Silliness, Sweetness, Magic and Math

I felt like talking about silliness, sweetness—in more ways than one—and magic. So I’ve included three diverse books, all of them with a lighthearted twist. They all subtly teach the reader something. Hope you enjoy them.

The first one is the most didactic, but still is a good adventure story, and if it encourages the reader to try a bit harder to understand math and physics, that’s a good thing.

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Bringing Down the Mouse

Ben Mezrich

Charlie Lewis, a.k.a. Numbers, the smartest kid in his six-grade class, is part of a scheme to beat the carnival games at Incredo Land to garner enough points for a chance at spinning the lottery wheel and winning the big prize–$50,000! Using basic laws of physics and mathematics, that’s exactly what he does with the help of his friends, new and old. Mathematics rule Numbers’ life; it’s how he views the world. The new friends are in a secret club run by the exotic Miranda, supposedly a teaching student at a local Boston university. They call themselves the Carnival Killers and swear Charlie to secrecy. This causes problems between Numbers and his best friend, Jeremy. In the end, Charlie does figure out how to beat the wheel, but he also figures out how to keep Miranda from running off with the money—her ultimate goal. The story is fun, but the author gets bogged down in explaining the math and physics, which continually disrupts the flow. It’s hard to keep track of who is doing what and where Charlie is. When, out of the blue, other characters are the focus it’s hard to know where they are. A few more dialog attributions would keep the characters straight in the reader’s mind. Still, the book makes a good teaching tool for discussing the relevance of science for all kids.

BIBLIO: 2014, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-4424-9626-2

ISBN: 978-1-4424-9632-3

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I love stories told in foreign countries. They tickle my interest in exotic, at least to me, places. The illustrations are delightful and the story is sweet.

Red Panda’s Candy Apples

Ruth Paul

Illustrated by Ruth Paul

This sweet story has lovely illustrations which the illustrator produced with pencil drawings and digital finishing so they look like watercolors. Red Panda sells candy apples to his forest friends, but he’s sad to see each apple go. He’d like to eat them all himself. After he has sold off many apples and mostly filled up his coin jar, he treats himself to one. But then duckling and Bushbaby fight over the one remaining apple, spilling the coins. Red Panda picks up the coins and Duckling gives Bushbaby the last apple. But…it turns out there is one more apple. And Red Panda sells the candy apple he’d saved for himself. Everybody’s happy and Red Panda has a jar full of sticky coins. The story introduces children to the concept of marketing and the moral of sharing, in a playful and easy to understand fashion. Red Pandas and Bushbabies are not normally found running around in the United States, but this story is a good way to show children that there are other creatures sharing our world.

BIBLIO: 2014 (orig. 2013,) Candlewick Press, Age 4 to 6, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6758-0

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I was tempted to try this trick, but I was afraid of damaging my old lady bones. Still, it’s a good trick to fool your friends with.

The Incredible Twisting Arm

Kate Egan with Magician Mike Lane

Illustrated by Eric Wight

Mike loves magic and he loves the White Rabbit Magic Shop, but he goes only when his mother can take him. He’s not a good student and he’s forever getting in trouble. Maybe he can show his parents that he can ride to the magic shop by himself. With encouragement from his neighbor and best friend Nora, Mike decides to show how responsible he can be. He tries harder in school and works on not getting into trouble. For an extra credit science project, decides to show how to look double jointed and what that really means. He learns from his friend at the White Rabbit how make it look as if his arm can twist into a complete circle. He does so well with his project, his parents agree to let him go to the store. During the course of the story, the reader learns several magic tricks. The moral of the story isn’t too blatantly presented and most children can relate to a less than perfect person. Plus, aspiring magicians get some new tricks to practice.

BIBLIO: 2014, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Ages 6 to 9, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-250-02915-7

ISBN: 978-1-250-04044-2

ISBN: 978-1-250-06027-3

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I believe today is the first day of autumn, so I hope you’re looking forward to hot cider spiced with cinnamon and accompanied by a slice of pumpkin pie. Be sure, before or after, to rake up some leaves and leap into them. Please tell me a memory of something special to you about fall weather or activities. Thanks for reading, Sarah.

Mystery, Humor and Imagination. What could be better?

