Monday, February 20, 2017

THE UNCOMMONERS #1: THE CROOKED SIXPENCE by Jennifer Bell


First, I have a giveaway winner to announce, from Feb 6th. According to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover of JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY'S MINE by Caroline Starr Rose (plus, a journal!) is:


SUZANNE WARR



Congratulations! Expect an email from me asking for your mailing address.

*   *   *

Now on to today's MMGM (visit Shannon's blog for other MMGM posts).  And another giveaway!





The Uncommoners, Book One: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell (January 31, 2017, Crown Books for Young Readers, 320 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): When their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to the hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her annoying big brother Seb cannot imagine what adventure lies in store. Soon their house is ransacked by unknown intruders, and a very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. Ivy and Seb make their escape only to find themselves in a completely uncommon world, a secret underground city called Lundinor where ordinary objects have amazing powers. There are belts that enable the wearer to fly, yo-yos that turn into weapons, buttons with healing properties, and other enchanted objects capable of very unusual feats.

But the forces of evil are closing in fast, and when Ivy and Seb learn that their family is connected to one of the greatest uncommon treasures of all time, they must race to unearth the treasure and get to the bottom of a family secret . . . before it's too late.

Why I recommend it:  This book is adorable! An absorbing and imaginative fantasy/adventure, which provides a lovely escape from the real world. I was impressed by Bell's world-building and the details of the plot. Ivy is a likable character, and there's more than enough intrigue. You'll find yourself eager to accompany Ivy and Seb (along with their new friend, a thief named Valian), on their adventure.

Harry Potter fans may recognize the influence (maps that show were someone is, commoners being called not muggles but "muckers") but it didn't bother me. In fact, it made me smile. This could easily become a favorite new series for middle grade readers.

Favorite lines: (from p. 28 of the arc)  The rapid fire of hoofbeats sounded on the other side of the hedgerow. A wild neigh followed the clatter of something loud and heavy, and then Officer Smokehart came tearing along toward them. He moved impossibly fast, his arms pumping as his black cloak mushroomed up behind him.

Bonus: It's illustrated! Delightful drawings by Karl James Mountford are sprinkled throughout (final art not seen in arc).

Jennifer Bell's website

Follow Jennifer on Twitter

Giveaway details: The publisher has generously offered one hardcover copy for a giveaway. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only (so sorry!) and will end on Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 10 pm EST, with the winner to be announced Monday March 6. To enter you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. Good luck!




Monday, February 13, 2017

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON by Linda Williams Jackson for Diversity Monday and Black History Month


Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson (January 3, 2017, HMH Books for Young Readers, 312 pages, for ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the publisher): It's Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter can't wait to move north, following in the footsteps of her mama and her aunt. But for now, she's living with Ma Pearl and Papa, her grandparents, who are sharecroppers on a cotton plantation. Though she's heard bits and pieces about the civil rights movement, Rose is more interested in leaving the South than in changing it.

Then, one town over, a fourteen-year-old African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When the killers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change but she doesn't know if she should be part of the movement.

Why I recommend it: Oh, there is so much to recommend here: an honest young-teen voice, authentic dialogue, memorable characters, and descriptions so fine you can just see the house Rose lives in, taste the butter beans, and feel the summer heat. After only a few pages, I felt as if Rose was a real 13-year-old, telling me her story. This is one of those novels you don't read so much as you inhabit, and you may find yourself walking around in Rose's shoes for a few days, justifiably angry at the terrible events of 1955. Even though this is historical fiction, it's absolutely relevant today, considering the state of the union.

Favorite lines: "The sun beat down on me like I owed it money from six years back. Sweat dripped in my eyes so bad that I couldn't tell cotton from weeds..."

Bonus: An excellent discussion-starter for classroom units about the Civil Rights movement. Plus, there's a sequel, A Sky Full of Stars, coming in January 2018!

Linda's website

Follow Linda on Twitter: @LindaWJackson

Read this moving guest post by Linda on Caroline Starr Rose's blog.

In honor of Black History Month, what's your favorite historical novel about the Civil Rights movement?


Monday, February 6, 2017

JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY'S MINE by Caroline Starr Rose for MMGM -- plus a GIVEAWAY!




Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine by Caroline Starr Rose (Feb 7, 2017, Putnam, 304 pages, for ages 8 to 12).

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Desperate to get away from their drunkard of a father, eleven-year-old Jasper and his older brother Melvin often talk of running away, of heading north to Alaska to chase riches beyond their wildest dreams. The Klondike Gold Rush is calling, and Melvin has finally decided the time to go is now even if that means leaving Jasper behind. But Jasper has other plans, and follows his brother aboard a steamer as a stowaway. 

Onboard the ship, Jasper overhears a rumor about One-Eyed Riley, an old coot who's long since gone, but is said to have left clues to the location of his stake, which still has plenty of gold left. The first person to unravel the clues and find the mine can stake the claim and become filthy rich. Jasper is quick to catch gold fever and knows he and Melvin can find the mine; all they have to do is survive the rough Alaskan terrain, along with the steep competition from the unscrupulous and dangerous people they encounter along the way.

Why I recommend it: Caroline Starr Rose continues to impress me. I've been a fan of her blog since even before May B. pubbed. And May B. made me fall in love with verse novels. I found Blue Birds equally as gorgeous and impressive. Now, she's turned her expert historical fiction skills to prose. And an exciting tale it is.

Jasper is so gosh darn likable and funny, you can't help but want to cheer him on. He's flawed, of course, and often breaks the rules, but his heart is in the right place. If you're a writer, study this one for how to make your main character both realistic and likable. 

Of course, this is also is an adventure story on a grand scale. Rose keeps you turning pages as you race to decipher the clues to the riddle. You'll feel as if you're right there shivering with the boys as they head north, trying to locate the mine and meeting plenty of dastardly antagonists along the way. You can tell the author has done her research. The details about the Klondike Gold Rush are riveting. 

Favorite lines: "Gold," I say again. The word feels warm and round and strange on my tongue (from page 3 of the arc).

Bonus: This would make a wonderful read-aloud. 


For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, see Shannon's blog




Giveaway details: One lucky reader will receive both a brand-new hardcover copy of JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY'S MINE, plus (through the generosity of the author) one 40-page journal, with a quote from the book on its cover.

(If you'd like the book but not the journal, please mention this in the comments, and if randomizer picks you, I'll choose someone else for the journal.) This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only and ends on Sunday February 19, 2017 at 10 pm EST. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. Winner will be announced on Monday February 20, 2017.


Monday, January 30, 2017

BONE JACK by Sara Crowe

Edited 1/31/17 to change from British cover to American!


Bone Jack by Sara Crowe (February 7, 2017, Philomel, 256 pages, for ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the publisher): 
Times have been tough for Ash lately, and all he wants is for everything to go back to the way it used to be. Back before drought ruined the land and disease killed off the livestock. Before Ash’s father went off to war and returned carrying psychological scars. Before his best friend, Mark, started acting strangely.

As Ash trains for his town’s annual Stag Chase—a race rooted in violent, ancient lore—he’s certain that if he can win and make his father proud, life will return to normal. But the line between reality and illusion is rapidly blurring, and the past has a way of threatening the present.

When a run in the mountains brings Ash face-to-face with Bone Jack—a figure that guards the boundary between the living world and the dead—everything changes once more. As dark energies take root and the world as he knows it is upended, it’s up to Ash to restore things to their proper order and literally run for his life.

Why I recommend it: 
Dark, haunting, and atmospheric, this reminded me a little of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (my favorite fantasy of all time). It works for ages 10 and up, though the violence might frighten younger readers. Ash is a believable, likable character, and the reader will sympathize with his desire for life to return to normal. I especially loved the way the author deftly wove in the fantasy elements so that the line between reality and fantasy gradually dissolves. Brilliant. And the cover is simply stunning.

Favorite lines:  
          "He looked the way Ash remembered: tall, broad-shouldered, tough as teak. He was dressed in civilian clothes and his dark hair was starting to grow out of the regulation army cut, but he still looked like a soldier through and through.
         Captain Robert Tyler, home from war.
         Then Dad walked out onto the lawn and it all started to fall apart."

About the author (from the publisher): Sara Crowe was born in Cornwall and raised all over England by her restless parents. She taught cinema and photography studies until 2012, when she and her partner bought a van and spent the next eighteen months traveling around the British Isles. She currently lives in a tumbledown cottage in Lincolnshire. Bone Jack is her first novel.

Find her on Twitter: @dark_fell


For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, see Shannon Messenger's blog

Monday, January 23, 2017

HOW I BECAME A GHOST by Tim Tingle for Diversity Monday





How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle (paperback 2015, The Road Runner Press, 141 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Told in the words of Isaac, a Choctaw boy who does not survive the Trail of Tears, How I Became a Ghost is a tale of innocence and resilience in the face of tragedy. From the opening line, "Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before," the reader is put on notice that this is no normal book. Isaac leads a remarkable foursome of Choctaw comrades: a tough-minded teenage girl, a shape-shifting panther boy, a lovable five-year-old ghost who only wants her mom and dad to be happy, and Isaac's talking dog, Jumper. The first in a trilogy, How I Became a Ghost thinly disguises an important and oft-overlooked piece of history.

Why I recommend it: This short, compelling novel will stun you with both the power of its writing and the way it humanizes a terrible event in our nation's past. The narrator, 10-year-old Isaac, tells us about his family and some of the other families on the forced walk from their homeland in the Deep South to their new home in what would eventually be called Oklahoma. His story will move you to tears at the extraordinary resilience of the Choctaw people. First the U.S. soldiers set fire to their homes, then made the people walk a thousand miles in brutal icy conditions, with very little food. Many of the Choctaw died from smallpox-laden blankets given to them deliberately by the soldiers. Written in spare and rhythmic language, this is a story that will infuriate you but at the same time inspire you.The way Isaac is able to help his people even after he becomes a ghost is heartwarming.

