Are You Looking for Books to Buy?

Okay, here are some books that would NOT make my list for Christmas gifts. There are way too many gifted writers floating around who can encourage readers to aspire to not being just like everybody else. I like the books I read to not fit into formulas and I like the drawings to have some spark of originality.

These don’t, but then, I am a snob and on the arrogant side.

 

Dork Diaries: Tales from the Not-So-Secret Crush Catastrophe

Rachel Rene Russell

Talk about encouraging kids to be vapid, these books do just that. This is twelfth book in the series. Why should eighth-grade girls be portrayed as dorks because they are interested in things other than clothes and makeup? And do young girls really wear high-heeled shoes to school? This book is not to my taste, but then I’m old. Still, the storyline is the old, but useful, lesson for teens and preteens to read. The energy level is high and the story does have a few surprises. This time, Nikki is Student Ambassador for an exchange student from the snobby school in their district. Of course, the exchange student turns out to be a good-looking boy from France who shares a lot of Nikki’s interests. Things get complicated when Nikki spends more time with Andr than she does with her friends and potential boyfriend, who is also a friend, all of whom are expecting her help on special projects. Of course, the mean girls, who seem to hate Nikki, mess things up for her, but she learns some lessons on priorities and saying the hard things first.

BIBLIO: 2017, ALADDIN/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, $13.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0560-8

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0561-5

 

Why do people seem to think that girls must be in relationships? Why are they always urged to be part of someone else’s persona?

 

My New Crush Gave to Me

Shani Petroff

Charlie is not looking forward to Christmas and especially Noelle’s annual Christmas bash, which has always been a favorite thing about the holiday. But Noelle has decided this year’s theme is about love and dating. Charlie’s boyfriend is no longer in the picture, so she is dateless and doesn’t have a clue how to correct that. But she soon discovers Theo, the hottest guy in school and a football star at that. Plus, he’s very smart and punctual, which are very important traits in her book. So, she sets about to nab him for the party, with the help of her best friend, Morgan, and Theo’s cousin, J.D., Morgan’s neighbor. After much finagling, Charlie gets to know Theo, but she also gets to know J.D., who is sensitive and creative and kind, but always late, which drives Charlie nuts. As we all do, Charlie puts people into niches and decides that J.D. must be messy at home since he’s always late. She also decides that Theo must be neat because he likes to be on time. Of course, Charlie discovers that J.D. really is the guy for her. There’s a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac in the story, because the fellow who is really appealing to Charlie is J.D. by actually being her creative “Secret Santa,” rather than Theo, who has not a creative bone in his body. Charlie is a bit too formulaic, in my opinion, however there are possibilities for classroom discussions about outward appearances not being as important as inner qualities.

BIBLIO: 2017, A Swoon Reads Book/Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Publishing Group, Ages 14+, $10.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-13032-7

ISBN: 978-1-250-13051-8

 

 

I do tire of formulaic stories designed to follow cartoons or movies. This one fits the bill to perfection, in my view.

 

Spy Toys

Mark Powers

Illustrated by Tim Wesson

At Snaztacular Ultrafun toy manufacturing all the toys are checked for electronic or other malfunctions before being sent to stores. Those with defects are sent to the reject pile, which is what happens to Dan, a Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear. His hug is entirely too strong. So, he’s rejected. And that’s when his life begins. He meets Arabella, an antisocial Raggedy Ann doll who hates children, and they escape, only to be snared by a rather unpleasant rabbit named Flax. Eventually they’re recruited into a spy program where they are to protect Sam, a U.S. Senator’s son, by pretending to be his especially favorite toys.  They have to learn to overcome their defects, but they do save the day. Silly as the story is, there’s a great deal of humor and a good message in the tale. Dan learns how to control his strength. Arabella learns children aren’t all that bad and Flax comes through in a pinch to help keep Sam safe. The illustrations are very simplistic, but still amusing and the story ridiculous enough to keep the reader enticed.

BIBLIO: 2018, Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-68119-665-7

 

Sarah, the grinch, has spoken, but most decidedly does not have the final word. Happy gift giving to you all.

 

 

 

 

Suspending Disbelief

As writers, we know we need to make our readers to “pay no attention to the man behind the screen.”  This is especially true of those who write science fiction and/or fantasy.  Some writers pull this off quite well.  Read Beth Revis’ books or John Claude Bemis’ books to see how thoroughly we can be sucked in.  Of course, there are many other writers out there who write quite well in these genres, but I wanted mention writers who live in the Carolinas.