I’ve been concentrating on Young Adult stories with love interests, so I thought I’d change it up with a few picture book and middle reader stories this week. The drawings in the last two entries are quite nice. And it’s always fun to have a little mystery with a doofus dad trying to run the show.

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The first book is the weakest of the trio, but still has some merit and a good smattering of humor to encourage people to read it. It will especially attract reluctant boy readers.

Knightley & Son: 3 of a Kind

Rohan Gavin

Alan Knightley and his son, Darkus, a.k.a. Doc, are detectives in England, that is until Knightley, Senior, is hypnotized and falls into a swoon for four years. Doc despairs of getting his father back and decides he doesn’t want to be a detective, but rather an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy doing ordinary kid things. But after Alan finally awakens and, with the help of his ex-wife’s step-daughter, Tilly, begins to track the Combination, their arch enemies, the whole family gets caught up in a trap set off by the bad guys kidnapping the family’s prize assistant, Bogna Rejesz. They eventually end up in Las Vegas, Nevada, having been led there by clues. There the trio of detectives discovers they’ve walked right into the trap and are summarily delivered to the leaders of the Combination, which is led by Tilly’s long lost mother. Mildly amusing, the book does weave quite the tale of deceit. Tilly’s dad, Clive, is now married to Darkus’ mother, to make things even more complicated. Teachers could use the book as a jumping off point for studying geography. It seems to be part of a series, so somebody must like it.

BIBLIO: 2016, Bloomsbury Children’s Books/Bloomsbury Publishing, Plc., Ages 10 to 14, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-61963-830-3

ISBN: 978-1-61963-831-0

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This picture book is enchanting for any person with an imagination, something that all writers and illustrators are endowed with.

Maggie McGillicuddy’s Eye for Trouble

Susan Hughes

Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan

The characters in this story, well, at least two of them, are sure to keep their neighborhood safe from tigers and pythons and eagles and elephants and crocodiles. Maggie McGillicuddy’s weapons are her tickety, tickety, tacking knitting needles, which she always has at the ready while watching the passing world from her front porch swing. She scares the tiger away with those. Her other weapon is her whickety, whickety, whacking walking cane which she uses to scare the python away. But one day she has to use her most powerful weapon of all before her new neighbor, Charlie, runs into the street in front of a moving car. Maggie McGillicuddy hollers at the young boy to stop and he does, right in his tracks. But when Charlie turns to come visit his neighbor, he has to scare away a herd of elephants with a roar. His dachshund, Cody, helps by wagging his tail. When the two met a crocodile along the walk, Charlie shows his karate moves and Cody chases his tail. Charlie, Cody and Maggie McGillicuddy become great friends and protect the neighborhood from all kinds of trouble. Be sure to look carefully for all the danger lurking around them. Children and their parents will want to read this book over and over. The author encourages the reader to search for the trouble. The illustrations have the right amount of whimsy in them.

BIBLIO: 2016, Kids Can Press/Corus Entertainment Company, Ages 4 to 7, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-77138-291-5

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You may have to change your view of rats after you read this story. The rats are drawn as very ratty, but at the same time quite adorable.

The Infamous Ratsos

Kara LaReau

Illustrated by Matt Myers

Louie and Ralphie Ratso live in the Big City with their dad, Big Lou. Their mother died long before the story starts, leaving Big Lou to be the silent, growly type, except when he tells his sons to “Hang tough” every morning as he leaves for work. The boys take their dad’s surly manner as how to be tough and decide to prove they’re tough also. Except everything they do turns out to have been a good thing. They steal the hat off Chad Badgerton, the school bully, only to be rewarded for helping out the hat’s real owner, Tiny Crawley. Everything the boys do turns out to help whomever they’re trying to pick on and wins them praise. What is Big Lou going to think of them, if they keep not being tough? They mean to bury the grocer’s walk in snow so he won’t be able to get out in the morning, but instead they clear his walkway. Next they’re going to pick on the new girl in school, only to befriend her. Soon the reports of their kind deeds reach Big Lou’s ears. The boys are sure they’re in a heap of trouble, but instead their father praises them and they all have a good cry. Then they start doing more good deeds. This is an amusing tale on why being good is not such a bad thing. Mr. Myers succeeds in making the rats endearing with his pencil drawings.