I learned some Choctaw words from reading this book. Hoke means okay. Yakoke means thank you. And Choctaws never say goodbye. Instead they say chi pisa lachike, meaning "I will see you again, in the future."

Favorite lines: I am not a ghost when this book begins so you have to pay very close attention. I see things before they happen. You are probably thinking, "I wish I could see things before they happen."
Be careful what you wish for.

Bonus: This is the first volume of a trilogy! I'm definitely planning to read the others when they become available.

Tim Tingle is an Oklahoma Choctaw, whose great-great-grandfather walked the Choctaw Trail of Tears in the 1830s.

Tim Tingle's website

Follow Tim on Twitter


*   *   *

It's Diversity Monday here at My Brain on Books. Look for other diverse posts at Pragmatic Mom,  Jump Into a Book, and The Logonauts.

Multicultural Children's Book Day is coming January 27th! The Multicultural Children's Book Day website has a helpful reading list here.

The #DiverseKidLit linkup theme this month is human rights.



Monday, January 16, 2017

STELLA BY STARLIGHT by Sharon Draper for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, and I'm commemorating it with another Diversity Monday here at My Brain on Books! This is a book I missed reading last year, so during my November/December blogging break, I caught up.




Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (hardcover January 2015, paperback March 2016, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 336 pages, for ages 9 to 13)

Synopsis (from the publisher):  It's 1932. Stella lives in the segregated South in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can't. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they're never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella's community, her world, is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don't necessarily signify an end.

Why I recommend it: Not only is the writing lovely, but this is an important story about a dreadful part of our history (which, unfortunately, in some ways is still going on). It's also written in a way that's accessible for the age group, despite the subject matter.

Furthermore, Stella is one of my new favorite MG characters, spunky, and smart, with so much honesty and heart that it fairly spills from the pages. Her struggles to write are relatable for any student who has trouble in school. This book may look long, but the 50 chapters are each quite short, some only two pages.

Favorite lines: "Stella loved the feel of that table--she loved to trace the circular patterns in the warm brown wood.  Made of elm and built by her father when he married her mother, the table was large, sturdy, and dependable--and so much more than a place for meals. " (from p. 4 of the paperback edition)

Bonus: An excellent discussion-starter about the KKK, segregation, and mistreatment of African-Americans, as well as life during the Great Depression.

Sharon M. Draper's website




Find links to other MMGM posts on Shannon Messenger's blog

Find plenty of diversity posts at Pragmatic Mom and The Logonauts

Read about Multicultural Children's Book Day here

Thursday, January 5, 2017

THE WARDEN'S DAUGHTER by Jerry Spinelli


I'm honored to be part of the blog tour for The Warden's Daughter, Jerry Spinelli's new novel!





The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli (January 3, 2017, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 352 pages, for ages 9 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Cammie O'Reilly is the warden's daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she's also living in a prison of grief and anger about the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. And prison has made her mad.
 
In the summer of 1959, as twelve turns to thirteen, everything is in flux. Cammie's best friend is discovering lipstick and American Bandstand. A child killer is caught and brought to her prison. And the only mother figures in her life include a flamboyant shoplifter named Boo Boo and a sullen reformed arsonist of a housekeeper. All will play a role in Cammie's coming-of-age. But one in particular will make a staggering sacrifice to ensure that Cammie breaks free from her past.


Jerry Spinelli
copyright Elmore DeMott


Why I recommend it: A new novel from Jerry Spinelli is always reason to celebrate. And this lovely historical novel revisits Two Mills, the town (based on Norristown, PA) that was the setting of Maniac Magee, my favorite Jerry Spinelli novel. Like all of Spinelli's novels, The Warden's Daughter is full of heart, sly humor, and gasp-inducing moments of drama. This one is also chock-full of 1959 culture (pedal pushers, crew cuts, convertibles) and of Philadelphia-area details, like Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Tastykakes, and scrapple. (I was born in Philadelphia and now live outside of it and yes, I've eaten scrapple, but I definitely do not like it!).

Cammie is a complex character who really grows on you, a curmudgeon of sorts, a 12-year-old who is not happy. But knowing about her past, you understand her and you feel for her. There are introspective chapters but there's also plenty of action, as Cammie rides her bike all over town and sometimes gets into fights. (There's a reason they call her Cannonball O'Reilly!)

Favorite lines:  "Some kids had tree houses. Some kids had hideouts. I had the Tower of Death." (from p. 35)

Bonus: To hear more about The Warden's Daughter from the author himself, watch this brief video:


Jerry Spinelli's website


Here are the next few stops on the blog tour:

January 6: Book Blather
January 9: Bookhounds YA
January 10: Reviews Coming at YA
January 11: Project Mayhem


For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, visit Shannon's blog.