Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Love & Gelato

I tend to not be able to resist books that feature teens on summer adventures in Europe (especially if they promise a bit of romance). I've been burned by a lot of these books, but Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch is one that didn't disappoint on any level and left me fully satisfied at the end.

Lina is spending the summer in Florence with the father she has never met. It was the dying wish of her mother who died of cancer a few months before Lina arrives. Determined to only be there for the summer and then return to the  US, Lina is not at all excited about forced bonding time with Howard and definitely doesn't want to settle in. She is here only for her mother. When an old friend of her dad's gives her the journal her mother kept during her time in Italy, Lina knows she has to read it no matter how sad it makes her feel. Armed with the journal and the help of her new friend Lorenzo, Lina sets out to follow her mother's footsteps from all those years ago and figure out a little about life, love, her parents, and herself along the way.

I was bound to like Lina. She is a smart introvert who likes to process things with no outside interference and is a bit tentative in her approach to life. Personal affinities aside, her character really does jump of the page. She is incredibly well-rounded. Sad and a little lost since her mother's death, she is keeping everyone at arm's length but you can see the warmth in how she interacts with her longtime best friend on the phone. Her relationship with Ren (short for Lorenzo) also showcases a different dimension of her personality. With every interaction Lina has, the reader sees a different facet of who she is. Ren is a local half Italian half America who befriends Lina and tries to help her meet people and fit in. He then joins her quest to recapture the events and investigate the mysteries in her mom's journal. Their relationship is adorable. They have an instant connection where they are able to talk openly with each other that leads them to become friends quickly. Underneath all that is a romantic tension as they circle each other in that sense too. They end up having some dramatic moments that are typical of teens unused to navigating the messy emotions involved in falling for another person and everything about their relationship is real and believable.

The romance is not the main focus of the novel however. The main focus is Lina's journey of discovery and how she relates to all the people around her (not just Ren). Her relationship with Howard, the surprise father who lives in Italy she never met before is a driving force in the novel as well. I can't say much about this, but Howard is a really really great man. In getting to know him and his story with her mother, Lina also connects with her mother in a different way than she did when her mother was alive. Despite the heavier themes inherent in that, the book manages to maintain a light, humorous feel all the way through. There are so many delightful scenes.

Welch paints all of Italy so well. I love Florence and really felt like I was back there when reading some of her descriptions. And man did I really want some authentic Italian Gelato. A lot of times when I read books set in Europe I feel like they are lacking authenticity or a true sense of place. That wasn't the case here. I liked how Welch interspersed Italian into it as well. She didn't just say someone was speaking Italian, she wrote the Italian. This helped with the authentic feel.

This was so much fun to read and think it is a must have for Teen librarians. It will appeal to the same crowd who enjoys Kasie West's books, but I think it may have a broader appeal than that too.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fuzzy

Fuzzy is the latest offering  from Tom Angleberger (author of the Origami Yoda series) and was cowritten by Paul Dellinger. It is a humorous school story that is full of intrigue,  humor, and robots.

Fifty years in the future schools are controlled by a strict Federal School Board. The students take tests every week to prove that they are "upgrading" well enough. In one school Max (Maxine) is having a rough time. Her test scores are falling even though she studies hard and knows the answers. The computer vice-principal known as Barbara is also constantly giving her discipline tags. But Max has something to be excited about because her school is about to get the first robot to be integrated with humans. The handlers of "Fuzzy" choose Max as the robot's guide and soon the robot and the girl are connecting. When Fuzzy figures out that Barbara has developed a mind of her own and is changing students' test scores. Fuzzy, Max, and their other friends have to try to save their school and each other.

Max and Fuzzy are a great friendship team. This delves into the idea of AI and what happens when a computer can think for itself and make crucial decisions without human input. It is a concept that has been explored in science fiction for decades (several such books get a mention in here), but is definitely trending in both MG and YA more in the last couple of years. Fuzzy, being an Angleberger novel, takes a humorous look at this. Max is a smart girl, but she doesn't always want to perform inside the box created for her by the school system, testing, and the tyrannical AI Barbara. The kids desperately want to be kids but are constantly being told to get back in line and worry about their tests. Max tries her best but doesn't always succeed. Barbara sees her as a wild card and fixates on her for this reason. Max is full of curiosity about her world and just wants to know more. She does a great job with Fuzzy-anticipating his problems, leading him around, and helping him acclimate. In return Fuzzy learns from her how to think like a human. He begins to make his own decisions and color outside the lines himself. He even begins to have a spectacularly spot-on middle school attitude problem complete with snark. They are a brilliant team.

There is a lot about Fuzzy that is reminiscent of a Disney Channel movie. The adults are all a little over top and stereotypical. Their antics are a lot beyond the realm of the realistic, and of course, the kids are the ones to save the day in the end. They see things the grown ups do not. There are mustache twirling yet incompetent type villains in a van trying to get to Fuzzy. It's the sort of story kids eat up like candy. Added to this is a lot of humor and a fast-paced story full of action that will keep kids reading.

Underneath all of this, the authors have a commentary about the state of eduction and focus on testing going on that is fascinating. I don't think this is something just adults in education or concerned parents will get. The kids are going to fully get this to. I've had so many kids talk to me about how worn out they are on all the testing they do. I think they will appreciate this. They will like seeing that there is someone else out there who gets that. The fact that the villainous face of the testing system is Dolores Umbridge in AI form will make this even more entertaining for them.