BIBLIO: 2016, Candlewick Press, Ages 5 to 7, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7636-0

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Hope you’re having a good day and looking forward to pleasant cool weather. Please let me know what you think of my selections. Thanks, Sarah Maury Swan, author of Terror’s Identity.

The Tangled Web of Love

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, What a tangled web we weave, when our senses love makes us leave.” These three books are about teens falling in love. They all have some merit to them, but only Tell Me Three Things is well written. However, most of time I try to introduce you to good books, so I thought you’d like to see what else gets published. And romance always makes a story more appealing.

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I can’t imagine constantly hating my sister so much that I’d want to punch her. But, on the other hand, it wasn’t til the end of her life that the two of us became good friends.

A Million Miles Away

Lara Avery

Kelsey Maxfield and her twin sister, Michelle, do a typical teen thing; throw a party while their parents are gone. But Michelle disappears into her bedroom with her latest boyfriend, Peter, abandoning her friends at the party. Kelsey and her sister don’t get along well to the point of having separate bedrooms and balconies so they won’t punch each other in the stomach. But deep down they do love each other and Kelsey is devastated when Michelle dies in a car wreck after leaving Peter at the airport for his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Soon, Peter starts sending Michelle letters and skyping with her, or so he thinks. Kelsey keeps promising herself and then her friends that she will tell Peter the truth, but since he seems to feel that Michelle is his salvation for the ordeals of serving in the military, Kelsey doesn’t have the heart to tell him. Before long, she’s looking forward to her time with him. She does finally realize she’s keeping her sister alive in her mind and eventually tells him the truth. The story is nice, but the grammar is appalling and the underage drinking permitted is scary. The author gives the reader the impression that there are no virgins over the age of fourteen in all of Lawrence, Kansas.

BIBLIO: 2015, alloyentertainment/Poppy/Little, Brown and Company/Hatchett Book Group/ Ages 15 +, $18.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-316-28368-7

ISBN: 978-0-316-28369-4

ISBN: 978-1-4789-0457-1

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This is book is boring and formulaic, but it is the second in a series so some people must have liked.

Flirt: Never too Late

A. Destiny and Rhonda Helms

There is not much to recommend about this second book in the series. The only tension revolves around Abbey’s changing feelings toward the boy who is to star opposite her in the school play. Because of what he said at the school dance at the end of their freshman year, she thinks of him as a total jerk. She makes no effort to see if that is an accurate picture of Jason and resists getting to know him better. Her best friend, Olivia, has a major crush on Jason and gets all bent out of shape when she sees the connection growing between Abbey and Jason. Abbey’s home life is good. She even thinks her step-father is a gem. She gets good grades, has friends, doesn’t get bullied, is artistically talented and likes her teachers. Her only problem is her changing feelings about Jason, who even apologizes for his comments at the dance. She’s afraid to tell him her true feelings for fear of being rejected and of losing her best friend. My, we should all have such gleeful lives. High school is a challenging time for any teen and boy/girl or best friend relationships do add a lot of angst. Just about any young adult novel out there has relationship issues as, at least, a sub-plot. But a whole book with just the one problem is boring. Plus, there a few glaring grammatical mistakes sprinkled amongst the chapters. Jason is an appealing character, but Abbey and Olivia are not sympathetic.

BIBLIO: 2014, Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, Inc. Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-4424-8404-7

ISBN: 978-1-4424-8403-0

ISBN: 978-1-4424-8405-4

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The third book is, however, a winner, with appealing characters and a bit of a mystery to it.

Tell Me Three Things

Julie Buxbaum

Jessie A. Holmes moves to Los Angeles because her widowed father marries a rich woman, also widowed, who lives there with her son, Theo. Not only has Jessie now lost her mother, she’s lost all she’s known her whole life. Of course she finds her new “parent” to be impossible and calls her the “stepmonster.” To make matters worse, she is enrolled in a very ritzy, pretentious school full of snobby kids. And the “Queen Bees” are out to get her, especially when she becomes friends with the main Bee’s boyfriend. But then an anonymous person starts emailing her using the screen name of Somebody/Nobody or SN for short. He becomes her refuge and helps her find friends at the new school. She resists adapting to her new life and is not on speaking terms with her dad, much less the step members of her supposed family. Slowly, she makes her way into her new situation and begins find things in common with Theo. But she keeps wondering who SN really is and becomes closer and closer to him through their email exchanges. Of course to make things more complex, she falls for Ethan who is mysterious and her English class partner on writing a paper about an epic poem. In the end, she realizes that the “stepmonster” really isn’t all that bad and she does make friends with at least two girls. You’ll have to read the book to figure out who SN really is. The book is nicely written and the suspense of finding out who SN is keeps the reader going. In addition to the usual themes of bullying and adjusting to new places, the book lends itself to discussions of literature and poetry.

