The Ballad of a Broken Nose / by Arne Svingen. 10.6.2017

Simon & Schuster ISBN 9781419721304

YA Grades 6-8 Rating: 4

Bart loves boxing and has a ton of friends—at least, that’s what he tells his mother. As a Norwegian middle schooler, Bart has become a compulsive liar to cope with his rough life. When his mother stumbles home from the pub each night, Bart tucks her in and reminds her that they will have a better life soon—not that he believes that. His father left before he was born, his public housing apartment is dirty, and he lets others get bullied so he won’t get hurt.

Bart has a secret: he loves singing opera music. When his cute classmate Ada finds out, she can’t keep her mouth shut. She volunteers Bart as the special closing act in the school talent show. Horrified, Bart doesn’t know how to lie himself out of this one. Stage fright may not be the only thing hindering his big break. When Bart’s mom ends up in the hospital because of her addiction, Bart must decide what is most important: making a new life for himself or pursuing his mother’s dream of a better one.

Arne Svingen excels at exposing a range of socio-economic diversity in this Batchelder Honor Book. Bart can’t afford to eat multiple meals a day, yet Ada lives without basic worries. When they cross into each other’s worlds, the awkward tension tells just how different two friends can live. Despite their differences, Ada chooses to believe in Bart and encourage him to follow his dream in his time of need.

As a first-person narrative with a journal-like style, The Ballad of a Broken Nose is sprinkled with humor and harsh revelations of childhood. Some material in this book may not be appropriate for all middle school audiences. Because Bart is a middle schooler and so close to his own story, some details are washed over (such as his mother’s drunkenness, skipping school, and swear words) and new perspectives are homed in on (such as his drug-using neighbor’s kindness). This book gives two great lessons: never judge a person based on his background and pursue your dreams despite adversity.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Over Maya Dead Body / by Sandra Orchard. (Serena Jones Mysteries, 3) 10.5.2017

Revell ISBN 9780800726706

Adult Rating: 5

Sandra Orchard returns with a final installment in her Serena Jones mystery series, and this is the book her fans have been waiting for!

In Over Maya Dead Body, FBI Special Agent Serena Jones is on Martha’s Vineyard to celebrate the engagement of a family friend. Almost immediately she is embroiled in a murder investigation involving smuggling antiquities. In the meantime, her two beaus–Nate Butler and Tanner Calhoun–arrive to support her, keep an eye on her, and win her heart. Whom will she end up with? Will she uncover more of the truth before someone else is harmed? Orchard keeps the reader guessing on both the romance and murder/smuggling fronts.

Orchard uses a light touch in depicting the FBI, and does an excellent job in her character development. Serena is not looking for romance even though she has not one, but two, eligible bachelors: Nate (her building superintendent who is a kindred spirit) and Tanner (her mentor and former FBI partner). This is a mystery romance with plenty of twists –a delightful twist was asking her readers (after the second book) to vote on which suitor would win Serena’s heart!

Overall, the series has a very light romance and humor on the side. The faith element is light, but the series is a good, clean one with red herrings and suspects to delight any mystery lover.

Recommended for school and public libraries, for older teen and adult readers.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: A Fool and His Monet and Another Day, Another Dali (November 2016).

The Only Road / by Alexandra Diaz. 10.4.2017

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781481457507

YA Grades 5-9 Rating: 4

When you’re a kid, the most you should have to stress over is doing your homework, and the biggest fear should be a zit in the middle of your forehead just before your birthday party. Not so for 12-year-old Jaime and his 15-year-old cousin Angela.

The Alpha Gang has targeted them to become new members–an order, not a choice. The death of Jaime’s cousin and Angela’s brother Miguel remains engraved in their memories, fresh and tangible proof of what will happen to them too if they refuse to join.

Alexandra Diaz’s realistic and tense drama takes us into the heart of Guatemala and the depths of despair as one close-knit family makes the gut-wrenching decision to send the two children away–in order to save their lives.

The money for the “fees” to travel to El Norte, sewn into the waistband of Jaime’s pants, weighs heavily upon him, along with the realization that his family has plunged deeper into debt for his sake. Now their future–and his–depends upon his making it to the United States. Jaime and his cousin dodge rogue border guards and endure hunger, thirst, fear, prejudice and hostility as they travel illegally from Guatemala into Mexico and then, hopefully, into the United States.

In an age of peoples displaced due to wars and catastrophes, and controversy over immigration issues, this title serves as a reminder of the reasons why many leave their countries for the dream and promise of America. The Only Road, a Pura Belpre Honor Book, reminds the reader that sometimes flight is the only option, and that love, at times, demands great sacrifices.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Then There Was You / by Kara Isaac. 10.3.2017

Bellbird Press   ISBN 9780473396534

Adult  Rating: 4

Kara Isaac returns with another contemporary romance, this one about an American and an Australian.

