LOVE & OTHER TRAIN WRECKS
Written by Leah Konen
(Katherine Tegen Books; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)
★Starred Review – Kirkus, School Library Journal
This twenty-four-hour whirlwind journey in Love & Other Train Wrecks begins with Amarantha “Ammy” West and Noah Adler seated in the same Amtrak car. Their first impressions of one another are stiff and uncomfortable. Noah, eighteen, travels, pink roses in hand, to surprise his ex-girlfriend with fancy dinner reservations and a heartfelt poem. An optimistic, good-looking guy, he attempts to engage Ammy in conversation, but she bristles against his easy-going personality.
Seventeen-year-old Ammy is escaping from the mess her life has become since her father left and her mother plunged into anger and anxiety attacks. Though Ammy’s trying to be supportive of her mother, she seems to hit it off with her new stepsister Kat. Attending her father’s commitment ceremony (before the divorce is even final) tests Ammy’s allegiance to Team Mom. Ammy surely doesn’t want to share any of her personal drama with an annoyingly friendly stranger like Noah.
When the Amtrak train stops due to mechanical error, Noah and Ammy, determined to reach their respective destinations on time, disembark into a snowstorm. GPS makes a bus station seem an easy walk, but, instead, the frozen trek filled with mishaps turns into an adventure of a lifetime.
All the while, Ammy and Noah contemplate their places in the world including what it means to make your own decisions and then face those consequences. Konen’s choice to write alternating viewpoint chapters works well to show what each character shares or conceals. The chapters are also fast-paced and consistently satisfying. As the attraction between the main characters builds, Ammy struggles to come to terms with how romantic relationships can hurt friends and family and how to handle those conflicts of interest. Falling (and staying) in love, while wonderful, isn’t necessarily easy.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
THREE CHILDREN’S BOOKS
FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY
Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by James E. Ransome
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
This picture book is a beautiful tribute to the profound impact Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made in his lifetime by espousing a non-violent approach to ending oppressive segregation and other inequalities Black Americans lived with in the Jim Crow era South. The book alternates between spreads of Martin Luther King’s life and a current classroom pursuing inclusive activities.
Ransome’s evocative illustrations coupled with Weatherford’s impactful and poetic prose, provide readers with an accessible way into King’s dream of peace, community and equality for all. Pivotal moments in King’s life are depicted along with how key aspects of his philosophy can be incorporated into the classroom as a microcosm of life itself. “You can be a king. Break the chains of ignorance. Learn as much as you can.” When read individually, each stanza can serve as a conversation starter both at school or at home. The author’s note in the back matter is geared for older readers or a teacher sharing the book with youngsters.
Martin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior
Written by Ed Clayton (with a new forward by Xernona Clayton)
Illustrated by Donald Bermudez
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)
This newly updated edition of Martin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior, is the first authorized middle grade biography of the Nobel Prize winning civil rights leader whose non-violent campaign for equal rights inspired a nationwide movement that led to the passing of Civil Rights Act of 1964. Originally published in 1965, Ed Clayton’s biography of King remains an insightful and relevant read today. Clayton, an editor, author and reporter was an associate of Dr. King’s at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In fact, King’s commitment to civil rights and his humanity were what convinced Ed and Xernona to come onboard to help with PR, speech writing, assisting Coretta Scott King and other crucial and invaluable tasks needed to forward their cause. Fourteen easy-to-read chapters take readers from King’s early school days and his first experiences with racism, on through his time at Morehouse College, learning about Civil Disobedience, attending Crozer Theological Seminary, getting a doctorate and meeting his future wife, Coretta. The years of 1955-1968 are by far his most famous one when his “big words” and oratorial skill played a huge role in creating some of history’s greatest speeches. The biography smoothly moves onto King’s accepting the pastorate of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, to the Montgomery bus boycott, bombings and threats of violence, King’s rise to world renowned status, the March on Washington, winning the Nobel Peace Prize and ultimately his assassination in 1968. New artwork by Donald Bermudez complements each chapter. My favorite illustrations are the ones featuring Rosa Parks being fingerprinted and also the March on Washington. An Afterward addresses the holiday created in King’s honor, the music and lyrics to “We Shall Overcome” and a bibliography for further study. This 114 page engaging read is highly recommended for any child interested in learning more about Dr. King and his lifelong commitment to equal rights
Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin
Written by James L. Swanson
(Scholastic Press; $19.99, Ages 12-18)
If it weren’t for my librarian friend, (thanks Deborah T.), I would never have heard about Chasing King’s Killer. This fantastic new young adult nonfiction novel with its fast-paced, fact-filled narrative simply wasn’t on my radar. I sat down and read it in one sitting because I couldn’t tear myself away. At times I was so engrossed that I forgot to highlight pages with snippets I wanted to share in my review. Gripping and enthralling, Swanson’s book is about the worlds of prison escapee, James Earl Ray, and MLK colliding and culminating in King’s tragic assassination. I had no idea about Ray’s troubled background, and despite years of reading picture books about King, I’ll admit I didn’t have anywhere near the full picture of this great leader’s life and the struggles he faced head on with a multitude of people both in the Black community and outside of it. There were many who didn’t agree with either his non-violent philosophy of tackling civil rights or his combining it with his anti-Vietnam War stance. The way Swanson sets up the reader for how the two men end up in Memphis on April 4, 1968 is top-notch, much like what I admire in the adult novelist Erik Larson’s books. The timeline of action takes us year by year through both men’s lives and what other events were happening concurrently to influence both individuals. Meticulously researched, Chasing King’s Killer doesn’t miss a beat and in addition to be an enlightening read, it’s a powerful and timely one too. Over 80 photographs, captions, bibliography, various source notes, and index included making an educational way to stay in the moment if you feel, as I did, that you don’t want the book to end.
BEST HALLOWEEN BOOKS FOR KIDS 2015
A Round Up of Wickedly Wonderful Halloween Books for Boos & Ghouls
BOOKS, THE BEST TREAT OF ALL!!
Fancy Nancy Candy Bonanza
Based on the creation of Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (Harper Festival; $4.99, Ages 4-8)
Fancy Nancy fans and those newly acquainted avec la petite fille adorable, will be in for a treat with this newest addition to the beloved series. Dressed up as, no surprise, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Fancy Nancy’s going trick-or-treating but must not overdo it as her mom has requested. How much candy will go in her pail versus in her mouth is the big question because everything Fancy Nancy gets looks scrumptious?! Stickers are a bonus to keep or give out to friends this Halloween.
It’s Raining Bats & Frogs
Written by Rebecca Colby and illustrated by Steven Henry (Feiwel & Friends; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
This unique story idea and imaginative artwork will have your kids rethinking rain just like the little witch Delia does in It’s Raining Bats & Frogs. As the title hints, the problem is each time Delia casts a spell and changes the rain into something else to make the Witch Parade less boring, like cats & dogs, hats & clogs or bats & frogs, pandemonium ensues! Maybe some water isn’t so bad after all when you consider (or actually experience) the alternatives!
Happy Halloween, Witch’s Cat!
Written and illustrated by Harriet Muncaster (Harper Collins Children’s Books; $15.99, Ages 4-8)
This new picture book is visually delightful. You may even find yourself wanting to try recreating a scene as a craft project with your child or making up your own scene. Muncaster has created the artwork for Happy Halloween, Witch’s Cat incorporating “… handcrafted miniature three-dimensional scenes using paper, foil, fabric, and other materials.” She then adds lighting, takes photos and voilà, a unique and exciting spread is created. The book’s as much a story about mommy and daughter together time as it a Halloween tale. “My mom is a witch, and I am her special witch’s cat.” Together the two go in search of the perfect costume for the young girl although nothing is just right. And, after all the hunting, in the end, a simple switcheroo turns out to be the best idea yet! Mom can be the witch’s cat and the daughter can be the witch. Problem solved in a most magical way.
I Want to Eat Your Books
Written by Karin LeFranc and illustrated by Tyler Parker (Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 3-6)
I can never read enough books about libraries, bookstores and books themselves and LeFranc’s debut, I Want to Eat Your Books, satisfied that desire with a story not too scary for little ones, yet cute and humorous enough to keep ’em wanting to hear more. This read aloud rhyming picture book introduces a book chomping, bulgy-eyed, zombie boy whose goal is to devour all the library books at school! “The creature marches down the aisle and stops at Sci-Fi with a smile. Such crispy pages strewn with words. Our creature’s craving seconds – thirds!” But a clever student manages to turn the zombie’s hunger to eat books into one eager to hear them read aloud instead. Once instilled with an appreciation of the written word, it’s the zombie who saves the school from a mummy on the loose who easily gets wrapped up in a great story shared by zombie boy.