BIBLIO: 2016, Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House LLC, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-553-53564-8

ISBN: 978-0-553-53565-5

ISBN: 978-0-553-53566-2

ISBN: 978-0-399-55293-9

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Please let me know if you’ve read any of these books and had a different opinion.  Try as I might not to have my snobbish side play a role in my reviews, I’m afraid I don’t always succeed.  Thanks for reading my blog.  Sarah

Seeing Reality Is Hard

As you know, I usually review three books each week on my blog, but this book of short stories deserves its own post. Do find a copy of this book to read.

I See Reality: Twelve Short Stories about Real Life

Compiled by Grace Kendall

It’s hard enough to break up with someone you’ve been dating, but when the boyfriend threatens to commit suicide or convinces you to stay together just for one more year until he graduates from high school or uses equally debilitating arguments, what is a person to do? “Three Imaginary Conversations with You,” by Heather Demetrios, drags a bit, but gets the point across that the boyfriend is obnoxious and manipulative.

The Downside of Fabulous,” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark, brings in to sharp focus trying to connect with a boyfriend when you’re gay, with well fleshed out characters are and gentle humor. And how does the main character, Chris, deal with the rejection by his heart throb, Tom? Chris owns up to his mistakes and to his being gay.

Skittles, the black cat, keeps the reader guessing as he tells “The Night of the Living Creeper,” by Stephen Emond, about a group of kids talking about who might a “creeper” in their group, looking for someone to sexually assault. When the party breaks up, the creeper makes himself known to the hostess, but she doesn’t take any of his nonsense.

Kekla Magoon’s entry is “Makeshift,” about a mixed-race girl, which focuses on the boxes we put people in. Her father beats her mother one time too many and so Kayse and her mom leave their nice suburban house for a cheap apartment in the heart of Harlem. Kayse’s mom is black and her biological dad is white, as is the man she calls Dad. But Kayse doesn’t like being called “Blanca” or white even though she never much thought about her race before. In Harlem, being white is bad.

Things You Get Over, Things You Don’t,” by Jason Schmidt, is a very powerful story about a school shooting, told from the viewpoint of Caleb who tries to help his gravely wounded girlfriend. When he does save her only discover she’ll probably be a paraplegic for the rest of her life, he thinks it’s all his fault. That he did the wrong thing by moving her to stop the bleeding from the exit wound in her back.

In the end, they are able to tell each other their true feelings.

The message of “Coffee Chameleon,” by Jay Clark, is that recovering from addictions of any kind is hard, but probably the hardest is the addiction to love, especially if it’s commingled with an addiction to prescription drugs is concisely told with good use of humor. Matt was introduced to prescription medication pills by his girlfriend Andi, but got so hooked on them he got his own prescription. Then Andi dumps him and he has to detox himself all alone. But he ends up going to a local coffee shop to get himself out of his head and meets a girl there who helps him recover.

Marcella Pixley’s “Hush,” is the story of a girl and her mother dealing with the death of the father/husband’s from AIDS. This story of the misguided lengths we go to in keeping loved ones safe from our fears and grief is crisply told. June ends up being the grown up when her mother becomes obsessed with keeping her daughter safe.

Can you imagine having to face the world knowing they know your brother took a gun to school and shot students to death? So Lily’s parents move to a new town to start a new life, but Lily is sure everyone will learn about the truth. Rather than try for the leading role in the school musical, Lily hides behind the stage curtain until a new guy in school won’t let her stay hide her talents in Trisha Leaver’s “Blackbird.”

Gone from this Place,” by Faith Erin Hicks, deals, in a graphic story format, with acknowledging one’s sexuality. A boy and girl have made it through high school by being the perfect couple, only now that they’re heading off the different colleges breaking up. They figure in college they can come out and be accepted for who they really are. It’s a good plan except for one detail. It never occurred to them there might be other homosexual kids in their high school and it’s only at the last minute they discover they’ve missing out on real love.