In Then There Was You, Paige McAllister wants to make a big change in her life. She flies to Australia, leaving behind a dead-end job in Chicago, a deadbeat boyfriend, and a music career she gave up after she was severely injured and her brother died. Struggling with the pain of her past (including her experience in a legalistic megachurch), Paige becomes the logistics planner for an Australian megachurch–the type of church she despises. But the job is only for six months, and will look good on her resume.

Josh Tyler is a member of the church’s world-renowned worship band. Neither of them makes a good first impression to the other. Josh, her boss’s son, is determined not to let this American get under his skin. She manages to disrupt his orderly life, and sparks fly! Having experienced heartache and loss, both close themselves off from being vulnerable with others. When they are thrown together to organize the band’s next tour, will they move beyond their preconceived notions and painful past to take a risk with one another?

Isaac pens another novel with endearing but flawed characters. Readers will empathize with Paige and Josh as they push each other’s buttons. The faith element is present but not overbearing. Then There Was You gives the reader a peek inside the inner workings of a megachurch. Isaac’s novels are lighthearted romances that will have the reader chuckling over the interactions of the main characters, as well as experiencing a range of emotions.

Recommended for adult collections in public libraries and school libraries; it is a clean read for adults.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

A Matter of Trust / by Susan May Warren. (Montana Rescue, 3) 10.2.2017

Revell ISBN 9780800727451

Adult Rating: 5

Susan May Warren returns with another adrenalin-packed adventure/contemporary romance in her Montana Rescue series, featuring rescue professionals living in a close-knit community.

In A Matter of Trust, Gage Watson, former snowboarder champion and now a member of the PEAK Rescue team, finds himself struggling to face both his past and his future. Senator Ella Blair, former attorney whose firm handled Gabe’s negligence lawsuit after the death of a snowboarder fan that eventually cost Gabe his sponsorships, follows her brother to Montana.

Ella begs his help in rescuing her brother from one of Glacier National Park’s most dangerous peaks. Gage is reluctant to search for her brother when he goes missing because Gage believes Ella betrayed him and destroyed his life. When Ella insists on joining him in the search, Gabe vows to keep her safe, even when the weather turns against them. As they work together to find her reckless brother and his friend, old feelings resurface and emotions run high. What will happen when Ella’s secret is revealed? Will the fragile trust Gage and Ella are rebuilding be strong enough?

Warren excels at creating flawed characters the reader cares about, as well as building a suspenseful adventure. Characters from earlier stories make reappearances, and their stories continue to move along. Warren draws vivid word pictures in her stories, with a faith element that is present but not preachy. Readers will be engaged from the first page until the last.

Recommended for public libraries and church libraries. The next book in the series, Troubled Waters, is due in January 2018.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJWild Montana Skies (Oct/Nov/Dec 2016), and Rescue Me (January/February/March 2017)

Giant Squid / by Candace Fleming; illustrated by Eric Rohmann. 9.29.2017

Roaring Brook Press ISBN 9786435995

PRI Grades 1-5 Rating: 5

A 2017 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, Giant Squid is a picture book that will be enjoyed by readers of many ages. The text, although not rhyming, is written in a poetic manner and is both entertaining and informative. The illustrations of this elusive creature, mostly dark and mysterious, take readers right into the deep. No one had actually seen a live giant squid until 2012 so the information from this wonderful book is the latest and most up to date.

As with all good picture books covering a non-fiction subjects, Giant Squid includes a page of very informative facts along with a bibliography, sites on the internet for research, and a short list of other books about the giant squid.

Candace Fleming’s Giant Squid is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children, and Their Holy Dog / by Adam Gidwitz and Illustrated by Hatem Aly. 9.28.2017

Dutton Children’s Books ISBN 9780525426165

YA Grades 4-8 Rating: 4

The Inquisitor’s Tale centers around three children: Jeanne, William, and Jacob. These adventurers have been joined by circumstances and forged together by resolve. Along with a dog named Gwenforte, they are on a mission to stop the King of France. The time is the 13th century, and superstition and suspicion are rife. During their adventure, the children find that purported enemies are friends and some posing as friends are truly enemies. There are intrigue, excitement, danger, a good story, and a few twists and turns along the way. The children also find that not exactly fitting in may not be the worst thing in the world–and that being different is what helps you stand out and make a difference.

Adam Gidwitz has written a tale with several likable characters. His research into the 13th century aids in placing this fictional story into its presumed historical context. There is a section in the back that shows the source of his inspiration for some of the characters in the story. The illustrations by Hatem Aly aid the reader in visualizing what is occurring in the story. The story teaches while remaining a story. This is both its great achievement and also its danger.

