Run Like the River: Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor and the Code of Claw. Scholastic, c2007, p2008. 412 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-0-329-65712-3  ; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-439-79144-1

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series (The Underland Chronicles).

Plot Summary:

Gregor has returned to Regalia to claim his sword and read the Prophecy of Time, another Warrior prophecy that appears to hold the key to his –and all of the Underland’s– fate. It is up to Gregor to save the Underland, and his sister must also play an important role. The rats are marching for Regalia, and the Regalians must keep them at bay. Can the humans of the Underland win enough allies — warmblood and other — to save their homeland? Or will the rats rule all?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is intense. Collins really delivers on the peril in this one, and there is a great deal of violence on the page. Characters we know and love are wounded (sometimes mortally), and unnamed figures are killed during the battles. Gregor struggles with the ethics of killing, so the violence (while intense) is not there simply for violence’s sake, but is instead handled thoughtfully. That said, I would still be mindful of a student’s age/sensitivities before handing this one to them. You will definitely be crying by novel’s end!!


Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book Magazine starred 10/01/07



You callin’ me an egg-head? BRAIN CAMP by Susan Kim

Kim, Susan, and Klavan, Laurence. Brain Camp. Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks. Square Fish/First Second. 151 pages, 2010. PLB $15.56, ISBN978-1-48985-625-8; Tr. $ 8.54, ISBN 978-1-25006-292-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Genre: Science Fiction (Graphic Novel)

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Jenna and Lucas just don’t fit in — Jenna’s an underachiever with deeply disappointed doctor parents, and Lucas’s tough home life slows him down. When their parents are approached by a man from Camp Fielding — a camp that promises to turn anyone into an Einstein — each kid finds themselves unceremoniously shunted to camp. The campers are weird, transforming into zombielike nerds while mysterious stuff happens in the woods. It seems like the adults are out to get them, and Jenna and Lucas’s parents refuse to understand. Are Jenna and Lucas doomed to follow their fellow campers’ fates, or can they escape unscathed?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is gross-out horror at its finest. If vomit makes you squeamish, give this book a pass. Kids barf up feathers (and major spoiler in white to follow >>> the bodies of infant bird alien things???) There is also blood “on the page” in a super vivid scene, and a lot of the action is … just that. Horror movie action without a lot of plot-furthering substance. That said, it’s a great pick for your horror fans.

There is also a romance element with some themes better for older middle graders (see Goodreads reviews).

Grade Level: YA

Awards and Starred Reviews:




Bad News Ballerinas: Tiny Pretty Things

Charaipotra, Sona, & Clayton, Dhonielle. Tiny Pretty Things. Narrated by Imani Parks, Nora Hunter, Greta Jung. HarperTeen, 2015. 13 hours and 12 minutes. (438 pages). Hardcover $15.44, ISBN978-0-06-234239-3; PLB $15.56, ISBN 978-1-51812-929-2; TR $8.54, ISBN 978-0-06-234240-9;  Audio $26.45

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes, for older readers

Genre: YA/Realistic Fiction/Ballet!

Part of a Series? Yes — duology; Shiny Broken Pieces is the sequel

Plot Summary:

Life at the American Ballet Conservatory is cutthroat. The book opens with new girl Cassie reflecting on her good luck to be a young dancer with a solo part in the show … only to have her suffer a fall that injures her so badly that she must leave the conservatory.

The story picks up the next school year. Gigi is the new girl in school, fresh from California. Also the conservatory’s only black dancer, she immediately feels ill at ease, missing the camaraderie of her California studio. Bette Abney knows that this is her year to take all of the solo roles, and June Kim realizes that her mother’s ultimatum — a solo or she must go to public school — is for real. When Gigi earns the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Bette is left reeling, things get tense. Bette will stop at nothing to be the best … and June is finding herself more and more motivated to do just the same. Who will be the prima?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a lightning-fast story. Each narrator has secrets, motivations, and needs that keep the reader going. For readers who enjoy some serious drama (with startling consequences!), this book has a lot to offer.

One note: the audiobook gets tough when actors need to do accents for the Russian teachers.

Trigger Warnings:

  • eating disorders
  • violence
  • drug abuse
  • harassment

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:


Grade Level: YA (9-12)

Awards and Starred Reviews: n/a



Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson

Swanson, James L. Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. Scholastic Press, 2009. 198 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-439-90354-7; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-0-329-87737-8


TL;DR: Do I Recommend This? Yes


Genre: Nonfiction (history)


Part of a series? No.


Plot Summary:

Written much like a thriller, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer immerses readers in the days leading up to and immediately following the assassination of President Lincoln. Even as an adult who should remember from history class how the event turned out, I was completely absorbed and had to know what happened next. Swanson writes dramatically about Booth’s confidence, his charisma, and his Confederate sympathies as he plots the murder of the president of the United States and several important members of his administration. Action jumps from assassination to assassination attempt, leaving readers with some cliffhangers until we return to those people. The information about Booth’s hideout, trip across the river, and firestorm/shootout in the tobacco barn unfolds like the climax of an action film.


Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Some of the language was a bit too dramatic, and the author takes some liberties assuming the attitudes or mindsets of different people throughout the account, but overall the book was an exciting look at this moment in American history.


Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I definitely recommend this book to young history enthusiasts or someone working on a project – this could be a “fun” read that would be of assistance during a Civil War assignment. Students looking to research Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, and the end of the Civil War will enjoy having this book on hand.


Grade Level: 5 and up (SLJ)


Awards and Starred Reviews:

Publishers Weekly starred 1/12/09

School Library Journal starred 1/1/09


Review referenced:

Owens, P. A. (2009). Chasing Lincoln’s Killer: The search for John Wilkes Booth (Review of the book Chasing Lincoln’s Killer). School Library Journal, 55(1), p. 130.



Catch-up Post: Clockwork, or All Wound Up by Phillip Pullman

I read this over the summer. As I wrote on my main blog,

Clockwork was deliciously creepy! I am a huge scaredy-cat when it comes to creepy reads, and I found myself wondering if I should put it down! I am glad that I didn’t … the eerie story the novelist shares is so gripping! Sir Ironsoul is so frightening! I especially loved the opening, middle, and closing arcs — hearing the rumors about Prince Otto and then seeing what happened to Prince Otto before returning to the end of Karl and Sir Ironsoul’s story was really cool. So glad to have read this one!

I guess I need to work on using fewer exclamation points 🙂

Pullman crafts a fantastic tale, weaving in story elements until they click together and get the whole thing up and running. The eerie illustrations add to the creep factor, and who doesn’t love a scary tavern tale?


  • Gore/blood

Themes/Major Plot Points/Etc.:

  • Storytelling
  • Clockwork
  • Cheating
  • Good and evil
  • Mad scientists
  • Scary