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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara Batista is a girl who isn’t sure where – or how – she belongs.  A twin and one half of her Dominican parents’ miracle, Xiomara is everything her devout mother is afraid of – full of questions, especially when it comes to faith, possessed of fierce fists she learned how to use a long time ago to protect her twin brother, and with a body she always feels takes up too much space, especially when boys and men are always calling attention to it.  She’s also a girl who loves words and loves to write, her most prized possession a journal her twin, Xavier, gave to her on her birthday.

When her new English teacher, Ms. Galiano, invites Xiomara to join her after-school slam poetry club, Xiomara knows she can’t go.  Confirmation class is at the same time, and there’s no way Mami will allow her to switch it up, even though Xiomara isn’t too sure she’s ready to be confirmed yet – she’s full of too many questions that no one seems to want to hear, much less answer.

But a friendship – and maybe more, although there’s no way Mami will allow her to date – with a boy in her bio class starts to change the ways Xiomara tries to fit in to her world.  Aman feels like the first person to really listen to her – listen, and not judge.  Listen, with respect.  Listen, and understand.  Listen, and give words back to her.  As Xiomara fills up the pages of her journal with poetry, she starts to move toward becoming a girl who can let her words out – and even be proud of them.  But when something happens that sends her words up in smoke, can she be brave enough to keep working her way toward herself?

This book has been on my radar for months, so, after it basically picked up All The Awards this year, I knew I had to take a break from my annual Harry Potter re-read and make some time for Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel.  And OH WOW am I glad I did.  Beautiful, compelling, heart-breaking, raw and emotional, and stunning in its expression of one girl’s truth, this has got to be one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.  Written in free verse, The Poet X is the story of Xiomara’s sophomore year of high school – the story of how one girl finds the words inside herself and uses them to set her true self free.

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

Cyd definitely knows how to pick a great middle grade read – she totally called all the awards for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and she’s done it again by loving this book way before it was shortlisted for the National Book Award.  Read on to hear what she has to say about this great book!

One of my favorite fictional characters is Forrest Gump. I have never known anyone as honest, sincere and truly GOOD as Forrest, but I would love to meet someone like him one day.  In this book, The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle, I found Forrest Gump once again.

Meet Mason Buttle, an extremely large, extremely sweaty 7th grader.  Mason also happens to have a severe case of dyslexia and can be a little slow in understanding some things.  He does, however, know how to be a true friend. Loyal, honest and good-natured, Mason is a favorite target of bullying by the neighborhood boys. Grieving over the death of his best friend, Benny Kilmartin, who turned up dead in the Buttle family’s apple orchard, Mason has also been under a cloud of suspicion.  The lead investigator, Lt. Baird, is sure Mason is not being truthful about what he knows about Benny’s death.

There are two bright lights in Mason’s life – his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky and Moonie, his mean neighbor’s sweet dog.  When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in even deeper trouble. He HAS to find out what happened to Calvin…and Benny. Will anyone believe him?

Author Leslie Connor fills this story with intriguing and well developed characters – and many twists and turns as we are led through the back story following Mason’s conversations with the detective and his own journals entries he composes (using a speak-and-write computer program).

A 2018 National Book Award Finalist and Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2018 recipient, this book is a must read – don’t let the “Young Teen” classification dissuade you! I would love to have you to meet Mason Buttle.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Brangwain Spurge is an historian, and an elf.  Proud to research and document centuries of elvish beauty, elegance, transcendence, and (obvious) superiority, he is especially thrilled to have been chosen as emissary and ambassador for peace between his people and the goblins, with home the elves have long been at war.  Shot in a barrel via giant crossbow over the Bonecruel Mountains to the goblin capital city, Spurge’s mission is to deliver a recently discovered (in the the king’s new wading pool), ancient, goblin-made gemstone as a gift to the goblin king and overlord, Ghohg the Evil One.  While there, he is also to gather and send back information and intelligence on goblin society, culture, customs, and, oh yes, the source of their power.

Werfel is an archivist and a goblin.  He too is thrilled to have been chosen to host the elf as a guest in his home and show him the delights and marvelous history of goblin-kind, especially after the recent war between goblins and elves left so much devastation in its wake.  He is to entertain Magister Spurge and inspect the gemstone while they both await an audience with the goblin king, Ghohg the Protector.  Not an easy task, certainly, with centuries of war and distrust between their peoples, but Werfel is nothing if not an excellent host – and fully committed to upholding ancient goblin traditions of loyalty and honor.  Even if the honored guest is, Werfel is quite sure, not only spying and sending secret messages back to the elves, but supremely under-appreciative of goblin culture.  In fact, Magister Spurge is sanctimonious, sneering, superior, and completely annoying in almost every way, but a good host must soldier on.

The gemstone, however, is not what it seems, a fact that both Werfel and Brangwain are woefully unaware of.  When things come to a head and Brangwain and Werfel find themselves on the run from two kingdoms, will they be able to find a way to stop arguing, survive the Bonecruel Mountains, and save the world?

Elves?  Goblins?  A super-cute ichthyod (sort of a bat with tentacles – adorable!!)?  Award-winning authors of amazingness M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin teaming up to write a tale of a historian and an archivist caught up in centuries of war and distrust between two very different (or perhaps not so different) magical creatures?  Illustrations and prose combining to tell one epic story?  A book that can best be described as Tolkien meets Brian Selznick, with a lot of extra sarcasm? Yes, please!! I’ve been excited for this since I read the first reviews, and it was just as awesome as I wanted it to be.  Shortlisted for this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, this tale of first impressions, misunderstandings, and evil alien overlords that love to dance is the perfect blend of humor, (mis)adventure, snark, and sharp social commentary.  So sharpen your sword – and your wit – and get ready for a wild ride through the making of (goblin) history in The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge!