Posted in Adventure, History, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The League of American Traitors gives us a glimpse at darker American history

The League of American Traitors, by Matthew Landis, (Aug. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1510707351

Recommended for readers 13+

Seventeen year-old Jasper is an orphan, losing both parents in under a year. His father was never much of a father to him, so when a lawyer approaches Jasper at his father’s gravesite, he ignores his offer of help: there’s no money involved, and that’s what he needs, now that he’s on his own. But when he’s attacked by unknown assailants, he learns that he’s the sole surviving descendant of Benedict Arnold: possibly the most infamous traitor in American History. Like an American Revolution-era Percy Jackson, Jasper discovers that descendants of history’s traitors belong to a group called The League of American Traitors, and that the True Sons of Liberty – a militant Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution – holds a heck of a grudge. Every time a traitor’s ancestor turns 18, they’re challenged to a duel by one of the Libertines, as the League calls them. The League kids go to a special school that teaches them the survival skills they’ll need in a duel, but Jasper’s case is special. His father was researching his ancestor, and he was onto something. Something that the Libertines will do anything to keep secret. Cyrus, his father’s lawyer and member of the League, urges Jasper to continue his father’s research; it will give all of the League families a new lease on life. Jasper has new friends that stand ready to help, but the Libertines have spies everywhere.

The League of American Traitors is a fun thrill ride through American history. A little bit Percy Jackson, mixed with some National Treasure and a dash of Hamilton, teens will enjoy this look at America, where our heroes’ hands may be a little dirtier than we imagined. The author knows how to keep a book moving, and once introductions are made, supporting characters come with their own rich backstories. This one’s a fun add to fiction collections, especially for fans of realistic intrigue and adventure with a twist.

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Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Call Me Sunflower explores alternative families

Call Me Sunflower, by Miriam Spitzer Franklin, (May 2017, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510711792

Recommended for ages 9-13

Sunflower Beringer can’t stand her first name, so she has everyone call her Sunny. And she really can’t stand that her mother uprooted her and her sister, and left their dad, Scott, back in New Jersey to run his bookstore while she attends grad school in North Carolina. Now they’re living with a grandmother they barely know, and she’s the new kid in school. Ugh. Sunny has to do something, so she creates Sunny Beringer’s Totally Awesome Plan for Romance”: a can’t-miss list of ways to bring her mom and Scott back together, including making playlists of Scott’s favorite songs and getting her mother a makeover. While she works on a family album that will remind Scott and Mom of when they were in love all over again, though, she discovers a picture that changes everything. A strong subplot involving animal rights activism and Sunny’s relationship with her grandmother really gives Call Me Sunflower depth.

I’m becoming a Miriam Spitzer Franklin fangirl. I loved Extraordinary (2015); in Sunny, I found many similiaries to Pansy, Extraordinary‘s protagonist. Both stories are realistic fiction, told in the first person, about girls dealing with big life changes. They have complicated friendships and they have both There are humorous moments, and each has a unique voice, a unique point of view; Ms. Franklin captures the frustrations, the fears, and the unique experience of being a tween in a relatable voice that readers will gravitate to. I love that she created an alternative family structure with an adoptive family outside the traditional husband-wife setting and gave us a family unit that is working it all out. I admit to being a little confused with Sunny’s birth story – she is adopted, but has pictures of her mother holding her at the hospital – but that’s likely because my own adoption experience happened differently. All in all, a bittersweet, tender look at families. Pair with realistic fiction like Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart, Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm, and Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand.

 

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Everything can change in One Moment

One Moment, by Kristina McBride, (Jan. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510714557

Recommended for ages 14-18

Maggie is looking at the best summer of her life. She and her group of best friends are heading into their senior year of high school, and she’s made a big decision about her relationship with her boyfriend of almost two years, Joey. But things change in an instant when the friends head out to the gorge to kick off their summer; Joey, the charismatic daredevil of the group, dives off a cliff, and the next thing Maggie remembers is her friend Adam coming to get her and seeing Joey, unmoving, on the ground. As Maggie and her friends mourn Joey’s death, she also discovers that Joey kept so man secrets – secrets that Adam and her friend, Shannon, seem to be privy to. As Maggie struggles to regain her memory of that fateful day, she learns that Joey may not have been everything she thought he was.

Part mystery, part coming of age heartbreaker, One Moment looks at the hole left when a loved one dies, and the confusion and anger that step in when they leave behind secrets. Maggie is at times sympathetic and at times frustrating; the author leads readers to figure things out long before Maggie does, and more often than not, she falls into a classic victim role. She finds her strength by ultimately letting Joey go in her own way, but getting there can be a battle. The story does speak to the

Teen romance and realistic fiction fans will enjoy this one. Booktalk this with Julie Anne Peters’ Lies My Girlfriend Told Me; it’s a strong readalike from an LGBTQ perspective.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

Rock Away the Night with Granny!