This is a must have for kids who like humorous school stories.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

YA Holiday Gift Guide

This is next week's Top Ten Tuesday topic, but it inspired me to do a bigger one. I haven't made one in a couple of years and so will feature books published in the past couple year. The categories are inspired by my favorites from this year. I've added a "tried and true" recommendation for each category that is a bit older. These are books I've recommended over and over with success.

I by no means intend to be reductive with the categories. No teen fits just one and the books could all straddle several as well. It is just meant to be a guide. Links are to my reviews. Feel free to comment, email, or tweet at me if you have questions about any particular book.

Take note of disclaimer at bottom for asterisked books.

You can find the MG list here.

Teen Gift Guide (for ages about 13 and up)

For Teens Who Like to Read About Friend Groups and Their Antics



Rebel Bully Geek Pariah by Erin Jade Lang (contemporary realistic; 2016)*
Top Ten Clues You're Clueless by Liz Czukas (contemporary realistic; 2014)


 The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry (historical; 2014)
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds (contemporary realistic; 2014)*


This Side of Home by Renée Watson (contemporary realistic; 2015)

Tried and True Rec:

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta (realistic; 2006)*

For Teens Who Like Romance and the Notion of Happy Ever After (or at least happy for now)


Rose & Thorn by Sarah Prineas (fantasy; 2016)
Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood (contemporary realistic; 2015)*


Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols (contemporary realistic; 2015; has two companion novels)*
The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik (contemporary realistic; 2014)


The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas (fantasy; 2013; first in trilogy)
On the Fence by Kasie West (contemporary realistic; 2014)

Forbidden by Kimberly Griffiths (historical; 2014)


The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope (historical; 1974)

For Teens Who Liked to Be Kicked in the Feels


Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston* (contemporary realistic; 2016)
Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina* (historical; 2016)


Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee (historical; 2016)
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (historical 2016)


The Story of Owen and Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston (fantasy; 2014 and 2015)


The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds (contemporary realistic; 2015)*

Tried and True Pick:

 Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein*

For Teens Who Enjoy Books That Strongly Feature Families

Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis (contemporary realistic; 2016)
The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos (contemporary realistic; 2016)



A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (fantasy; 2015)
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (fantasy; 2015)*


Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (fantasy; 2015)*

*These books contain one or more of the following: strong language, sexual content, or underage drinking/drug age. If you have specific questions about any title, I'm happy to answer them. This not to warn you away from them. They wouldn't be on this list if I didn't think they were excellent books worth reading, but as I work with some teens who shy away from these topics, I want to give fair warning. 


Monday, November 21, 2016

MG Holiday Book Gift Guide

This is next week's Top Ten Tuesday topic, but it inspired me to do a bigger one. I haven't made one in a couple of years and so will feature books published in the past several years but the categories are inspired by my favorites from this year. I've added a "tried and true" recommendation for each category that is a bit older. These are books I've recommended over and over with success.

I by no means intend to be reductive with the categories. No child fits just one and the books could all straddle several as well. It is just meant to be a guide. Links are to my reviews. Feel free to comment, email, or tweet at me if you have questions about any particular book.

I will post a YA one tomorrow!

For MG Readers (ages about 9 to about 12)

For the Introspective Kid



Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (realistic fiction; 2016)
The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore (science fiction; 2016)

Tried and True Rec:

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (historical; 2007)

For the Kid Who Loves Adventure

Rebel Genius  by Michael Dante DiMartino (fantasy; 2016)
When The Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (fantasy; 2016


Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire (science fiction/fantasy; 2016)
The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford (historical fantasy; 2016)

 

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands (historical fiction; 2015)
Jinx's Fire by Sage Blackwood (fantasy; 2014; third in trilogy that makes a great gift together; all out in paperback)

Tried and True Rec:

Holes  by Louis Sachar (defies genre placement; 1998)


For Kids Who Enjoy Mystery and Intrigue


A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson (fantasy; 2015)
A Little Taste of Poison by R.J. Anderson (fantasy; 2016)

Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens (historical; 2015)
Poison is Not Polite by Robin Stevens (historical; 2016)


 The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey (fantasy; 2016)
Greenglass House by Kate Milford (fantasy; 2014)


The Magic Thief: Home by Sarah Prineas (fantasy; 2014; fourth in a series that makes a great gift together; all out in paperback)

Tried and True Rec:

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (historical; 1978)

For Kids Who Like Sibling Stories

 The Seventh Wish by Kat Messner (contemporary fantasy/magical realism; 2016)
The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Estrada Kelly (contemporary realistic; 2016)


Two Naomis by by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick
A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder (fantasy; 2015)


Dream on Amber by Emma Shevah (contemporary realistic; 2015)
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (contemporary realistic; 2014)

Tried and True Rec:

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (contemporary realistic; 2005)

For Kids Who Like School Stories

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (contemporary realistic; 2016)
Save me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan (contemporary realistic; 2016)


Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung (science-fiction; 2016)
Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger (science-fiction; 2016)


 Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (contemporary realistic;
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly (contemporary realistic; 2015)


Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (historical; 2015)
All the Answers by Kate Messner (contemporary fantasy/magical realism; 2015)

 

Always Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh (contemporary realistic; 2014)
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (contemporary realistic; 2014)


My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros (contemporary realistic; 2014)

Tried and True Rec:
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (contemporary realistic; 2010)

For Kids Who Like Creepy Books


Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom by David Neilsen (fantasy; 2016)
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (fantasy; 2015)


 Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge (fantasy; 2015)
The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud (fantasy; 2015; 3rd in a series; great to buy in a set)

Tried and True Rec:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (fantasy; 2008)

Remember, feel free to ask me questions or do to a more customized recommendation list for your kid!