 

So today, we are looking at books I’ve reviewed that would have us suspend our disbelief.

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The first book makes you believe that there is a being called Love who manipulates us to fall in love with the right person.

Definitely suspending our disbelief, wouldn’t you say?


Love Charms and Other Catastrophes

Kimberly Karalius

Hijiri Kitamura goes to a special high school for charm makers and is looking forward to seeing the friends she made the year before.  Last year had been a challenge because of Zita, the reigning Love-Charm maker, who ruled the town.  But Hijiri and her friends, with help from Love himself, had gotten rid of Zita.  This year, Love wants to show Hijiri her heart isn’t small and that she can love other people. He sends her Kentaro Oshiro, a special boy, but Hijiri thinks the boy isn’t real and refuses to be attracted to him.  Hijiri and her friends, now including Ken, enter the town’s Love-Charm contest with Hijiri as the charm maker.  Things get more and more complicated with all of her friends eventually mad at each other and Ken eventually being hurt so badly by Hijiri he stops trying to win her over.  Of course, in the end, Hijiri makes the perfect love charm and the group wins the prize.  Hijiri learns Ken is a real boy who remembers her from a childhood encounter when he was dying of heart failure.  Love gave him a new heart and, in exchange, he wants Ken to teach Hijiri that she does have a big heart and is capable of love.  The story teaches the reader how to believe in herself and follow her dreams. It is quite nicely written.

BIBLIO: 2016, Swoon Reads/Feiwel and Friends, Ages 14 +, $10.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-08404-0

ISBN: 978-1-250-08401-9

 

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I had a hard time believing character traits in this book.  How much can a blind person see of the world around him?

 

Nowhere Near You

Leah Thomas

Oliver, a.k.a. Ollie, and Moritz are long distance pen pals with unique problems. They met in the first book, “Because You’ll Never Meet Me.” Ollie has lived in northern Michigan woods all his life because he’s allergic to electricity which causes seizures and shorts out any electrical circuits that come within reach of his problem.  But his mother is dead and his doctor takes him on a road trip, ostensibly to meet other problem kids. Moritz, who lives in Germany, was born without eyes and gets around by listening to the world and by using echolocation like a bat to see what’s around him.  Somehow their letters get to each other.  They are both trying to be regular teenagers, but that’s not an easy task for them. They do begin to learn about themselves and Ollies learns he can control his allergies.  The story itself is sweet, but it’s hard to suspend one’s disbelief about some of their problems, in particular Moritz’s ability to “see” things a blind person couldn’t see.  Perhaps a blind person could hear someone’s eyebrows rising, but could a blind person “see” that another person had a “unibrow?”  Doesn’t seem likely.  Another of the characters takes her heart out of her chest and gives it to other people, because she doesn’t want to feel emotions.  She’s a star track runner in her school even without her heart. If the reader can continue to suspend disbelief, the story is nice read and could lead to classroom discussions.

BIBLIO: 2017, Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-68119-178-2

 

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The disbelief is not on the part of the reader in this last book, but rather the main character.  All done in a charming fashion.

 

This Book Is NOT About Dragons

Shelley Moore Thomas

Illustrated by Fred Koehler

The rat who narrates this story is convinced there are not dragons in this book.  He walks into the forest and sees not a single dragon.  So, he tells the reader there are no dragons.  Of course, the reader sees shadows of dragons lurking behind the trees and breathing smoke out of caves.  Rat sees a rabbit, but no dragon.  He sees a red truck by a cabin, but no dragon. Even when the dragon catches the truck on fire, the rat doesn’t see the dragon.  Nor does he see the dragons in the sky, only clouds.  The moose sees the dragons and runs to the city, followed by the dragons and the oblivious rat.  Rat sees only pizza, but the chick sees the dragons and tells the naysayer to look more closely. Oh yes, there are dragons, much to Rat’s dismay.  In the end, he has to change the name of the book and take out the word NOT. This cute book encourages children to be observant and look for the whole picture.

BIBLIO: 2016, Boyds Mills Press/Highlights, Ages 4 to 7, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-62979-168-5

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Hope you enjoy the reviews and please tell me about books you couldn’t believe.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Past Books

These books have a bit of age on them, but you can probably find them in your library. Though the first two have some flaws in them, they’re still worth reading and the characters are endearing.

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Allie has her flaws as we all do, but she’s a likeable kid.

Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls: Blast from the Past

Meg Cabot

Allie is now in fourth grade at a new school and trying to prove herself responsible enough to own a cell phone—after all she’s saved a total of $36 from doing chores and helping her neighbors. Her parents say the rule is she could have her own cell phone in sixth grade, if she’s proved herself responsible by not losing things or not leaving her coat and book bag on the floor. Two whole years away! Plus, she has other things to worry about: her cat, Mewsie, is hiding in a hole in the wall of her brother’s room; her wonderful teacher is probably getting married and moving away; and she has to go on a boring field trip and share the bus with the kids from her old school—including her ex-best friend, Mary Kate, who is now hanging out with the snobby “cool” girls. Turns out the field trip isn’t as boring as Allie thought; her teacher is getting married, but not moving; Mary Kate is now her friend again, sort of; Mewsie leaves the hole on his own; and Mom says Allie may have cell phone in fifth grade. Allie is a spunky girl and her antics are amusing, but she sure is repetitive. I’m not sure we readers need to be reminded in each chapter of how obnoxious Mary Kate has been, or that Allie’s teacher’s boyfriend threw rocks at the school window, or that Allie missed going on the last field trip because of Mary Kate, but the story does have merit.

BIBLIO: 2010, Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 7 to 9, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-04048-8

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I reviewed an earlier book in this series, so I was not eager to review another. But Amy’s character has grown on me. I’ve always wondered if another of this series has come out.

Ask Amy Green: Bridesmaid Blitz

Sarah Webb

Another installment in the “Ask Amy Green” series takes Amy and Clover—her teen-aged aunt—on a shopping trip to Paris to pick out clothes for Amy’s mother’s upcoming wedding. Amy is a little less self-centered in this book than she has been in the past. She’s still unhappy with the new mates her parents, Sylvie and Art, have picked, but is beginning to have some sympathy for Dave, her step-dad to be. Her dad’s pregnant new wife, Shelly, is very high maintenance. Amy’s mother is feeling overwhelmed by the wedding Clover is planning for her and keeps pleading that she just wants a simple, inexpensive ceremony. Clover plots to surprise Sylvie with a trip to Paris. When Amy is finally told about the trip, she plans how she’s going to surprise her boyfriend, Seth, who is there on a school trip. In the meantime, Seth’s mother is being tested to see if her breast cancer has reoccurred or spread and the tests results are due back when Seth is supposed to be away. Now he doesn’t want to go. Dave, who is a nurse at the local hospital, comes to the rescue and asks the doctor to put a rush on the tests. To add to the tension, Shelly’s domineering mother comes to stay indefinitely, but Amy’s the one who helps Shelly through labor when the baby comes early. Amy rightfully feels left out after her new brother is born, with Art and Shelly not including her in the new family circle. Her insensitive dad finally comes to his senses though and Amy begins to bond with her youngest sibling. The next installment will undoubtedly focus on Sylvie’s cold feet about her impending wedding.

BIBLIO: 2012, Candlewick Press, Ages 12 +, $6.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5157-2

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I can still remember the drawings in this book. It’s a charmer, especially with the message that we don’t all have to be the same.

The Geese March in Step

Jean-François Dumont

Illustrated by Jean-François Dumont

Originally published in French, this book is a charmer about not marching in lock step just because it’s always been that way. Igor, the lead goose on the farm, insists that all the geese march at his tempo on the daily parade to the pond. He is most distraught when Zita, the newest goose to the gaggle, adds a different beat to the cadence. He kicks her out of the goose parade. At first she’s sad and lonely, but soon the woodpecker and rooster, donkey and cow, sheep and pigs, turkey and frog, plus all the other creatures on the farm, add new beats to Zita’s walk. When the new parade arrives at the pond with its unique sound, Igor is out numbered. From then on, Igor marches his regimented beat to the pond all by himself, but everyone else waits to see what Zita’s beat might prompt them to do. The amusing illustrations add to the off beat tone of this story. Children will enjoy adding their own sounds to the “Parade-to-the-Pond” music. And parents will love the message.

BIBLIO: 2014 (orig. 2007,) Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Ages 4 to 8, $16.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5443-8

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As I age, I need to remind myself that getting older doesn’t mean I’m not as good as I was. Who knows, maybe I’m even getting better on some fronts. At least I’m able to let other people cook in my kitchen, even though my golf game stinks. And though I still can’t sing a lick, my writing improves all the time.