Rise of the Zombie Rabbit: Undead Pets #5
Written by Sam Hay and illustrated by Simon Cooper (Grosset & Dunlap; $5.99, Ages 6-8)
How did I not read numbers 1-4 of this hit series before picking up the latest? Ideal for reluctant readers and those looking for a quick, fun read, Rise of the Zombie Rabbit, kept me thoroughly entertained. It’s light on unsettling frights making it fine for nighttime reading. Main character, Joe, frequently gets visited by Undead Pets and this time it’s Fluffy rabbit who steals the show when she suddenly appears in a magic trick at Joe’s sixth-grade talent contest. This zombie bunny, however, won’t go away and leave Joe in peace until she gets Joe to help her find her owner’s lost necklace. Well actually the necklace had been borrowed which is the reason for the urgency in tracking it down. But how is Joe supposed to find it when the lawn it may be lost on belongs to Mr. Steel, Joe’s new neighbor who also happens to be a police officer?
Bella Donna: Coven Road
Written by Ruth Symes and illustrated by Marion Lindsay (Sky Pony Press; $7.99, Ages 7-10)
What’s Halloween without some witches? Bella Donna and Sam are orphans living at Templeton Children’s Home. Bella Donna has wanted to be a witch since she can remember. Sam’s into all things creepy, crawly and wants a family that won’t mind his passion for worms and bugs. However both kids are told to keep these interests private. Then Lilith visits the orphanage and it’s clear she’s looking to adopt a child with Bella Donna’s “unique special skills.” Does she know the little girl’s actually a witch? Could Bella Donna be the perfect girl Lilith would want to keep after the trial month? It’s only when Bella Donna comes home early from school that she discovers Coven Road, with its thirteen houses, has changed drastically, and it could only mean one thing. The road, like its residents, is magical, and just the right place for a witchling (a young witch in training) like Bella Donna. This paperback has ten chapters all featuring black and white illustrations (my fave is the one of Coven Road) and is a quick read. It’s the first in a new series, and is sure to attract the interest of kids tweens into witchy adventures. Check out the book’s website at BellaDonnaOnline.co.uk to find out more about Bella Donna, her friends and the next book in the series, Too Many Spells.
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys
Stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke (Dial; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)
Caution: do not read at bedtime or while home alone. Then again, for those of us who thrive on thrillers, go ahead, read it in the dark, play some foreboding organ music, and prepare to be unnerved by this fabulous collection of short stories certain to keep you coming back for more. This “powerhouse anthology featuring some of the best thriller and horror writers around” includes stories from Marie Lu, Carrie Ryan, Leigh Bardugo and Jonathan Maberry. The fourteen tales offer something eerie or supernatural for everyone, not only for Halloween, but year ’round if you prefer to be scared silly in spring or summer instead. Creaking floorboards, blood, chicken bones, lightning and pelting rain, they’re all here to unsettle us and they do so exquisitely. Finish a story and find the source of its inspiration at the end, upside-down. You’ll find influences as varied as Stephen King’s Carrie to Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and will be impressed by the talent that’s been brought together to totally creep you out. Enjoy!
Other Books You Should Definitely Read at Halloween:
The Runaway Pumpkin: A Halloween Adventure Story
Written by Anne Margaret Lewis and illustrated by Aaron Zenz
(Sky Pony Press; $15.99, Ages 3-6)
Written and illustrated by Alexandra Day
(Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux; $14.99, Ages 3-7)
Written and illustrated by Rob Scotton
(Harper Collins Children’s Books; $9.99, Ages 4-8)
Otter Loves Halloween!
Written and illustrated by Sam Garton
(Balzer + Bray; $9.99, Ages 4-8)
Seen and Not Heard
Written and illustrated by Katie May Green
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 5-8)
Mr. Pants: Trick or Feet!
Written by Scott McCormick and illustrated by R.H. Lazzell
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $12.99, Ages 5-8)
Scream Street: Flame of the Dragon
Written by Tommy Donbavand
(Candlewick Press: $5.99, Ages 8-12)
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
by Candace Fleming is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.
⭐︎Starred Reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and The Horn Book
I spent several evenings during my recent vacation immersed in the late 1800s and early 1900s thanks to the riveting writing of Candace Fleming. Her latest historical nonfiction young adult novel reminded me of why I devour these types of books. I may know the ending, but it’s getting there that’s the best part, and essentially every chapter of The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia ( Schwartz & Wade, $18.99, Ages 12 and up) is the best part!
