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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!

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Three friends.  Three lives.  Three futures.  One senior year.

Dill is sure that the only thing in his future is working full-time at the grocery store in his small, rural Tennessee town.  Buried in debt from his snake-handing preacher father’s trial and his mother’s car accident that ruined her health, Dill and his mom are going nowhere fast.  All he has is his guitar and his two best friends, Lydia and Travis.  And Lydia is leaving him behind as soon as she get out of their town.

A fashion blogger phenom, Lydia has been featured in the New York Times, which has won her exactly zero friends in her high school, but she could care less – her blog and her incredible grades are her ticket out of Tennessee and into NYU.  Until then, she’s going to while away her senior year at Forrestville High shopping at vintage thrift stores in Nashville, posting photos of her finds on her Instagram, driving around with Dill and Travis in her hand-me-down Prius to chill at the river and watch trains, and trying to convince Travis that a staff is not an acceptable fashion accessory.

Travis is obsessed with the fantasy series Bloodfall.  With the final novel coming out in the spring, all he cares about is re-reading the previous books in the series, chatting with his online friends in the forums, avoiding his angry father as much as possible, keeping his mom safe, and defying all Lydia’s scorn and carrying his staff with him everywhere they go – especially trendy thrifting in Nashville.

Winner of the 2017 Morris Award for debut authors, The Serpent King is a powerful tribute to friendship, family, and faith.  A slow burn of a novel, the story follows these three through their senior year as they fight for their right to a future of their own choosing.  With strong characters, adults both amazing and awful on both sides of the socioeconomic divide, a setting so richly imagined it sent me right back to high school in my own rural, Southern town, and a building tension thicker than a muddy, slow-moving Tennessee river, Dill, Lydia, and Travis will grab your hold of your heart and won’t let go.  I can’t wait to see what Jeff Zentner writes next!