Best of 2018 Books

December 27th, 2018 by

It’s hard to believe that the year is almost over. Only a few more days to enjoy hot cocoa and build snowmen before it’s back to school (or work, in our cases). Excuse us while we shed a single tear in a very dignified manner like the adults we are… WAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!

Okay, back to the book business at hand: With only a few days left in 2018, now’s the perfect time to get your To Read list ready for 2019 — and here are some recommendations to get you started! We went through a bunch of “Best of 2018” lists from our favorite sources around the interwebs (such as School Library Journal), and we compiled a list of the best of the best. See below for titles that came up over and over again, making them good bets for a bright start to the new year!

Our compiled list: Top 15 of 2018

Listed in alphabetical order. Official descriptions from the publishers.

amal-unboundAmal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when — as the eldest daughter — she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens — after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt. Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal — especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.

be-preparedBe Prepared by Vera Brosgol
In Be Prepared, all Vera wants to do is fit in ― but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range ― Russian summer camp. Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the “cool girl” drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!

blendedBlended by Sharon M. Draper
Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves. Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole? It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again — until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

dactyl-hill-squadDactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older
It’s 1863 and dinosaurs roam the streets of New York as the Civil War rages between raptor-mounted armies down South. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip when the Draft Riots break out, and a number of their fellow orphans are kidnapped by an evil magistrate, Richard Riker. Magdalys and her friends flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community — a safe haven from the threats of Manhattan. Together with the Vigilance Committee, they train to fly on dactylback, discover new friends and amazing dinosaurs, and plot to take down Riker. Can Magdalys and the squad rescue the rest of their friends before it’s too late?

front-deskFront Desk by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, 10-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests. Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed. Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language? It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

harbor-meHarbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat — by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for “A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them — everything from Esteban’s father’s deportation and Haley’s father’s incarceration to Amari’s fears of racial profiling and Ashton’s adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

ivy-aberdeens-letter-to-the-worldIvy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake
When a tornado rips through town, 12-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm — and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing. Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks — and hopes — that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?

martin-risingMartin Rising: Requiem for a King, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King’s life — and of his assassination — through metaphor, spirituality, and multilayers of meaning. Andrea’s stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian’s lyrical and colorful artwork, brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, the Gandhi-like, peace-loving activist whose dream of equality — and whose courage to make it happen — changed the course of American history. And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream.

merci-suarez-changes-gearsMerci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
Merci Suárez knew that 6th grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Assassination-of-Brangwain-SpurgeThe Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin
Uptight elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is on a mission: survive being catapulted across the mountains into goblin territory, deliver a priceless peace offering to their mysterious dark lord, and spy on the goblin kingdom — from which no elf has returned alive in more than a hundred years. Brangwain’s host, the goblin archivist Werfel, is delighted to show Brangwain around. They should be the best of friends, but a series of extraordinary double crosses, blunders, and cultural misunderstandings throws these two bumbling scholars into the middle of an international crisis that may spell death for them — and war for their nations. Witty mixed media illustrations show Brangwain’s furtive missives back to the elf kingdom, while Werfel’s determinedly unbiased narrative tells an entirely different story. A hilarious and biting social commentary that could only come from the likes of National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson and Newbery Honoree Eugene Yelchin, this tale is rife with thrilling action and visual humor… and a comic disparity that suggests the ultimate victor in a war is perhaps not who won the battles, but who gets to write the history.

cardboard-kingdomThe Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell
Welcome to a neighborhood of kids who transform ordinary boxes into colorful costumes, and their ordinary block into cardboard kingdom. This is the summer when 16 kids encounter knights and rogues, robots and monsters — and their own inner demons — on one last quest before school starts again. In the Cardboard Kingdom, you can be anything you want to be — imagine that! The Cardboard Kingdom was created, organized, and drawn by Chad Sell with writing from ten other authors: Jay Fuller, David DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Kris Moore, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs, and Barbara Perez Marquez.

journey-of-little-charlieThe Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
Twelve-year-old Charlie is down on his luck: His sharecropper father just died and Cap’n Buck — the most fearsome man in Possum Moan, South Carolina — has come to collect a debt. Fearing for his life, Charlie strikes a deal with Cap’n Buck and agrees to track down some folks accused of stealing from the cap’n and his boss. It’s not too bad of a bargain for Charlie… until he comes face-to-face with the fugitives and discovers their true identities. Torn between his guilty conscience and his survival instinct, Charlie needs to figure out his next move — and soon. It’s only a matter of time before Cap’n Buck catches on.