You know the girl or boy you’ve always had a crush on, but didn’t know how to approach and when you do finally get together, you both mess it up? That’s what Jordan Sonnenblick’s “The Sweeter the Sin” is about. The girl has a saying that the sweeter the sin the better the taste. Unfortunately, David and Elizabeth discover that “t’aint necessarily so.”

But the strongest story is simply called “Mistake” and tells the story of a teen couple having to deal with an abortion. Malcolm supports Angela when she makes the decision to abort and at first he doesn’t feel anything one way or another. Then he goes with her to the abortion clinic and begins to think about the baby. A part of him regrets their decision and he wonders if Angela can actually have the procedure.

The last story is about Jose, an illegal immigrant whose twin brother, Javier, switches places with him to save him from deportation. “The Good Brother” is written by Patrick Flores-Scott and will make you want to find a solution to the immigration problems this country is facing.

This book is a keeper.

BIBLIO: 2016, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, Ages 14 +, $ 17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-374-30258-0

ISBN: 978-0-374-30259-7

Love, Does It Conquer All?

Love comes in many forms and our actions/reactions to the feelings are complex, to say the least. So let’s review three books that show different reactions to love. One of the stories is indeed adorable and makes me wish I had a baby to cuddle. To smell the sweet and sour aromas of one so young and listen to the gentle breathing sounds of a baby paying attention and feel the softness of a baby’s skin and hair. Or to feel the squirmy attention of a toddler who wants to hear the story, but has a hard time sitting still.

Another of the stories has to do with trying for redemption and righting past wrongs.

And the third story is about finding love and forgivness as a teenager. I think most of us have experienced all three types of love. Enjoy.

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Some of the books I review leave me pretty much cold, but they all have some merit to them, especially the message of being careful what you wish for. This isn’t one of my favorites. Still, it is worth a mention.

Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend

Katie Finn

Gemma Tucker did horrible things to Hallie, a girl her age, when she spent the summer of her eleventh year with her father in the Hamptons. Now sixteen, she has regretted her behavior ever since, but doesn’t know what to do to make amends. She thinks she has her summer plans in place to go to South America to help her boyfriend do good deeds in Columbia. But then her boyfriend breaks up with her and her mother and stepfather have already made plans to go to salmon spawning grounds in Scotland and will stay with a laird in his castle. Now her options are to go with Mom and Walter or brave the Hamptons with her dad in hopes that Hallie and family are not there. Of course, they are and she masquerades as her best friend, Sophie, thinking she can show how sorry she is. She falls for Hallie’s brother, Josh. But things start to go wrong almost immediately and when the real Sophie shows up during a party at Hallie’s house, Gemma is in a pickle. She and Hallie have a huge fight in which Hallie triumphantly announces her involvement in all of Gemma’s problems that summer. The crowning glory is Hallie’s having snagged Gemma’s boyfriend. This book doesn’t gel well. Although, there is much interaction between Gemma and her dad, the reader never hears much about Hallie and Josh’s mother. Last Gemma had known, their mother was in total disgrace from Gemma’s actions five years earlier, but now the family is living high on the hog. No explanation is ever given. The good news is not all the kids drink and there don’t seem to be wild sex orgies.

BIBLIO: 2014, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-04524-9

ISBN: 978-1-250-06057-0

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This picture book, googly eyes and all, will have you giggling, along with oohing and aahing, all the way through. Though more realistic drawings would me happy. I not the biggest fan of Disney heavy reliance on cutesy.  I, for instance, find the original drawings in Winnie the Poo, much more appealing.  But, hey, I’m an elderly lady who was raised by a wonderful snob.

Next to You

Lori Haskins Houran

Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The subtitle of this book, “A Book of Adorableness,” gives the reader a clue to the googley-eyed cuteness of the illustrations. The animals are recognizable as what species they belong to, though drawing smaller eyes would work just as well. But the message of the story is sweet and sure to make any child feel special and loved. Generally speaking, baby animals are cute and look oh so cuddly. Have you ever seen a new born lamb? How cute can cute be? Have you ever watched a puppy play with her brother? Or a giraffe baby trying to get to his feet? It’s hard enough for a human baby to stand up, but try standing up when you don’t even really know how and you’re only an hour old. But the babies’ mommas are there to help and to feed them. And it is tempting to want to pet any baby. However, the best baby to pet and cuddle is your baby. The author singles out puppies, kitty cats, ducklings, squirrels, chicks, a piglet and a monkey, along with the giraffe and agrees they’re all beyond adorable, but they don’t hold a candle to the child who’s having the book read to her. Children will want to have this book read to them over and over, just so they can giggle and feel safe when their mommas or daddies give them big hugs at the end.

