Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo


Crooked Kingdom  by  Leigh Bardugo

Kaz Brekker, leader of the Dregs gang in the fictional city of Ketterdam, plots revenge against those who cheated him of payment for a dangerous and scary robbery job and kidnapped a valuable member of his gang in the first book, Six of Crows. Using the unique talents and abilities of each member of his crew, Kaz makes meticulous plans against both the criminal leader and the outwardly respected merchant who double-crossed him.  Each person in the gang knows only his or her job and even then is not aware of the ultimate purpose. Almost like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with thousands of pieces, Kaz moves ahead, even when it seems his enemies have thwarted him. Without giving away any of the details and ruining the mystery, I can say Crooked Kingdom lives up to the suspense and excitement Bardugo generated in Six of Crows. Readers will find themselves rooting for Kaz and each person in his gang, worried when they seem to be in danger and hopeful that their audacious scheme will destroy their enemies and make their future lives more secure.



Click book for our review of the first book.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson


One Shot at Forever: a small town, an unlikely coach and a magical baseball season by Chris Ballard


One Shot at Forever: a small town, an unlikely coach and a magical baseball season by Chris Ballard

When Lynn Sweet drove into Macon, IL, a town of 1200, in 1965, to interview for a job teaching English at the local high school of 250, he told himself he didn’t have to live in Macon forever. He could always look for a new job and move if he wasn’t happy in Macon. Hired by a principal who valued a diverse staff and was eager to have a young male English teacher, Sweet’s unorthodox methods, such as seating students at large tables instead of individual desks and giving a wide range of choices for independent reading, drew negative parent and community attention while popular with students. Four years later, when the school needed a new baseball coach, parents and boys who wanted to play approached Sweet without realizing he had been good enough in college to play on semipro teams. Persuaded to take the job, Sweet approached coaching as he did teaching. He rejected the stereotypical coaching pattern of yelling and military style drills to making practice optional and giving the players positive guidance. To the surprise of other teams Macon’s Ironmen started winning, beating even larger schools and those with long traditions of winning. Sweet himself attracted attention, having grown his hair longer and a Fu Manchu mustache. Coaches and fans from conservative backgrounds were scandalized their teams were being beaten by a team of boys with peace signs on their hats coached by a “hippie.”

During the two years he researched this story, first for a Sports Illustrated story then this expanded book, author Chris Ballard chased down every lead, from interviewing Lynn Sweet and his family, all the surviving team members and their families, community members, players from opposing teams, reporters who covered the story and school and town records.   In fact, the notes at the end of the book, organized by chapter, add so much depth to the story that I kept referring back to each chapter while reading them. The notes add flavor, including details not in the narrative itself. Anyone who doesn’t usually read nonfiction for independent reading would be drawn in both by the engrossing story itself and Ballard’s gifted writing in telling it.


Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

This new book combines sports excitement  with a story told in free verse poetry and will be a slam dunk for readers who like either of those two genres.  Josh and Jordan are twins who can rip up the b-ball court, and have always been close.  When Jordan starts dating a girl they call “Miss Sweet Tea,” Josh feels left out the the boys’ closeness begins to fade into memory.  Josh is also a rap artist and starts cultivating his skills there.  “With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering.

What I think readers will like about this book is the realistic, fast-paced sports action.  The family interaction feels authentic, with dad being a former pro basketball player and mom and assistant principal.  The book also goes super quickly since it’s written in free verse, making it the perfect choice for that last minute book project.  I would recommend this to sports fans and readers who enjoy family drama.

he said





Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles

wild cards

Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles

Fans of Simone Elkeles Perfect Chemistry books will be lining up for a go at this newest title, the first in a series.  What’s interesting is that this book will draw sports fans, too, since one of the two main characters is a kid who says he knows nothing about football when the exact opposite just might be true.  Told in alternating first person voices, this book is the story of two teens trying to get through their separate family dramas, when they are thrown together by circumstances, creating a whole new can of worms for both of them.  Derek Fitzpatrick gets kicked out of his college prep boarding school for masterminding a silly prank (greased piglets were involved!).  The worst part is that he now needs to live with his flighty, young stepmom since his dad is deployed on a submarine for the next six months.  And on top of that, she is insisting on moving them from California to her hometown of Chicago, which she knows he’ll love!  Unfortunately, Derek has absolutely no choice and grudging moves with the pregnant (!) Brandi and her five-year-old son.

