Sunday, May 1, 2016


Character, Driven
A book written in the first person narrative style indicates that the story is being told by one of the characters in the book.  In most such stories, readers know that the author is telling the story by voicing the characters thoughts.  CHARACTER, DRIVEN by David Lubar had me feeling differently.  Cliff tells the story, and I had a definite feeling that Cliff frequently surprised author David Lubar with the direction of his thoughts.  This novel feels as if it was literally "character driven."

Maybe I'm wrong about what I wrote in the paragraph above, but having given writing assignments to my high school students encouraging them to let the character take over, and having experienced the phenomenon when working on my own writing, I have to wonder if Lubar felt pulled through this story by Cliff himself.

Cliff is seventeen and will be graduating soon.  He is not part of the cool crowd, in fact, he is the polar opposite.  Cliff admits being told by a girl, "You're not a bad guy, But you're just so far from cool in every way, I can't get sucked into anything social with you.  I would never wash it off."

His plans for the future are sketchy at best.  His father has made it perfectly clear that upon turning eighteen, Cliff will be on his own.  Not a surprise considering it's been years since Cliff has done anything that has pleased his old man.  Cliff's only champion during what he frequently refers to as his "deformative years," has been his mother.

Most of Cliff's efforts revolve around trying to keep the peace at home and find a girl friend.  He has dreams of dating the new girl, Jillian.  He worships her from afar.  They share two classes together, and every day he hopes to make contact.  When he isn't pining after Jillian, he is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

CHARACTER, DRIVEN the teenage male perspective in stark, sarcastic frankness.  Lubar presents high school life in the same humorous, ironic tone as he did in SLEEPING FRESHMEN NEVER LIE.  Fans are sure to be pleased by this new release. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Rhyme Schemer
After recently reading HOUSE ARREST by K.A. Holt, I picked up a copy of RHYME SCHEMER.  It had been on my wish list for awhile with the topic "bullying" noted next to it.  I'm so glad I final got around to getting a copy and reading it!

Kevin is twelve.  He is bullied at school and bullied at home.  At school his enemy is Robin.  At home the bullies are his brothers.

When Robin gets ahold of Kevin's poetry journal, the stakes become even higher.  Threats to show fellow students and even teachers what Kevin has written in a journal meant for his eyes only sends waves of terror through young Kevin.  Having gotten one suspension when he tried to retaliate for Robin's bullying, Kevin feels the journal becomes a method for blackmail that he will simply have to suffer through on his own.

Kevin truly feels he is alone for a number of reasons.  The bullying he suffers at home from his brothers is because his parents are both self-absorbed with their own careers.  He is commonly referred to as a "tag-along" and the "mistake," and there never seem to be any consequences for his brothers' bad behavior.  At school his one defender, a girl named Kelly, is battling great odds, since the principal and teachers seem to believe Kevin brings on the problems himself.  Even the librarian has it out for Kevin, or so it seems.  There just aren't any adults in his corner.

Spending time shelving books in the library as part of his punishment, allows Kevin to see that the librarian, in fact, is the one grownup who understands him.  Her own love of poetry helps create a bond between the two, and Kevin's world expands when she takes him to an open mic night at a local coffee shop. 

RHYME SCHEMER by K.A. Holt is an inspiring read for both young people and the adults in their lives.  Kevin's courage and determination demonstrate how the power of words greatly outweigh the power of the fist.  At the same time, Mrs. Little, the librarian, proves that a caring authority figure can make the difference between a child who succeeds and a child who fails.  Holt's simple poetic forms pack a powerful punch in the battle against bullies both young and old.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

WHEN WE WAS FIERCE by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

When We Was Fierce
*Review copy courtesy of author and publisher.

According to Theo "T", he and his buddies was fierce the day they was rolling down the street and witnessed Ricky-Ricky get flat-fixed.  T tried to revive his friend but couldn't.  The helpless feeling he had as he watched Money Mike gun down a neighborhood kid was the worst thing he had ever experienced.

Witnessing the shooting makes T angry and bitter.  Listening to his mother and sister and the warnings they speak about staying at home and off the streets, fall on deaf ears.  Even with threats that his mother is going to ship him off to Texas, T sneaks out to join his buddies and scheme ways to change things in the hood.

The sound of gunfire is common place in the hood, and there are far too many funerals.  Mothers and grandmothers mourn the loss of boys who will never become men or even young men. 

Having already lost his father in a shooting, T knows how tough it is to survive in the hood, but still he dreams of experiencing all the pleasures of life.  He wishes his sister's unplanned pregnancy could work out, but he knows she plans to give up the child for adoption in hopes of finishing school and improving her life.  He dreams of having a girl friend and his hopes grow when he meets Nia and discovers she might have feelings for him, too.  But, when he learns Money Mike has sprayed a local basketball court with bullets and flat-fixed several little kids, T may be ready to sacrifice it all to get revenge.

Author e.E Charlton-Trujillo takes readers right to the streets in WHEN WE WAS FIERCE.  Tough, vivid street talk leaps off the page as her characters reveal the odds stacked against them in the hood.  Mentions of Ferguson and Trayvon Martin connect fiction to real life and remind readers that what's between the pages is in fact what it's like for many young people simply trying to stay alive.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

BOOKED by Kwame Alexander

Nick Hall's life revolves around soccer.  He and his best friend might not play on the same team, but they practice together, play online soccer together, and vow to beat one another when they come face-to-face in matches. 

Home life for Nick has its ups and downs.  His mother, a former horse trainer, knows the meaning of competition.  When she isn't fixing mouth-watering breakfasts and lobster mac-n-cheese, she is grabbing him in affectionate headlocks and beating him at ping pong.