The book touches upon the issue of Christian-Jewish relations in the medieval period. This can be seen in the attempt in the book by the authorities to burn copies of the Jewish Talmud. It can also be observed in some of the statements by characters and the author about whom God will save. The reader will likely be thinking through their response to issues that occur in the story much as the characters do. Overall, this book was enjoyable and recommended for those who like adventure with a solid dash of history.

Michael Wilhelm, CLJ

Billy Graham: America’s Pastor / by Janet & Geoff Benge.  (Heroes of History) 9.27.2017

Emerald Books ISBN 9781624860249

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

Part of the Heroes of History series, this biography for young people about evangelist Billy Graham is excellent. Beginning with his childhood as a 12-year-old still known to family and friends as Billy Frank, the authors take the readers through Billy’s life at home, in church and school, and then as a famous preacher of the Gospel. He was a small-town North Carolina boy who traveled the world and made friends with almost every famous person of the 20th century. He preached the message of salvation to over 200 million people in 185 countries, never agreeing to preach to a segregated crowd–a stance which had much to do with changes in civil rights in the United Sates as well as other countries of the world, such as South Africa.

The book also tells of Billy’s marriage to Ruth Bell, a missionary daughter who grew up in China, and their ensuing large family. At Ruth’s funeral in 2007, Billy assumed it would not be long before he joined his beloved wife in heaven. But at the writing of this review, Billy Graham is alive at 98 years of age.

The life story of Billy Graham, America’s foremost evangelist and also named as s National Treasure, is interesting but so much more than that. How God can use a person dedicated to Him is inspiring and encouraging to readers.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

The Girl Who Drank the Moon / by Kelly Barnhill. 9.26.2017

Workman Publishing ISBN 9781616205676

YA Grades 6-8 Rating: 5

The Forest is cursed—that’s what the citizens of the Protectorate think. Once a year, the parents of the youngest baby in the village are asked to give up their child to keep the city safe. And they always have, until the “madwoman.” As the first to fight the tradition, she is locked away in the Tower.

The Elders leave the madwoman’s daughter in the Forest. Just like with every child before, forest witch Xan saves the baby and begins traveling across the Forest to give the child a new home. But the madwoman’s child is different from the others. Distracted by the girl’s unusual beauty, Xan accidentally feeds the child moonlight, enmagicking her.

Though in Xan’s care, Luna doesn’t understand how her magic affects the world. She even turns a swamp monster into a rabbit! Xan, at a loss for how to control the Luna’s magic, decides to lock the new magic away until Luna’s 13th birthday. But there are greater dangers lurking in the Forest than an enmagicked girl. With Xan’s forgotten past and an unforeseeable future, could she have made a huge mistake?

Dive into a world of magic and madness with the 2017 Newbery Medal-winning book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon. The novel tangles multiple third-person perspectives together—Xan’s, Luna’s, the madwoman’s, and more—to show that things are not always as they seem. The smooth transitions between the perspectives are impressive, leaving no gaps in the story and leaving readers on edge about what will happen next.

While this novel uses some dark themes, such as kidnapping, madness, and death, Kelly Barnhill does a wonderful job showing the seriousness in a child-friendly manner. For example, the madwoman is locked alone in the Tower, but she can create paper birds that can fly and inflict injury. Bizarre descriptions, sing-song narration, and playful repetition make this a fun, can’t-put-down read for middle schoolers to young adults.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Annabel Lee / by Mike Nappa. (Coffey & Hill, 1) 9.25.2017

Revell ISBN 9780800726447

Adult Rating: 4

Eleven-year-old Annabel is being kept safe in a bunker, filled with canned foods and protected by a guard dog with the ability to be most vicious but also be a friend to the girl. Uncle Truck (or Leonard Truckson as he is known to others) put her there for safekeeping with the admonition: don’t open the door for anyone unless they have the secret phrase, not even me. And readers don’t have any idea why. Trudi Coffey and Samuel Hill, divorced detective partners, are searching for Annabel, as are Mute, a trained mercenary, and a host of other players, including the elusive Dr. Smith. Are these friends or foes?

The book’s narrative alternates between Anna and the dog in their forced incarceration and those that are looking for them. It is only at the conclusion of the book that the reader discovers the nefarious reason some are searching for the girl.

Annabel Lee is not a cozy mystery. The book contains a large amount of violence, though not simply for the sake of violence. The story is rather convoluted to begin with until the reader gets the rhythm of it. Most questions are left unanswered until the very end. While there are a few references to Christianity , it is predominantly a tale of mystery, subterfuge and love for a young girl who must be protected from the evil intents on her life at all costs.

Ceil Carey, CLJ