Liar & Spy won’t be on my top 5 list.

Liar & SpyLiar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead has been on most short lists for favorite books of 2012. It was one of the top 5 on the “Nerdies” Awards so it went to the top of my pile. Many of my students loved her first book, When You Reach Me.
Liar and Spy was chock full of middle school angst. Stead dealt with making new friends, school bullying, denying our fears and phobias. I applaud her tackling all these issues, but I honestly think I have other favorites that deal with these ideas better. Specifically, another one of the top 5 for 2012, Wonder by R.J. Palaccio, I felt was a superior book.
Admittedly, Liar & Spy is probably better for earlier readers than Wonder, I still prefer Wonder. I think it was the new friend (Safer) the protagonist ( Georges) meets that left me cold. He was the in fact the liar and spy and I had a hard time forgiving him as easily as the Georges did. I know that much of the story was about all the characters having secrets/lies I didn’t have time at the end of the book to get done being angry with Safer.

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Are sequels ever as good as the original?

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I couldn’t wait for this 3rd installment in the Graceling series to hit the shelves. I loved Graceling and enjoyed Fire slightly less but enough. So it is with disappointment that I must say I struggled to get through this book. It returned to the same kingdom and characters of the first book so I had high hopes. I know it has been a considerable lapse of time since I read Graceling and Fire was completely different characters (a companion novel not a sequel). So it makes sense that I had difficulty reconnecting with the characters. But it was more than that. There were just too many characters to keep straight or relate to.
I loved the premise of this series, that there are characters with a Grace, or special gifted skill. But I thought the Graces in this book were forced and irrelevant.
The book was about 100 confusing pages too long. The love story was unsatisfying and the whole thing was a let down. Bummer

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Non-Fiction Picture Books

Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and WhyBird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why by Lita Judge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a lovely book about the various ways birds communicate. The illustrations were fun and beautiful. They invited the reader to linger and explore. There was obvious research and detailed facts that went into this book, but it presented them in a light and entertaining style. The author skillfully captures the attention of both the child and adult reader in this delightful book. So much so, that I plan to give it as a Holiday gift for a couple of my adult “bird” friends. I mean humans who love and care for real bird friends. 🙂

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Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia EarleLife in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have had this book on my TBR list for a while and yesterday it jumped off the New Children’s Non-Fiction browsing shelf into my book bag. My family and I have become avid Scuba divers over the last 10 years and this book communicates many of my feelings about underwater. The illustrations are captivating and the story has me searching for some “grown-up” books about Sylvia Earle. There is something about the weightlessness and beauty underwater that is addicting. It has changed our lives and perspectives about caring for our oceans and its vast life forms. To see this pristine world is to love it!

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Crow by Barbara Wright

CrowCrow by Barbara Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another middle grade book that is showing up on all the “Best of 2012” lists. I want to be a somewhat knowledgeable voter on the Nerdy Book Club so I am grabbing these titles whenever I see them at my library. This novel is a historical fiction set in Wilmington, NC at the turn of the 19th century. It was a different time period than many of the civil rights novels this year. It seemed to drag initially, a lot of setup of characters and setting. I eventually appreciated that setup when the action started in earnest. It seems that Wilmington was really rather progressive in Negro voting rights and political integration for that time right after the Civil War. This story was about a young boy watching his father, a Negro elected official, stand his ground against the White Supremists. This was a battle they all eventually lost which sadly led to much of the oppressive racial conditions that persisted in the South long into the 20th century.
I did enjoy this book. The voice of the young boy truly allows the reader to feel the struggle of becoming a young man and developing the principles that one wants to live with. The title, Crow, would lead into several extended studies with students, such as the use of the word as a derision, the onslaught of the Jim CROW laws, and the use of actual crows by the author as symbols of foreboding.

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Here come the Zombies!

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #1)The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well this was my first and hopefully last Zombie Apocalypse novel. I have seen this book reviewed over and over and keep putting it to the bottom of my TBR list because I knew it would be zombies. I enjoy dystopias but don’t really get the zombie phenomenon. My 24 year old son informs me that a “good” zombie story is about how the characters interact and react because of the imminent danger of the zombie infection. The story apparently is not really about zombies per se but about the battle against evil in general. This was a surprisingly deep discussion from my “non-reader” son concerning what I consider to be a ridiculous plot vehicle. Go figure.
So that being said, I had to reconsider my initial reaction to this book. I don’t think I will change my star rating, but I will admit that the story had some interesting character development and relationships. For the female YA audience, there was the ubiquitous love triangle. There were some powerful chapters of longing and loneliness. I think the writing was better than the Twilight series but not significantly. Even though the author left us totally hanging at the end of this book, I will not rush out for the next installment.

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