Book review: Almost Paradise, by Corabel Shofner

Shofner, Corabel. Almost Paradise. FSG, 2017. $16.99. 296p. ISBN 978-0-374-30378-5. Ages 9-13. P8Q9

In a rich Southern voice, 12-year-old Ruby Clyde tells about her failed attempt to care for her mother after her father’s death and wakes up in the backseat of a car to find that her mother’s boyfriend has tried to rob a convenience store. They have already “rescued” (aka stolen) a pig from its abusive life at a small circus, and Ruby grabs “Bunny” the pig while the police pick up her mother and boyfriend. Ruby’s only shelter is with her mother’s twin sister, Eleanor, who Ruby had not heard of until just before her escape from the car. The characters are unforgettable—the no-account boyfriend, the hapless mother, and the no-nonsense Episcopalian nun aunt–and the relationships ring true despite the far-fetched plot.

Verdict: Great twists in the plot, quirky characters, and poignant humor along with the strong narrative style make this debut novel stand out.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Wormwood Mire, by Judith Rossell

Rossell, Judith. Wormwood Mire. Atheneum, 2016. $16.99. 281p. ISBN 978-1-4814-4370-8. Ages 9-13. P8Q8

The nasty aunts—Deliverance, Temperance, and Condolence—have banished 11-year-old Stella after her kidnapping in Withering-by-Sea to a dilapidated family home far away to learn obedience. Much to Stella’s surprise, she finds that she likes her cousins for their interest in science and animals, and the governess is kind to Stella. The mystery in this sequel comes from Stella’s determination to find the secret of her past, especially after she finds a photo that she believes to be of her mother and two infants. The setting appears to the English countryside during the Victorian era, and the plot follows one of a youthful protagonist finding her own answers with no help from parents or other adults.

Verdict: A fun read for young readers who enjoy a blend of history and mystery that shows well-developed characterization and a fast-moving plot.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Stone Heart, by Faith Erin Hicks

Hicks, Faith Erin. The Stone Heart. (The Nameless City Trilogy, #2). First Second, 2017. $14.99. 246p. ISBN 978-1-62672-158-6. Ages 12-15. P9Q9

In the second book in the trilogy that began with The Nameless City, a Dao, Kaidu, and city native Rat, find more danger after stopping an assassination attempt on the General of All Blades as he joins Kai’s father to allow all the city’s residents a part in its government. Erzi, the General’s son, is determined to stop the unification plan because he believes that dictatorship is his birthright and seeks a weapon secreted by monks who are hiding Rat, Kai, and his wounded father.

Verdict: Hicks provides a more in-depth look at the characters from her earlier book and an accelerating adventure between those determined to maintain fascist control and those who fighting for democracy. Like the first comic in the trilogy, Stone Heart has a strong plot, dynamic characters, and a feel of China in the artwork.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Courage Test, by James Preller

Preller, James. The Courage Test. Feiwell and Friends, 2016. 212 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-250-09391-2. Gr. 4+. P7 Q8

William Meriweather Miller, what a name–all due to his professor father who loves anything to do with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. William has plans for the summer, playing on the all-star baseball team. His mother and father are divorcing and his mother wants him to spend time with his dad. William, does not want to go on a road trip that follows the Lewis and Clark Trail, he wants to play baseball. Loaded with his essentials, phone, computer and his  iPod they start out. William is on a journey of growing up and coming to terms with himself, his father and a family crisis.

Verdict: This book would be a great read aloud to students who are studying the Lewis and Clark Trail.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of the Missing Goop, by N. Griffin, illustrated by Kate Hindley

Griffin, N. Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of the Missing Goop. (Smashie McPerter series, #2) Illustrated by Kate Hindley. Candlewick Press, 2016. $15.99. ISBN 9780763685355. 297 pages. Age 7-10. P6 Q7

Smashie and her best friend Dontel find out that their class is going to perform in a talent show. Smashie wants to sing, but since she does not sing well, her teacher does not want her to. In the process of creating the talent show, a jar of hair goop disappears. Smashie and Dontel decide to solve the mystery of where the hair goop went. The book takes many twists and turns. By the end of the book, Smashie and Dontel solve the mystery and the talent show is a success. The cover to the book is colorful and intriguing, which made me want to read the book. The book has black and white line drawings. The book also includes codes which are fun for readers to figure out.

Verdict: The story moved slowly, so I had a hard time staying interested in the book until the last third when the mystery was being solved. I liked the play on words, with Herr and hair. Even though it moves slowly, it would still be a good book for an elementary school library.

December 2016 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Friday Barnes Under Suspicion, by R.A. Spratt, illustrated by Phil Gosier

Spratt, R.A. Friday Barnes Under Suspicion. Illustrated by Phil Gosier. (Friday Barnes series, #2) Roaring Brook Press, 2016. $13.99. ISBN 9781626722996. 279 pages. Ages 8-12. P8 Q8

This book is the second in the series Friday Barnes. Friday is an eleven-year-old girl who attends a private school. The mystery starts out with her being arrested because she is thought to be a terrorist. While at the police station, she meets a man, Malcolm, who has also been arrested. Friday is determined to prove Malcolm’s innocence. In the process of proving Malcolm’s innocence, Friday solves several mysteries. This book was first published in Australia in 2014. It has whimsical line drawings in black and white.

Verdict: The mystery is interesting and has some unexpected twists. I found the book engaging and interesting. The idea of an eleven-year-old being arrested was far-fetched, but the rest of the book was good. The author added facts about birds and other real facts into the book. I recommend this book for elementary and middle school libraries. It made me interested in reading other books in this series.

December 2016 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Pod vs. Pod, by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

Holm, Jennifer L. & Matthew Holm. Pod vs. Pod. (Squish series, #8) Random House, 2016. $6.99. 96p. ISBN 9780307983091. Ages 7-10. P9Q9

holm-pod-vs-podIn the eighth book of the series, amoeba Squish’s best friend goes from pure joy to misery—it’s mitosis, the process that splits single-celled organisms. The book about the blobby creature includes instructions for drawing. For lovers of Babymouse and as always with this series, both fun and educational.

Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.