Rock Away Granny, by Dandi Daley Mackall/Illustrated by Mike DeSantis, (Apr. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-0835-8

Recommended for readers 3-6

A little girl gets dropped off at Granny’s, and she isn’t looking forward to the evening. She misses her toys and TV, and Granny just sits there in her rocking chair. But once Mom pulls away, Granny taps her blue suede shoes, paints her granddaughter’s nails, gives them both pony tails, and gets ready to rock the night away! Granddaughter and Granny pull out the old records (“a guy named Elvis has a giant stack”) and do the Twist, the Boogaloo, the Monster Mash, and the Bunny Hop before collapsing back into their rockers. When Mom comes back to pick her little girl up, she kisses Granny goodnight and shuffles off to Buffalo, right out the door – until next time!

What a sweet book about grandparent bonding! Kids don’t always remember that grandma and grandpa were pretty darned cool before they had kids and grandkids; Rock Away Granny has too much fun reminding us about that. This book appeals to grandkids and their parents, who will likely remember hearing Elvis, The Twist, and the Monster Mash while growing up. My own mom is a diehard Elvis fan, so the two of us got a great laugh over the Elvis reference in the book. Instructions on doing the Bunny Hop and how to rock and roll end the book on a high note.

Mike DeSantis’ watercolor illustration gives a soft, cuddly feel to his artwork, and I love his movement when Granny and granddaughter dance. The swaying skirts and swinging ponytails, the imaginative underwater sequence for the swim, and Granny’s cat, who gets in on the action, give this happy book a joyful look and feel.

Bring this book on your next visit to Grandma and/or Grandpa’s, and get them up and dancing! Grandparent’s Day is September 10th this year – add this to your read-aloud and give everyone a dance party with a playlist from the ’50s and ’60s.

 

Award-winning author Dandi Daley Mackall has written more than 450 books for kids and adults. You can check out her website for more information. See more of Mike DeSantis’ illustration work at his site.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky

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.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Paranormals address conservation in Earning My Spots

earning-spotsEarning My Spots, by Mark Eastburn, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510707788

Recommended for ages 10+

Sam isn’t having the easiest time in his rural Vermont school. He’s bullied, he’s not terribly popular, and he’s tired of eating roadkill for dinner. Before you call the authorities: he’s also a were-hyena. Looked upon as the scavengers of the animal world (that Lion King movie did his kind no favors, either), the werewolves at school are jerks that constantly gang up on him. The day a new kid, Manny, shows up and sets off Sam’s “shape-shifter sense”, he defends Manny from the wolves and discovers that Manny and his  mom are were-jaguars, and that she’s brought them to Vermont in search of a great hunter. That night, Sam’s family is attacked by were-harpies who take his family, sending Sam and Manny on a quest that will take them to Louisiana and South America, where Sam will meet more hyenas and learn about his true heritage, and discover a plot to overthrow the no-tails – that’s you and me, folks – that are destroying their planet and encroaching on their lands.

Earning My Spots is an interesting and unexpected take on human impact on wildlife and the environment. It’s a paranormal middle grade story that carries a deeper message; using shifter were-animals, we get the a side of the story we don’t usually hear, because shifters can speak for animals and humans alike.

There were ups and downs for me while reading this one. I really liked learning about the hyena heritage – the whole time spent in Louisiana was the highlight of the story for me. Other facets of the narrative, like Sam’s seeming obsession with his and other animals’ bite force (pressure behind their bite) and detailed descriptions of marking his territory, dragged down the flow of the story for me.

If you’ve got paranormal fiction readers, this may draw them in and give them an awareness of environmental conservation. For me, it’s an additional purchase for when my current paranormal collection needs refreshing.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Creepy historical fantasy: Fear the Drowning Deep

drowning-deepFear the Drowning Deep, by Sarah Glenn Marsh, (Oct. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.89, ISBN: 9781510703483

Recommended for ages 12+

Sixteen year-old Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her grandfather drown himself, called by mysterious music that only he could hear. She was ridiculed for saying that the sea took her grandfather, so she’s learned to keep to herself, but things are changing in her Isle of Man village. A dead girl washes ashore, and so does a handsome young man, still alive but bleeding from something that attacked him in the water. Bridey calls him Fynn, because he claims no memory of anything that happened or who he is, and she finds herself falling for him. But things are getting worse when other girls start disappearing, and the town starts pointing their fingers at Fynn. Bridey – who’s now apprenticed to the village witch – knows there is something in the water that’s to blame, but no one wants to listen to her, except for the woman she’s apprenticed to; and she’s got secrets of her own. Can Bridey save everyone she loves from walking into the water and never returning?

Set in 1913, Fear the Drowning Deep is good, creepy historical fantasy. Setting the story on the Isle of Man in pre-World War I era Europe gives a true feeling of isolation, providing an almost claustrophobic mood as Bridey tries desperately to unlock the secrets of the water before it takes any more of her friends or family. Every single character in this book has depth and lends something to the narrative. The prose is beautiful; literary and fantastic all at once; the dreamlike haze she spins for the water’s victims almost lulls readers into a similar, comforting feeling before the author chills you with the revelation that someone has been taken. The relationship between Bridey and Fynn will please YA romance fans, and the pairing of Bridey and Morag, the village witch, is wonderful: atagonistic yet loving, strong and supportive. There’s intrigue, secrets, and revelations to be had all around, making this a solid dark fantasy/romance read for your teens. Pair this with Ananda Braxton-Smith’s Merrow for a pair of water-based mysteries with a touch of the paranormal.