game that addresses the taboo of menstruation. It really happened, and they’re telling their story, hoping to inspire more girls to get involved in the tech space. More importantly, Andrea “Andy” Gonzalez and Sophie Houser talk frankly about the stress and the pressure of being in the spotlight; the sacrifices they made as they learned more about school, tech and entrepreneurship. They discuss the struggle to find a work-life balance. Girl Code is loaded with photos and includes an appendix with a glossary and coding exercises for both PC and Mac and is essential reading for anyone – particularly young women – interested in pursuing STEM careers.

I’ve been a big proponent of STEM for my library kids and for my own kids. I’ve run coding programs at my last library and am working on plans to bring one to my newest location. I urge the kids I see every day to get hands on, whether it’s toddlers playing with water tables to see what floats and what sinks, or tweens making BB-8 and R2D2 follow coding commands to move around a screen. Having two mentors like Sophie and Andy available on bookshelves is important, because they tell all: overcoming shyness and anxiety; encouraging kids to keep plugging away at code because it doesn’t always happen the first time, but perseverance gets results; and most importantly, that there are people out there that want you to succeed, but there are also people out there that will try to take the wind out of your sails once you do. Having two young women talk about their experiences is so much more important than me telling kids to stick two Scratch blocks together to run a command, because representation matters. I want readers to read these young women’s words and think, “I can do that.”

If you don’t have kids that are into code, give them this book anyway. Sophie and Andy take on the very taboo topic of being female in public. You read that right. Their game, Tampon Run, takes on the taboo of “icky girl stuff” – having periods – and puts it front and center, making it visible and real. It’s a big statement, and the thinking and reasoning behind the creation of this game is fascinating and inspiring reading.

 

Things aren’t right in The Spill Zone… March 3, 2017

spillzone_1Spill Zone, by Scott Westerfeld/Alex Puvilland, (May 2017, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781596439368

Recommended for ages 12+

Something happened three years ago in the upstate New York city of Poughkeepsie. Now known as The Spill Zone, it’s forbidden to enter – things are different there now. There’s danger in the Spill Zone; things that just shouldn’t be. Addison and Lexa are sisters who lost their parents that night. Lexa, the younger sister, hasn’t spoken since, preferring instead to quietly communicate with her doll. Is that conversation in her head? Who knows? Addison provides for herself and her sister by sneaking into the Spill Zone at night to take photos of the bizarre images in the Zone, often risking personal safety to get the most disturbing shots. Collectors offer big money for these shots, but one collector in particular gets in touch with Addison and offers her a deal she can’t possibly turn down: a million dollars, but she has to go into the Zone hospital where her parents died.

 

Gifted versus Non-Gifted in a Class War: Gilded Cage February 21, 2017

gilded-cageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, Book One), by Vic James, (Feb. 2017, Random House/Del Rey), $26, ISBN: 9780425284155

Recommended for ages 13+

In an alternate United Kingdom, aristocrats are born with special magical gifts… powers that give them control over the “commoners”, who must serve them as slaves for 10 years. The commoners are free to decide when they will serve, but they will serve. The running comment is, “serve young and never get over it, serve older and never survive it”. Abi, an 18 year-old with a promising future as a doctor, decides to take her family’s future into her hands and procures a deal that will allow them all to serve at Kyneston Estate, home of one of the most powerful families, the Jardines. But on the day they are picked up for transport, her younger brother, Luke, is sent to a Millmoor, horrible slavetown to labor under inhumane conditions. While Abi learns that the Jardines have some pretty big secrets of their own, Luke finds strength in numbers and bands with a group in the slavetown to resist. With an abolition referendum on the line, things are tense in the government and at the camp, and one of the Jardine heirs is keeping his loyalties close to the vest.

Gilded Cage is the first in the Dark Gifts series, and has some promising intrigue and world-building. The story is told in character POV chapters – about six or seven – and spends a great deal of time on laying out what I hope are future plot details. The Jardine family are fascinating – we get a nice background on this leading family, including some internal conflict and outside rivalries. Silyen Jardine is easily the most interesting character, playing his own game, but doesn’t get enough print time – yet. I hope to spend more time with him in future books. Abi’s younger brother, Luke, takes much of the center stage in this first book; he is on a hero’s journey that teaches him about himself and the world around him.

I had a few problems with the book, most notably, the very slow build-up. Being able to choose your 10 years of slavery being another – what’s to stop you from just not serving? Why serve when you’re young? Why not live a full life and go in when you’re on your deathbed? The women in the novel seem to be either hand-wringing damsels in distress or cruel harpies (with one or two exceptions), and the men are calling many of the shots here. Still, I’m interested to find out what Vic James has in store for us in her next installment.

Gilded Cage received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was designated Debut of the Month by Library Journal.

 

Time fractures can cripple cities in Timekeeper January 17, 2017

timekeeperTimekeeper, by Tara Sim, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781510706187

Recommended for ages 13+

My first entry in this year’s Diversity Reading Challenge is Tara Sim’s Timekeeper, a steampunk story taking place in an alternate Victorian London, where clock towers control time. A damaged clock affects the populace, and if a clock is badly damaged or loses a vital part of its machinery, the town “stops”: no one dies, but no one can leave; the citizens are stuck in a time loop. That’s what happened to 17 year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart’s father three years before, and Danny’s become a mechanic in the hopes that he can free his father one day. On an assignment to a clock in the London borough of Enfield, Danny meets Colton, who throws a figurative wrench in all of Danny’s plans. Colton is a clock spirit – the essence of time for the Colton Tower clock – and the two boys fall in love. Danny knows this can’t end well, but he risks everything to be with Colton, who will find a way to keep Danny coming back to Enfield.

Some of the people of London are against the clock towers. They want time freed, uncontrolled, and stage protests that get heated. Clock towers are attacked, and Danny is blamed. He has to find a way to clear his name, keep Colton safe, and keep his father’s town safe so he can bring him home alive.

Timekeeper is the first in a planned trilogy by debut author Tara Sim. The story is very detailed – budding clock aficionados, and readers interested in the science of time (horologists – thanks, Google!) will fall in love with the lyrical way Sim discusses the delicate parts of the clocks and the idea of a spirit manifestation of each clock tower. The romance between Danny and Colton is sweet and gentle, and Danny’s feelings for men is more or less accepted, with some minor snark from the novel’s bully.

Shadowhunters fans will love this one. Get your steampunk on and put this with your Gail Carriger books, your Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and your old school Jules Verne and HG Wells collections.