night-diaryThe Night Diary By Veera Hiranandani
It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders. Half-Muslim, half-Hindu 12-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together. Told through Nisha’s letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl’s search for home, for her own identity… and for a hopeful future.

parker-inheritanceThe Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding its writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. So with the help of Brandon, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the answers slip into the past yet again?

the-truth-as-told-by-mason-buttleThe Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard. An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day. Both Mason and his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, are relentlessly bullied by the other boys in their neighborhood, so they create an underground club space for themselves. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble again. He’s desperate to figure out what happened to Calvin, and eventually, Benny. But will anyone believe him?

Happy reading and happy new year from Kidsmomo!

Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail: Book Review

November 11th, 2018 by

well-that-was-awkward-rachel-vailI admit it: I fully judged this book by its cover. And I was into it right away — the intriguing title, the characters on their phones, and what’s up with the turtle and the rabbit? As soon as I spotted Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail, I had to know more about it.

And then once I read the description on the back cover, I knew it was for me:

It’s all good. Well… almost.

When Gracie learns that her crush likes her best friend, Sienna, she decides to help Sienna compose perfect texts to him. And Gracie is super okay with it. Like, more than okay! In fact, it seems everyone around Gracie counts on her to be okay… all the time. But Gracie has a wonderful though complicated family, and a big nose (but cute toes!), plus she’s in middle school. What happens if sometimes she’s not fully okay?

I love a good romantic comedy, so I decided Well, That Was Awkward would be the perfect light-hearted book to take with me on vacation. But guess what — it was AND it wasn’t.

As the blurb promises, the book definitely delivers mistaken identity mishaps, witty banter, friend/crush drama, and a lot of fun.The story is told in first-person from Gracie’s point of view, and I really loved her vivacious voice. I also enjoyed Gracie’s interactions with her classmates and found all of that to be quite realistic. I pretty much ripped through the story and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

But there was also a serious side that I didn’t expect — related to the death of Gracie’s sister years ago and how that loss still shapes her relationship with her parents and even informs the very core of her personality. I didn’t know about this part of the book, and it caught me by surprise as it was introduced on the very first page. What’s going on? I wanted a fluffy romantic farce! But I actually really loved this component of the story. It made Gracie’s character more rounded and deepened the book as a whole.

So I’d absolutely recommend Well, That Was Awkward, especially if you liked other books by Rachel Vail like Unfriended and Never Mind. I also think you’ll enjoy this book if you’re a fan of Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead or books by Jordan Sonnenblick like Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie.

Have YOU ever felt like your family or friends view you one way when you actually have many sides to you? Leave a comment with your story! Or just leave a comment if you’ve already read this book or any others by Rachel Vail!

— Karen

Karen is not really a sentimental person, yet she LOVES romantic comedies and especially Hallmark Christmas movies! This often comes as a surprise to people who view Karen as a grump.

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Books to Big Screen: The House with a Clock in Its Walls

September 4th, 2018 by

The other day, I was walking down the street when I spotted an ad for the new movie The House with the Clock in its Wallsbased on the book by John Bellairs.

First, I was like: “What the what? I didn’t know about this!” because how is there a book-to-film adaptation that I wasn’t on top of? And it stars Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, two actors I love!

Then, I was like: “I gotta get a copy of that book pronto!” because I always like to read the original source material before seeing the movie.

So I got myself the book that very same day, and I was super pleased with myself. But then I watched the trailer, and that threw a big wrench into my plans — because you guys, the movie looks really scary! I mean, I knew it was a mystery involving witches and warlocks, but I didn’t know it would be so creepy. And I do not do well with creepy!

Here, check out the trailer for yourself:

Honestly, I’m not sure I can watch this movie. Seems like it was designed to induce nightmares!

Fortunately, this second movie trailer includes some comedy and whimsy, so maybe the film won’t be a complete creep-fest after all. Take a look:

What do you think? Based on these trailers, do you expect the movie to be a terrifying horror film or a magical adventure? Maybe some of both? And are you planning to see it when it hits theaters on September 21st? Me? I’m still trying to decide if I have the nerve!

— Karen

In addition being nervous about the movie, Karen is also now a bit anxious about reading the book! Can anyone out there tell her how scary the original book is on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 being “all rainbows and sunshine, nothing creepy here” and 10 being “OMG, you’ll have to sleep with the lights on for the rest of your life”? Thanks, bye!