Nick's dad, on the other hand, suffers from verbomania, defined as a crazed obsession for words.  The man is famous for a dictionary of weird words which he insists Nick must read and study from cover to cover.  Doesn't Nick want to impress people with his vocabulary?  How could he only be interested in soccer? 

At school Nick spends his time avoiding the reading assignments given by his English teacher, crushing on the amazing April, and running from twin bullies named Dean and Don.  As soon as school ends, it's soccer practice and then home to argue about reading his dad's freaking dictionary.

Life gets very complicated when Nick's parents announce they are going to separate.  His mother will be returning to work with horses in Kentucky, and he'll be staying in the city with his father.  To make matters worse, appendicitis takes Nick out of a long awaited soccer tournament in Dallas.  What else can possibly go wrong? 

Author of THE CROSSOVER, Kwame Alexander is back with a new book.  BOOKED, also written in verse, is the perfect book to place in the hands of readers of all kinds.  Soccer players will love it.  Readers drawn to problem novels will devour it.  Reluctant readers won't be able to put it down.  Alexander's characters and situations ring true as they entertain, and at the same time, explain the ins and outs of dealing with parents, teachers, and first love.  BOOKED is a sure winner!

DARE TO DISAPPOINT: Growing Up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci

Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey
In DARE TO DISAPPOINT, Ozge Samanci shares what it was like to grow up in Turkey.  Using detailed graphic illustrations, family conversations, and vivid memories, Ozge tells about her personal dreams and the expectations of both her parents and her country.

Ozge compares public school which she and her sister attended to prestigious private schools her parents couldn't afford.  She tells of her parents' teaching jobs that barely provided enough income to sustain the family and how they dreamed that Ozge and her sister would study to become engineers paid well by the government.

During her childhood in Turkey, Ozge witnessed controversy between secularist and fundamentalist beliefs.  Turmoil in the Turkish government caused financial stress for many families like Ozge's and also rifts between families who shared different beliefs. 

Ozge dreamed of a life that involved the sea and traveling with the famous Jacques Cousteau.  Early in her childhood, she remembers spending summer vacation at the beach, but later money spent on summer fun was spent on summer study classes so her sister could score well enough on tests to gain entrance to an excellent university.  When it came time for Ozge to attend these classes, she didn't do as well as her sister.  Much to her father's disappointment, her scores earned her a place in a mediocre college where she would only study math not engineering.

College was stressful for Ozge.  Studying as hard as she could, she still failed many courses.  She tells of the struggle between following her dream and disappointing her family. 

Teen readers will easily relate to her tale and find encouragement in the success she eventually achieves.  In DARE TO DISAPPOINT, readers are introduced to life growing up in a country with different customs and beliefs, but they may be surprised to see similarities when it comes to the wishes and dreams of teens much like themselves.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

SHADE ME by Jennifer Brown

Shade Me
SHADE ME is by author Jennifer Brown, also known for HATE LIST, TORN AWAY, BITTER END, and more.  Her fans will enjoy this new book with its mystery, edgy subject matter, and usual Jennifer Brown flair.

Nikki Kill has a condition called synesthesia.  Everything Nikki sees is connected to color.  Emotions, sounds, smells, even numbers and letters have their own unique color.  This means that Nikki is bombarded by color and sensation that are often dizzying and overwhelming.

When Nikki gets a mysterious phone call from the emergency room asking her to come and identify a beating victim, her world begins to spin out of control.  The viciously beaten girl in the hospital bed is none other than Peyton Hollis, daughter of Hollywood mogul Bill Hollis.  Why is a rich girl bloody and bruised, lying unconscious in the ER?  Even more important, why isn't her family there to identify her?

Nikki goes to school with Peyton, but she definitely doesn't run with the same crowd.  Nikki is barely able to keep her grades at a level that will guarantee her graduation.  Since her mother was murdered, she has found it even harder to concentrate and think beyond the constantly swirling colors that invade her mind every waking moment.  Her father does his best to understand, but he is still grieving and trying to keep up with his own career.

Some strange attraction pulls Nikki into the mystery surrounding Peyton's attack.  The girl's family seems only mildly concerned so Nikki begins to investigate.  It isn't long before Nikki finds herself in the middle of a dangerous world involving an escort service, Peyton's attractive older brother, and their crazy half-sister Luna.  Nikki's own parentage comes into question as she digs to find out who wants Peyton dead.

SHADE ME is the first of a series of suspense novels featuring Nikki Kill.  Perfect for teens looking for a real thrill ride.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Ascending the Boneyard
Caleb Tosh has a solution when life gets too "real."  He dives into the gaming world in a game called The Boneyard.  In the game he participates in missions that help him feel in control when the rest of his life is crashing around him.

Caleb blames himself for the accident that ended normal life for his little brother Devin.  The same accident that split his already fragile family in two.  His dad was always tough on everyone, but now he's even tougher,  and watching his mother drive away with Stan the pest control man is the last straw for Caleb.

All life's disappointments combine to force Caleb into the game.  Separating real life from the challenges of The Boneyard begins to be more and more difficult.  Ascending to the next level to become Worthy absorbs Caleb to the point that even his best friend Haze doesn't understand.

 Caleb's life is filled with the UpperWorld, the UnderWorld, swarms of cockroaches, mysterious text messages, and impossible to find on-ramps.  Can he find his mother and can he rise above the guilt that he feels for everything that's gone wrong in his world?

Author C. G. Watson captures the online game world to a T.  I know teens whose lives outside my classroom are filled with game strategies, controllers, and hours upon hours of screen time.  ASCENDING THE BONEYARD is just the book to convince some of them that an equally amazing world can be found between the pages if they give Caleb and The Boneyard a chance.