How many teens know the fascinating story behind the last Russian royal family – the real story, not the glamorized version of films and legend? While I’ve traveled to Russia a handful of times, I clearly was not aware of all the details and all the players Fleming wrote about. I felt certain that The Family Romanov would fill in all the gaps and enlighten me so I couldn’t wait to head off on holiday for some quality reading time. I just didn’t realize how conflicted my feelings would be about this fateful period in world history and have been thinking about the book and its characters ever since.
Reminiscent of an Erik Larson novel with its intertwining plot lines, in-depth character exploration and deft mixing of current events and first hand accounts, The Family Romanov takes readers on a journey through history that eventually leads to the rise of Lenin, the disastrous Romanov downfall and the Russian Revolution.
Nicholas II, Imperial Russia’s last tsar, we learn, was not only unprepared to take the throne in 1894 following his father’s death, but he was uninterested in the role as well. That alone explains his pathetic attempt at running of his country. In fact, Fleming takes us further back to “a frosty March day in 1881 …,” for it was on that day that thirteen-year-old Nicholas’s grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, was killed by a bomb that “landed between his feet,” laying the groundwork for events that would ultimately change the course of the 20th century geopolitical world. The deceased liberal tsar was replaced by Nicholas’s father, Alexander III, whose harsh autocracy would reign for 13 years only to be succeeded by the ill-equipped son for whom he held contempt.
We are also introduced to a young Alexandra, granddaughter to Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Once married to Nicholas, the Empress Alexandra bears him four daughters (including Anastasia) and a hemophiliac son and heir to the throne, Alexei. She also encourages her husband to retreat from public life and begins depending more and more on a charlatan named Rasputin whose alleged healing powers help keep Alexei alive. This mystic manages to wield much influence on the Romanovs and, despite the scandal that their dependence on Rasputin brings, they naively allow him to dictate many political decisions that further alienate the family from the Russian people.
Add WWI and immeasurable loss of life to this scenario of two immensely wealthy and privileged “Imperial Majesties” who are in total denial as to the deplorable lives the vast majority of their citizens lead, and you have the classic makings of a truth is stranger than fiction story guaranteed to keep your eyes glued to the page. Get ready for a gripping novel that warrants more than one read and a place on every bookshelf.
- I never turn down an opportunity to read non-fiction books about women who have accomplished great things, especially those pioneers who set out to do what few women attempted during the era in which they lived. There’s nothing more inspiring and motivating than learning about the great accomplishments of those who, against all odds, followed their dreams and left extraordinary marks in world history. Women Aviators: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions and Record-Setting Journeys ($19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) by Karen Bush Gibson, presents the important roles women played from the earliest days of flight travel.
On March 8, 1910, seven years after the first flight at Kitty Hawk, Raymonde de Laroche from France became the first woman to earn a pilot’s license. The first American woman to earn her pilot’s license (1911) was Harriet Quimby, who was also the first woman to fly 350 miles across the English Channel (1912). Neta Snook, from Illinois, was so determined to fly a plane that she applied and was accepted to a flight school and then bought a small plane that was in disrepair and fixed it herself. In the 1920s she was approached by a woman who asked if Snook would give her flying lessons. That woman was Amelia Earheart, who was inspired by Quimby to learn to fly. Snook taught Amelia to fly at a cost of 75¢ per minute – a lot of money at that time! Though Earheart attempted to fly around the world in 1937, her plane disappeared, never to be found. It wasn’t until 1964 that a woman successfully flew around the world and that woman was Geraldine Mack; she flew over 29,000 miles in just over 29 days.
There are so many other fascinating women in this book, like Elinor Smith, a 17-year-old who flew her plane under New York City’s four bridges. British born, Beryl Markham took flight from England in 1936 to journey 3,500 miles across the Atlantic in 22 hours. Her aviation chart flew out of the plane shortly after her journey began, and there was no radio on board. But somehow she made it to Nova Scotia, where her fuel line froze and her aircraft began to fall at a rapid rate. Through her pilot skills, she was able to get control of the plane enough to crash safely in a peat bog, where she was rescued. In other chapters, discover the first female pilots to be hired by commercial airlines, the first female military pilots, the first female pilot to break the sound barrier, stunt flyers, air safety investigators, bush pilots and much more.