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Breakout by Kate Messner: Book Review

August 14th, 2018 by

breakoutA few years ago, a couple inmates broke out of a prison in upstate New York. Since I live many miles and hours away in New York City, I was intrigued by the story but it never affected my daily existence. I was never afraid of being attacked by those inmates, I didn’t hear every detail about the investigation into how it happened or the urgent search, and it didn’t change how I viewed law enforcement or convicted criminals — and I never thought about what life must be like for the people living in the area where they escaped. In Breakout by Kate Messner, I got a window into what those folks might have experienced.

Although it’s fiction, the story in Breakout has obvious parallels to the real story: Two inmates somehow escape from a facility in upstate New York, and they manage to hide from authorities even as a serious manhunt ensues.

But in Breakout, residents of the prison town are at the heart of the story — which is told through a series of letters, newspaper articles, and transcripts of in-person conversations and text messages. These records are collected by middle-schooler Nora to show what happened during the period of the big breakout, and they provide an up-close view of its impact on the community:

For Nora, it’s an exciting opportunity to hone her skills as an aspiring journalist — but also a challenging time for her family, as her father is the superintendent of the prison and faces a lot of pressure. For her best friend, Lizzie, it’s a chance to write some truly hilarious satirical articles for Nora’s records — until her own family unexpectedly gets caught up in the story. And for new girl in town, Elidee, it’s a a frustrating blocker to visiting her brother, who is in the same prison. It’s also a time when all three characters learn a lot about themselves, and when Nora and Lizzie start to see some hard truths about their neighbors and the world at large.

I recommend this book for fans of stories that are about everyday school/family life and simultaneously about societal issues (like Ghost by Jason Reynolds) — and also for fans of Jacqueline Woodson’s books, because in Breakout, Elidee reads Brown Girl Dreaming and writes her own poetry inspired by it!

If you were going to write a book inspired by a real-life news story, which event would you choose? Leave a comment with your answer!

— Karen

Karen also enjoyed the references to Hamilton in this book and was inspired to listen to the Broadway cast recording for roughly the millionth time!

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You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly: Book Review

July 23rd, 2018 by

you-go-first-bookI used to really enjoy Scrabble, but now I’m more of a Bananagrams person; I prefer the quick pace. Maybe because of that, I could never really get into Words with Friends or any of the other online Scrabble options. But I love the idea of making a new friend through one of those games — and that’s what happens in You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly.

Ben and Charlotte live halfway across the country from each other, but they have two big things in common: they both excel at Scrabble (way more than anyone else they know) and they are both dealing with friend issues at school — or rather, the issue of lack of friends. And the thing is, they don’t actually know they have that second thing in common. Yet they find a way to help each other even over the great distance.

Besides the friend thing, there are also other major changes happening in Charlotte and Ben’s lives: Charlotte’s dad is sick in the hospital while Ben’s parents surprise him with a terrible announcement about their own family situation.

So as you can see, this is not a happy-go-lucky, hilarious romp of a book by any means. But things are not hopeless either, and I enjoyed seeing how Charlotte and Ben’s stories came together.

I would recommend this book to fans of serious stories about friendship and family — like Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff, and The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern.

Also, the author of You Go First won the 2018 Newbery Medal for another book, Hello, UniverseSo if you’ve already read that one and enjoyed it, definitely check this one out — and vice versa!

Have you ever had a pen pal or other long-distance friend? Leave a comment with your story!

— Karen

In high school, Karen became friends with someone from halfway across the country when they attended the same summer program. They kept in touch over the years through letters and emails, and they’re still friends today!

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Real Friends and Invisible Emmie: Combo Book Review

June 30th, 2018 by

real-friendsinvisible-emmieRecently, I went on a reading spree of graphic novels/memoirs and illustrated books. One after the other, I gobbled up Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, and Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson. And they were all AMAZING in the very real way that they depict the rough waters of school and friendship.

If you click on the links above, you’ll see that we already have plenty of reviews for Awkward and Roller Girl from Kidsmomo visitors like you. You should definitely check out what your fellow readers have to say about those books and then decide if they’re right for you.

