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Welcome to the book blog, featuring reviews for teens from InfoSoup librarians and users!

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Author: Steve Sheinkin

This is a true story from WWII that has been overlooked in textbooks and in the mainstream civil rights history.  Segregation in the military was common.  Port Chicago was a naval base in California where munitions ships were loaded by all black crews.  Following a huge explosion that killed hundreds of sailors, fifty black sailors refused to go back to loading bombs on ships.  They were tried and convicted of mutiny.  This is their story..... told by Steven Sheinkin in a manner that is easy to read and understand, yet complete with all the primary sources necessary to make this a history textbook in its own right.

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Author: Jerry Spinelli

I listened to this book on Playaway, fun, fun.

The title comes from a change to the Robert Frost line "Miles to go before I sleep", being "Smiles to go before I weep".

Jerry Spinelli never fails to tell a good story. Will Tuppence is the protagonist in this book. He has two close friends, Mi-Su and B.T. but things get awkward when both B.T. and Will are interested in having Mi-Su as a girlfriend. The other tension in the book is Will's little sister Tabby who is so darn annoying to him. Will is interested in the cosmos and atoms and science. He also likes chess. Ultimately,he is a typical teenager trying to figure it all out. This is a good "slice of life" book.

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Author: Andreas Portes

Anika is a young girl trying to make sense of the world. Her father lives in Romania and she lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her mother, stepdad and assorted siblings. Anika is the youngest.

Anika is trying to figure out the interrelationships at work and when to be courageous. She is trying to figure out interrelationships at school and when to be courageous. She is trying to figure out interrelationships at home and when to be courageous.

Two boys are vying for Anika's attention. One is named Logan who is a deeply poetic and artistic person. Unfortunately, his home life is violent. Logan is not considered a "cool" kid so Anika is very secretive about her relationship with him. Jared is a very cool kid and when he singles Anika out, it is astonishing to everyone. He respects Anika's independence but what is his real motive with her? Anika is trying to choose but her choice is made for her in an unexpected and sad way. The book is great in the way the plot takes off.

Becky is everyone's cruel nemesis and a strong bully at school. She is also deemed one of the "cool kids" so everyone feels uncomfortable crossing her. In the fabulous climax of the book, Anika finally tells Becky what everyone has been thinking. Much like when the witch in The Wizard of Oz has cold water thrown on her, Becky finally fades to nothing when the truth is told.

Written in first person, you see all through Anika's eyes. I really liked her relationship with her mom. She also has a lovely scene toward the end of the book with her stepdad.

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Title: Noggin
Author: John Corey Whaley

Sixteen-year old Travis Coates decided that he did not want to suffer through his losing battle with cancer. He, instead, accepts an offer to cryogenically freeze his head—the only part of him not riddled with cancer. When the time was right (you know how science can be) and a donor body had been found, Travis would be brought back. What Travis did not realize was that his time would come  to be brought back a mere five years later. After waking from his head transplant, Travis soon finds that life moved on without him; his parents got rid of all his stuff, his girlfriend is now engaged, and his best friend is in college…and living a lie. Travis must return to the school he left behind and relive his sixteenth year, only with a healthy body. He makes some new friends, rekindles his old friendships and tries to win back the affections of the love of his young life—all with a little comedic flare and a few touching moments.

My Reaction:

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I think the idea behind the plot is really unique—Hello!? Head transplant!—but, far-fetched. The characters were developed well and story as a whole had nice flow. It is told by Travis after he wakes and shifts between his recent experiences and memories of before the procedure. It think structuring the story this way helped to add some authenticity to such an “out-there-in-left-field” story. With that said, there were some inconsistencies that really made it difficult for me to love this book (which is rare, because I generally love just about everything I read, as you may have noted from my GoodReads ratings).

First, a number of characters make some mention of Travis’ time as a severed head, cryogenically frozen…and there are a number of times when he/someone mentions not having been dead during that time, or not having been ‘brought back from the dead’ because he wasn’t dead in the first place. WHAT!? If your head was severed…you were dead. Period. End of story.

Second, I get that Travis is sixteen—even after he was brought back—because he never lived through his sixteenth year and he was frozen at that age, but why was he sent back to high school?  That was really what his parents thought would be best for him? There wasn’t a GED program or online high school that he could have attended? His birthdate obviously proves—which he does use at one point to get into a karaoke bar—that he is technically (physically?) not sixteen, so strongly suspect that no school would accept him back at 21 years old.

Besides those few plot issues, I thought the story was fun, engaging, and I did enjoy reading it for the sake of staying current in my collection. Recommended for grades 9-12.

Themes: cancer, coming of age, contemporary, cryogenics, death, drama, fantasy, sci fi fiction, first love, friendship, grief, humor, Kansas City, leukemia, LGBTQ, mad scientist, male protagonist, organ transplants, relationships, science fiction, teen, YA, young adult

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Author: Candace Fleming

Nicholas II, last Tsar of Russia, his family, their servants and their physician were imprisoned at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg (or, Yekaterinburg) during the upheaval of the Russian Revolution and brutally murdered in a cellar in the wee hours of the morning on July 17, 1918.

For three hundred years, the Romanov Dynasty reigned over Russia, yet Nicholas never wanted to be Tsar. He was shy and less commanding than his father, Alexander III. Because of his great love for Russia, he took his place as Tsar after his father’s death, with Alexandra at his side.

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Author: Francis Mayes

When the author and her husband buy and restore a house in Italy, they begin to make this second home into their sanctuary. Although the experience frustrations and delays with their rennovations, the property soon becomes a haven for them. Mayes' descriptions of the easy pace of life in Italy, the food, and the landscape will make the reader want to book a flight to Tuscany. 

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Author: Aline Sax

This is a sobering story of WWII Warsaw. Misha’s family has been relocated to the ghetto where Jews die daily from starvation and disease. He goes to extreme lengths to help provide for his family, even resorting to crawling through the sewers to get to the outside world to retrieve food. Eventually, the ghetto is emptied out as many Jews are relocated to concentration camps. Fear and anger are prominent emotions for Misha—and despite struggling to survive--he takes a stand in the Warsaw Uprising. Told through text and blue-and-white illustrations, this hybrid novel is a gut-wrenching, poignant tale of survival amidst oppression.

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Author: Laura Schaefer

  This book was wonderful. I mean if you like tea and friendship, because that's pretty much what this book is all about. You have Annie, who's only thirteen, but has decided to finally ask for a job at her grandmother's teashop, The Steeping Leaf, a place that she has always loved. The only thing is that The Steeping Leaf has a steeping pile of bills to pay and no money in which to pay them with. Annie takes it upon herself to keep The Steeping Leaf open along with her two friends, Genna and Zoe, they come up with some great plans, but in the end can the Teashop Girls keep the shop from closing? Read the book to find out. 

  One of my most favorite things about this book is that it has history and facts mixed into it, as well as beauty tips and yummy sounding recipes, almost all of which are relating to tea. I also love that the book focuses not only on tea, but also on how important friendship can be. Annie and her two bestfriends really make you want to just drop what you're doing at 4'o'clock in the afternoon and have teatime with a couple of cucumber sandwiches and some tasty tea. Another thing that really made me happy is that Laura Schaefer is a Wisconsin author, which I didn't even know when I picked up the book at the library. She lives right in Madison and loves English Breakfast tea just like her character Annie.. All in all, I gave this book 5/5 stars, because, in my opinion, it was perfectly balanced; just the right amount of fun and seriousness.