BIBLIO: 2016, Albert Whitman and Company, Ages 2 to 6, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8075-5600-9

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The final book of my reviews is a knock-out. There is a bit of mystery in it and the characters are very believable. The main character has a lot growing to do and she succeeds well, learning many life lessons along the way.

Tell Me Three Things

Julie Buxbaum

Jessie A. Holmes moves to Los Angeles because her widowed father marries a rich woman, also widowed, who lives there with her son, Theo. Not only has Jessie now lost her mother, she’s lost all she’s known her whole life. Of course she finds her new “parent” to be impossible and calls her the “stepmonster.” To make matters worse, she is enrolled in a very ritzy, pretentious school full of snobby kids. And the “Queen Bees” are out to get her, especially when she becomes friends with the main Bee’s boyfriend. But then an anonymous person starts emailing her using the screen name of Somebody/Nobody or SN for short. He becomes her refuge and helps her find friends at the new school. She resists adapting to her new life and is not on speaking terms with her dad, much less the step members of her supposed family. Slowly, she makes her way into her new situation and begins find things in common with Theo. But she keeps wondering who SN really is and becomes closer and closer to him through their email exchanges. Of course to make things more complex, she falls for Ethan who is mysterious and her English class partner on writing a paper about an epic poem. In the end, she realizes that the “stepmonster” really isn’t all that bad and she does make friends with at least two girls. You’ll have to read the book to figure out who SN really is. The book is nicely written and the suspense of finding out who SN is keeps the reader going. In addition to the usual themes of bullying and adjusting to new places, the book lends itself to discussions of literature and poetry.

BIBLIO: 2016, Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House LLC, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-553-53564-8

ISBN: 978-0-553-53565-5

ISBN: 978-0-553-53566-2

ISBN: 978-0-399-55293-9

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I hope you enjoy my choices and comments.  Please tell me love stories from your life. I’d love to read them.  Thanks for reading my blog.  Sarah Maury Swan, author of Terror’s Identity

What’s Your Favorite Olympic Sport?

The Summer Olympics are now in progress in the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. I know, I know, in the U. S. of A, we spell it with Z, but in Portuguese it’s spelled with an S. Anyway, I thought I’d focus on sports that are featured in the games. Swimming and diving are, of course, featured, as are track and field sports, and soccer, a.k.a, futebol. In Brasilian Portuguese it’s pronounced “foot Che bol,” at least in northeastern Brasil.

My favorite sports category is Equestrian, which is actually several disciplines rolled into one group.  I love watching the power and grace of a horse take a jump–a five foot high solid looking wall–or gallop pell-mell down a slope or through water. http://useventing.com   But my most favorite horse sport is Dressage, the French word for training.  The rider must be quiet and relaxed on her horse, but also in control asking the horse to stretch out its stride or collect its body enough to move in place.  If you can get that much into harmony with your horse, your soul will soar.  And the training you have to do is mind boggling, because you’re not only controlling your body, you’re also controlling another sentient being. For more information on dressage go to http://usdf.org/.

But I digress, so back to our book collection for this week.  Enjoy.

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Though I’m pretty sure Free Diving is not an Olympic sport, swimming and diving certainly are. And my Scottish ancestry always demands I include any story that has anything to do with Scotland. To clinch my decision to include this book, it’s very well written.