Here I’m going to focus on Real Friends and Invisible Emmie — which have a lot of similarities even though Real Friends is a memoir (telling the story of author Shannon Hale’s childhood) and Invisible Emmie is a novel (telling the fictional story of Emmie). Both books are about girls who only have one really good friend and lack the confidence to stand up for themselves. Unfortunately, both protagonists therefore find themselves controlled by the decisions of their classmates, unable to make choices about what they really want their school and friend group experience to be and unable to be proud of their talents and let their strengths shine.

But don’t worry — the books aren’t dark or super sad. Just as I sympathized with the characters’ struggles, I also delighted in the brighter moments of their days, like when Shannon and her friends come up with funny (and sometimes bonkers) games of pretend or when Emmie and her best friend write hilarious love letters to their crushes (never meant to be shared, of course!).

The artwork in these books is essential to experiencing them, so rather than try to describe the illustrations, I’ll leave you with these two videos that will give you a sense of the characters and their worlds:

I highly recommend both Invisible Emmie and Real Friends, especially if you’re a fan of El Deafo by Cece Bell, Smile by Raina Telgemeier, and All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson.

Have you read any of the books mentioned here, or do you have a recommendation for a different book that covers similar themes? Leave a comment below!

— Karen

Karen’s best friend from middle school is named Erin, and they’re still friends to this day. Their favorite things to do together were create treasure hunts for each other, play UNO, and talk about The Baby-Sitters Club. Now their favorite thing to do together is eat!

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The Secret of the Night Train by Sylvia Bishop: Book Review

June 24th, 2018 by

the-secret-of-the-night-trainI’m not really a train person. Once or twice a year, I take an eight-hour train trip from NYC to upstate New York and let me tell you — I’d rather not. Sure, it’s a good opportunity to read, but I would really prefer to get where I’m going faster, if possible.

So I would not relish taking the looooooooooong train trek in The Secret of the Night Train by Sylvia Bishop. But thank goodness for me that the protagonist, Max, does make the journey — because it’s a wonderful adventure!

At first, Max doesn’t know exactly what to expect, but she knows that she’s a bit anxious. As the youngest one in her family, it’s a big trip to do on her own, with only an unrelated traveling companion (a nun who lives nearby) to watch over her.

But it turns out that Max is more attuned to mystery and mayhem than she ever knew: Once she realizes that an extremely valuable stolen jewel may be traveling the same train route as her, Max finds herself drawn into an investigation that proves to be more dangerous and exciting than she could have anticipated.

I enjoyed the story in this book, but more than that, I loved the wacky cast of characters who make up Max’s fellow travelers — and suspects:

  • Sister Marguerite, the unusual nun who has volunteered to be Max’s chaperone
  • Rupert, who seems to be hapless — but did very suspiciously manage to miss the police inspection before departure
  • Ester and Klaus, a very wealthy and very cranky woman and her much friendlier nephew
  • Celeste, who has mismatched eyes and a “dragon smile” that shows no real emotion

I always love an eccentric gaggle of side characters, and this group did not disappoint!

I would recommend this book to people who like mysteries that take place during travels, like The Postcard by Tony Abbott and the Silver Jaguar Society Mystery books by Kate Messner. Also, if you enjoyed the train travel adventure in The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel and now you want something similar (but less dark), then I’d suggest you try out The Secret of the Night Train.

Have you taken any train trips recently? Leave a comment with your story!

— Karen

Karen’s favorite train ride was when she spent eight hours reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It was the perfect way to pass the time!

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The Ambrose Deception by Emily Ecton: Book Review

May 20th, 2018 by

ambrose-deceptionThe Ambrose Deception by Emily Ecton drew me in right away:

Three students are selected for a scavenger hunt competition that will take them all around Chicago? Yes, I love it! As they get deeper into the contest, they realize it may be something beyond the innocent scholarship program they were told about? Oh, yes, I love it even more!

As you know, I’m a huge fan of puzzle books like Book Scavenger, Walls Within Walls, The Gollywhopper Games, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Now we can add The Ambrose Deception to the list.

But besides just the puzzle element, I also really liked seeing the action from the perspective of the three very different students who are drawn into the mystery:

  • Melissa is underestimated and misunderstood, so she generally keeps to herself. But the scholarship competition is a way to prove herself to all the doubters.
  • Bondi, on the other hand, is full of confidence — maybe too much, according to his teachers.
  • And Wilf, well, he’s no scholar. So he’s determined to make the most of the free perks that go along with the competition until he gets kicked out.