Waiting for them in the Chicago suburb is Brandi’s younger sister, Ashtyn.  Ashtyn seems to be living a charmed life: she’s a kicker and the only girl on her high school football team, she’s working to win  a full-ride to a top college, and her boyfriend is the quarterback.  Things start to go wrong, however, when the team elects her the captain instead of her boyfriend, Landon.  Let’s just say that Landon cannot get over it and finds a way to betray both Ashtyn and the team.

These two characters both have a lot of issues to deal with in the senior year in high, the last thing they need is a step-sibling who is too attractive to be related to.  This book is extremely gripping and I know it will be popular here at Berkeley High.  I recommend it to fans of the author’s other books and for readers who enjoy sports fiction.

perfect chemistry

Winger by Andrew Smith


Winger by Andrew Smith

As a fourteen-year-old high school junior, Ryan Dean West is already somewhat of an oddball at the prestigious, expensive boarding school he goes to in northern California.  But he is determined that this year will be different–he will fit in and not be such a wimp, not be quite so geeky, and escape from his obnoxious roommate in the O-Hall building reserved for the school’s special miscreants.  (Ryan Dean ended up there after he was caught hacking a teacher’s cell phone account.) He plays wing on the school’s rugby team, hence his nickname Winger.  Besides being stuck in the worst dorm conceivable, he is also hopelessly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks he’s an “adorable” little kid.

I  have to say that this is one of the best books I’ve read this year!  Author  Andrew Smith has the knack of getting into the head of a teenaged boy that’s so realistic.  This character is also so hilarious I found myself laughing out loud a bunch of times.  “Nothing that bordered on the undisciplined or unorthodox was tolerated at PM (Pine Mountain School).  Not even facial hair, not that I had anything to worry about a far as that rule was concerned.  I’d seen some girls at PM who came closer to getting in trouble over that rule than me.  The only  thing I’d ever shaved was maybe a few points off a Calculus test so my friends wouldn’t hate me if I set the curve too high.”  The way Smith describes his characters makes readers fall in love with them, even when they’re brawny rugby types who would rather discuss a disagreement with their fists as opposed to talking it out. I highly recommend this book to all teen readers because everyone will find a character with which to identify.  There’s also lots of swearing and bad sex jokes, but nothing that the average teenager doesn’t hear in the hallways at school.

marbury lens          stick          in the path

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The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

running dream

The Running Dream  by Wendelin Van Draanen

Sixteen year old high school junior Jessica, a track champion who loves running, wakes up in the hospital to learn her right leg has been amputated below the knee from a car accident. Even though the surgeon is optimistic, Jessica can’t believe she will ever walk, much less run, again, even with a prosthetic leg. The author has divided the book into track-related sections and short chapters, as Jessica narrates her odyssey from healing from the amputation in the hospital to learning to use crutches, going home, returning to school using a wheelchair, etc. One of the adjustments Jessica makes is sitting in the back of her math class at a table that accommodates her wheelchair, next to a younger student named Rosa. Jessica learns that Rosa is a math genius who is physically disabled with cerebral palsy. As they become friends, Rosa helps Jessica with math and inspires Jessica to set a goal of running again with a prosthetic.  As her family, track team and town rally around Jessica, she takes on a mission of her own: to make disabled people visible for their abilities.

I found this book absorbing, with realistic characters and situations. As a former runner, I especially appreciated the running and race sequences as very truly to life. This book has been nominated in the Young Adult division of the California Young Reader Medal for 2013-14.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

Crossing Lines by Paul Volponi

Crossing Lines by Paul Volponi

This title is somewhat different from the other Volponi books I’ve read, but I don’t think it will disappoint his fans.  Here he focuses on a football player’s thoughts about another kid at his school, one who isn’t like anyone else and really stands out (a crime in most high schools!).  The main character, Adonis, is a big, tough, defensive varsity football player, who is still getting used to being a cool kid instead of the pudgy boy he way until high school.  When Alan, an openly gay transfer student, begins wearing lipstick, the football team begins to bully him, from simple incidents like calling him Alana and ostracizing him, to a planned attack at a school fashion show at the local mall.  Adonis actually feels bad for Alan, but is caught in the middle between his own ideas, his sister’s and girlfriend’s friendship with the boy, his macho firefighter dad and his teammates.

This book is just over 200 pages, and a very quick read.  Although the characters are somewhat stereotypical, I still liked the story because it explored the topics of homophobia and bullying from the angle of the perpetrator, and colored him with indecision, feeling very realistic to me.   I would recommend it to all teen readers, especially sports fans and Volponi readers.