The Art of not Breathing

Sarah Alexander

Elsie and her family live on Black Isle in the North Sea end of Scotland. She and her family are not a happy lot since the death of Elsie’s twin brother five years earlier. Eddie was a bit on the slow side and had always to be in someone’s care. That fateful day at the beach he was wading with Elsie, but he wanted to swim to where their older brother, Dillon, was swimming. Finally Elsie got tired of Eddie’s whining and told him to swim off. That’s the last she ever saw of him. So, of course, she blames herself and is sure her family hates her for it. Now at sixteen, Elsie acts out her problems by shoplifting, lying and not participating in school and Eddie talks to her in her head. She has a very low opinion of herself, exasperated by being overweight. Though the family does still go to the beach, no one is allowed to swim, nor even wade in the surf. Elsie discovers that the long shuttered clubhouse is now being renovated and will open as a hangout and diving school. She has her own private hiding spot in the old boathouse, or at least she thinks it’s her private space until she meets Tay. He says he has hidden there longer than she has, but they agree to share. He entices her to try free diving—that is diving as deep as she can with no equipment, just the air in her lungs. She finds memories of the day Eddie drowned coming back and she begins to piece together what really happened and who was involved. This is a well told story of family dynamics, dealing with grief, and love. There are many teachable moments in it.

BIBLIO: 2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-544-63388-9

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Competition is sometimes healthy and is natural to our animal natures. Plus this is a sweet story.

Hoppelpopp and the Best Bunny

Mira Lobe

Illustrated by Angelika Kaufmann

Translated by Cäcilie Kovács

Five little rabbits—Binnie, Benny, Bernie, Bonnie and Buddy—are best of friends who share everything, and cuddle into one furry ball when they sleep. That way they can shoo away Buddy’s bad dreams. They give no thoughts as to who is better than whom while they play their games. The best buddies share everything, whether it is a pile of leaves to jump in or some yummy clover to eat. That is how it always has been and how it always will be. That is until a very big rabbit named Hoppelpopp comes to visit and asks who’s the fastest. He set the friends against each other on different tasks. Soon Binny proves to be the fastest, Benny the strongest, Bernie the smartest and Bonnie the bravest, so the bunnies no longer play or sleep or eat together. Buddy feels left out because he isn’t the best at anything. As he sits feeling sorry for himself, he smells danger. A badger is coming! Buddy thumps his leg until his friends come. Together they chase the badger away and go back to being best friends, which is the most important thing to be best at, anyway. A sweet story about sharing, this book was originally written in German. This is the first American edition.

BIBLIO: 2015 (orig. ?,) Holiday House, Inc., Ages 3 to 6, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3287-5

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This is a very encouraging book for kids who don’t like to be forced into niches that are not for them. I remember my English teacher in my senior year of high school pulled me aside to scold me. She had taught my brother Bill the year before, when she was being a student teacher. So she said to me that she expected more of me because of my brother. When you’re the youngest of four kids, you get tired of being compared. I said to her, “If you ever want me to turn in any assignment, you won’t ever compare me to my brother again.” She pretty much left me alone for the rest of the year.

Losers Take All

David Klass

      Jack Logan is the youngest son of a local high school football hero, who was destined for professional football fame until he wiped out his knee in college. But his town still worships him and expects his sons to keep up the family tradition. The older two boys did, but Jack’s not interested. He’d rather hang out with the computer geeks. When the school principal dies of a heart attack during the beginning-of-the-year sports rally, and the school gets a new principal, sports are all that matter. The new principal is the football coach and insists Jack play football. Unfortunately, during the first practice, the biggest jock on the team gets bent out of shape when he can’t stop Jack from running past him and scoring. So the jock does what jocks do best—grabs Jack from behind and smashes him face first into ground. Jack wakes up in the hospital with a broken nose and his jaw wired shut. That’s enough football for him, so he starts a soccer team featuring his non-athletic friends all bent on losing every game. They convince the Latin teacher to be their coach because he’s British, and therefore, should know something about soccer, a.k.a. football. They set about to quietly lose their eight games and go back to their real lives. Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—the media gets wind of what’s going on and the Losers become world-wide celebrities. Things compound from there, but in the end Jack and the rest of his team learn things about themselves and life in general. In particular, even supposed absent-minded Latin teachers have seamy secrets. The book is amusing and, for the most part, well-written. The book will stimulate classroom discussion of what role sports should play in school.

BIBLIO: 2015, Farrar, Straus, Giroux Books for Young Readers, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-374-30136-1

ISBN: 978-0-374-30137-8

The colors I use to separate the three reviews have some connection–in my mind, at least–to what the story is about.  See if you can see the connection. And please let me know.  Thanks for reading my blog.  Sarah