Exciting New Releases

I have been remiss in blogging lately. However, I promise that I have been spending my time well. Since the announcements of the ALA awards in late January, I have been preparing for starting up the Mock Newbery club again. I needed to get a jump on some of the new titles so that I could have some book talks for our first meeting. There are some really great titles hitting the stores and shelves. I have included a couple of reviews below. Let the hunt for the best begin.

Half a ChanceHalf a Chance by Cynthia Lord
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Rules by Cynthia Lord, so I was excited to receive this ARC from Netgalley. My every expectation was met with this wonderful story. Half a Chance explores moving away, moving in, moving on and moving forward. It also looks at friendships, the art of photography and the sadness of Alzheimers.
Half a Chance is about a young girl, Lucy, whose father is a professional photographer with a strong sense of wanderlust. Therefore, she has moved a lot and has developed concerns about making and keeping friends. Her family has just moved to a house on a lake in New Hampshire. She is befriended by the neighboring family who summer at the lake. The grandmother is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and the family is working desperately to capture and preserve the joys of this possibly last summer of memories. The story tells a gentle but gripping portrayal of the ravages of this disease.
Lucy is also a budding photographer and yearns for her nomadic, preoccupied father’s approval. She and the neighbor boy enter a photo contest and spend the summer seeking perfect photo ops. There are some wonderful descriptions of the art that is photography in the book.
I knew that Cynthia would not disappoint. I can’t wait to hand this to my Mock Newbery Club members. They will love this poignant and hopeful story.

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The Mark of the DragonflyThe Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this from Netgalley as an ARC. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It is a fantasy with a hint of steampunk. The main character is a spunky heroine ( my favorite kind) with a special talent for fixing mechanical things. She is surviving on her own, when she stumbles onto a fragile young girl who she feels compelled to protect. Together they embark on a spectacular journey where they meet some wonderful friends and some terrible enemies. As with all good journies, they also find some self discoveries along the way .
Oftentimes, I struggle with fantasies. I find myself plunked down in a world with weird characters and unknown culture and societal rules. It takes some quality writing to build a fantasy world that will grab me and engage me. I frequently feel like I am in a foreign land with no map or understanding of the language. Jaleigh Johnson did a great job of building this world and developing the characters. My students also struggle with these issues. So I am excited to find a book I can put in their hands that will give them an engaging new world.
The Mark of the Dragon fly has all I could ask for. There was an adventurous journey, great battles, scary monsters, hidden magical talents, valued friendships and a hint of romance (culminating in holding hands). My students have been eagerly watching my progress in this book. I have a line of students impatiently waiting for their turn to read this. I hate to tell them it hasn’t been released quite yet.

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Ophelia and the Marvelous BoyOphelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book on Netgalley and wanted to get a jump on the books published in 2014. This book was a wonderful surprise. I read it straight through on a short plane ride. It was a fantasy that was reminiscent of “Night in the Museum” rolled in with “The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe.
There were wizards, a Snow Queen, an absentminded father and endangered sister and most importantly an endearingly strong, courageous underdog of a heroine. She even has to stop to puff on her inhaler at every turn.
Stories in a museum have the potential of becoming bogged down in description and minutia. But Karen Foxlee handles this masterfully. The setting provides a fascinating maze for the adventure and a rich format for the author’s rich use of language. She uses some very interesting writing techniques to give the story life. She repeats the description of the path our heroine takes through the museum. It makes us feel as if we are running through these same rooms in search of hidden keys, magical swords and a Marvelous Boy.
Karen Foxlee gives us a retelling of the Snow Queen tale, but underlying is a deeper story of the crippling power of grief. She gives us a glimpse of how we can allow the clouds of sadness can leave us frozen and lost.
I can’t wait to put this in students’ hands.

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