In the back of the book is a glossary of aviation terms that includes valuable information about different types of planes. There is also an extensive bibliography offering many additional sources of books, videos and websites for readers. In addition, there are photographs of each of the female pilots featured in the book.
Reading Women Aviators not only guides young readers through the missions of the 26 women, but also showcases their strengths, expertise and great courage. What all of these women had in common was the unfaltering desire to fly no matter what the cost or risk. It is through these pioneers’ accomplishments that readers will be inspired to set their own lofty goals, whatever they may be, and when it comes to achieving them, they too will discover that the sky’s the limit.
Note: Another excellent book I reviewed by Karen Bush Gibson is Native American History for Kids.I also highly recommend Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller.
– Review by Debbie Glade
Here at Good Reads with Ronna we only review books we have read cover to cover and love. I’m thrilled to share Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America ($19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) because it just happens to be one of those books, and I just could not put it down. I had to read every single word, and I can see myself reading this book again one day.
This hard cover book is the diary of Joan Wehlen Morrison, beginning in the pre WWII year of 1937, when she was 14 years old, through the spring of 1943 when she was 20. Joan was a witty and insightful teenager from Chicago who wrote her thoughts, dreams and experiences in her journal on a regular basis. Following her death in 2010, her children discovered her written treasures, and her daughter, Susan Morrison, set out to get them published. Home Front Girl is the glorious result of those efforts.
It was fate that I was asked to review this book because not only was I born in Chicago where Joan lived, but my family has a long history with The University of Chicago, where Joan attended school. My grandfather received his degree from UC in the 1920s, my uncle (my father’s brother) was a well known professor of Economics at UC, my cousins – his daughters – attended the Lab School where Joan went, and my brother received his MBA there in the early 1990s. And although I have lived in Miami most of my life, I am very familiar with all the Chicago places Joan writes about in her diary.
Nothing can match the raw honesty of a teenager’s diary, especially when that teenager is highly intelligent, insightful, sensitive and hopelessly optimistic. I suppose all who write in a journal write for themselves not really contemplating who will read it after they are gone, and that is what makes them so honest and real.
“By the way, I’m a genius. I found out my I.Q. rating accidentally yesterday. It’s 141. And the biology book said people with I.Q.s of 140 or more are ‘usually considered geniuses.’ Only 1 percent get that.”
Throughout the diary, readers can step inside Joan’s thoughts and read of her experiences, from the every day to the extraordinary – her latest crushes, her talents as a top student, her friendships, a tuberculosis scare, how she is always hungry and how she is perpetually late for nearly everything. Most importantly, Joan is sensitive to the pre-war atmosphere and writes with great wisdom about what is happening globally as well as what she dreads with the impending doom of America going to war looming in the air. Her WWII comments are really quite perceptive and educational.
Joan’s academic abilities led to a prestigious scholarship to attend The University of Chicago’s Junior College for her last two years of high school. Later she got her college degree in Anthropology there. Considering the time period in which her writing takes place, when women in academics were the minority, her accomplishments were quite impressive. I love that some of her actual diary pages and doodles are included in the book and footnotes are used to help the reader understand details about Joan’s entries.
What I enjoyed most about the diary is Joan’s intellectual insight about what is most important in life. In a passage about a friend’s father who passed away suddenly she writes:
“Vera’s father is dead. Gee, I came home and Mom told me. I used to play cards with him and tell jokes and I saw him last Sunday and he is dead . . . and the Spanish War is over and the Chinese War is going on and 8,000 people died in the Chile earthquake and people all over the world are eating their suppers and doing their homework (as I shall) and laughing and reading and moving about in lighted rooms and a man I know is dead.”
Other than a whole lot of wisdom about the WII era, what young readers will take away from this book is that teenagers from more than 70 years ago were not much different in most ways than teenagers of today – minus technology of course. The fact that Joan did not have a typewriter or computer to write her diary is perhaps the very reason her written thoughts were preserved as well as discovered by her children. Computers fail over time, CD roms are almost obsolete, but pen and paper endure.
I highly ecommend this book for any young readers, particularly girls, who wish to broaden their horizons and make friends with an American girl from decades ago who was honest and real. I now feel as though I know Joan Wehlen Morrison personally, and I only wish she had written more journal entries about her life so I could read more.
I commend Susan Morrison and her brothers for sharing their mother’s private words with the world. Oh how I wish my mother or grandmothers had left me with a treasure of a diary such as this!
– Reviewed by Debbie Glade.