I enjoyed moving between the points of view of these distinct characters, seeing the contrasting ways they approached their challenges — and then seeing them react to the realization that they are being used in a competition, but not the one they agreed to participate in.

If you’re a fan of any of the puzzle books I mentioned above, then this book should be on your to-read list for sure. And if you have any other puzzle books to recommend, leave a comment below!

— Karen

The last time Karen went to Chicago, she didn’t participate in a puzzle competition. But she did a food crawl, and that’s kind of like a scavenger hunt for snacks, right?

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The Lifters by Dave Eggers: Book Review

May 6th, 2018 by

the-liftersI got ahold of an early review copy of The Lifters by Dave Eggers, and the back cover describes the story this way:

The town of Carousel has a secret. A deep, dark, below-the-ground secret. The kind that hurtles through tunnels with the force of a hurricane, sinking houses and shops and playgrounds. Only two kids know what’s going on. And only they can save the town. They are the Lifters.

Technically, all of that is true. But if you’re looking for a spooky tale where kids fight pure evil, then this isn’t it. And if you’re looking for an epic adventure through a crazy subterranean world, then this is not the book for you. (Instead, I would recommend the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins or Un Lun Dun by China Miéville.)

But guess what — despite my misconceptions about what the story would be, I still really enjoyed this book. But I do wish I had known what to expect, so that’s why I’m starting my review with this warning.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get on with it…

Gran (short for Granite) and his family move to the small town of Carousel because his father is looking for work. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of opportunity waiting for him, and the family soon finds itself fractured: Gran’s dad is on the road all the time, cobbling together a living. Gran’s mother is disappointed and gets angrier and angrier. And Gran has no friends at school; in fact, no one even really notices him.

Well, one person does: Catalina. And when Gran realizes she disappears every day for hours at a time, that’s when his life in Carousel starts to get interesting. Soon, Gran finds himself ditching school, sneaking out of the house at night, and stealing/borrowing stuff in order to help Catalina — as she literally goes underground to help the whole town avoid danger.

If you’re a fan of stories grounded in reality but with fantastical elements, then I think you’ll like The Lifters. In particular, I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed the Willow Falls books by Wendy Mass, A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff.

What would you expect to find under the town or city where you live? Leave a comment with your answer!

— Karen

Karen lives in New York City, so she spends a lot of time underground — on the subway! Based on all the rats she sees at subway level, she shudders to think what she’d find if she traveled even deeper…

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Mabel Opal Pear by Amanda Hosch: Book Review

April 15th, 2018 by

mabel-opal-pear-and-the-rules-for-spyingWhen I was a kid, I didn’t know (and didn’t much care) about the details of my parents’ jobs. They’re both lawyers — not super exciting, in my opinion. Mabel Opal Pear, on the other hand, has spies for parents — which is pretty awesome, even if it does mean they’re traveling a lot. At least Mabel’s got her Aunt Gertie to keep her company when her parents are off on a mission. But then everything turns upside down…

In Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying by Amanda Hosch, Mabel finds herself in the middle of a mystery when her parents are called out of town, her Aunt Gertie gets thrown in jail, and her estranged Uncle Frank and his family move into the house claiming that Mabel’s parents asked them to take care of her.

It’s a good thing Mabel’s been studying up to be a spy herself because it quickly becomes clear that her uncle is looking for something in the house — meanwhile, her cousin seems to be playing both her parents and Mabel. Who can Mabel trust as she tries to get to the bottom of her uncle’s motives and her parents’ disappearance, not to mention saving Aunt Gertie from jail?!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, not just because I love a good mystery, but also because of the fun setting: a small town at the foot of Mt. Rainier in the Pacific Northwest, where Mabel’s parents run a spoon museum (yes, a spoon museum!) when they’re not off doing their spy thing. So I’d highly recommend this book to other fans of mysteries, especially if you’re a sucker for mysteries with eccentric characters in quirky towns. For example, you’ll love Mabel Opal Pear if you enjoyed Three Times Lucky, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, and any of Carl Hiassen’s books (like Hoot and Chomp).

Since the title of the book is Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying, I can only hope we’ll be seeing other Mabel Opal Pear and… books in the future. I’d love to see what Mabel gets up to the next time her parents leave town!

Have you read this book, or do you have other mysteries to recommend? Leave a comment below!

— Karen

While Karen would love to visit a spoon museum, she’d be even more excited about going to a museum for food you eat with a spoon — like an ice cream museum or a soup museum!

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