Friday, July 21, 2017


The Reason You're Alive
David Granger is a Vietnam vet. He saw intense action fighting the Vietcong in the jungle during the war. He has a few fellow vets with whom he shares some of his memories, but he has always protected his family from the horrors he experienced.

Recently, Granger crashed his BMW as the result of a seizure. Doctors determined he had a brain tumor. Granger blames Agent Orange. After surgery to remove the tumor, Granger attempts to return home. He is determined to face his memories of the war and find closure by returning a ceremonial knife to its rightful owner.
Following another seizure while visiting a museum with his son and grand-daughter, Granger's son insists that he stay with family. Since Granger's relationship with his son really revolves around his deep love for his grand-daughter, Ella, this temporary stay proves to be tense at best.
As the days pass, the two men begin to communicate in a way they never have before. Granger's son learns that his father isn't the bigoted, old man he thought him to be. Opening up to each other helps to heal some of the pain from their pasts, and father and son come to respect the choices each have made.
BOY 21, EVERY EXQUISITE THING, and FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK by author Matthew Quick are popular with YA readers in my classroom. THE REASON YOU'RE ALIVE should also be of interest to mature YA readers even though the focus is on an older protagonist. Today's teens are not familiar with the Vietnam War, but Quick's book might spark an interest to learn more.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

BERSERKER by Emmy Laybourne

Hanne and her siblings suddenly find themselves embarking on a journey from their native Norway to America. The original plan was for Hanne's older brother Stieg to make the journey, get settled, and then send for the others. That plan quickly dissolves when Hanne flies into a rage and murders three intruders threatening her family's safety.

With their father dead, the four siblings take their inheritance and flee to America. The new plan involves crossing this new country in search of an uncle who will hopefully help them make sense of an ancient Norse curse that haunts their family.

Both Hanne's parents carried the Nytte curse. Odds were their children would be born with the "gift" of the Nytte. Three of the four siblings have already exhibited their gifts. Knut has incredible strength, Stieg has the power to blow powerful cold or warm blasts of wind, and Hanne has the power to kill. Known as a Berserker, Hanne flies into a killing rage whenever she or a family member is threatened. Until now Hanne's gift, in combination with Knut's powerful strength, has allowed them to provide for their family while serving as butchers for neighboring farmers with livestock.

Soon after arriving in America, Hanne and her siblings meet Owen, a cowboy down on his luck. He is willing to escort them to Montana in search of their uncle. For a fee he outfits the group with horses, clothing, and needed supplies, and their journey begins. Unfortunately, news of the tragedy that forced them to leave their home in Norway follows them and they are soon fleeing for their lives.

Author Emmy Laybourne has earned a loyal fan base with her MONUMENT 14 series and her novel  SWEET. With the October release of BERSERKER, she is sure to thrill those fans and many new ones as well. BERSERKER combines the adventure of the American frontier with the mystical intrigue of a legendary curse. Likeable characters and a bit of romance round out this must read thriller.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


The You I've Never Known
Ariel's family is her father. The two of them have been on their own since Ariel's mother ran off. Ariel was only a toddler at the time and has been raised to believe that her mother was a lesbian whore. Life for the father and daughter has been a blur of different cities living in their car or with a string of women Ariel's father has charmed.

Recently, Ariel has found comfort in Sonora, California. She is attending school and has even made a few friends. There's Monica, a girl who frightens Ariel because her look and touch stir something in Ariel that would likely have her father labeling her a lesbian whore just like her mother. There's also kind and supportive Gabe, the nephew of Ariel's father's recent lady friend and drinking partner.

Maya speaks in journal-type chapters writing to her daughter Casey. Maya is trapped in a marriage of her own making. She used her teen pregnancy as a way to escape life with a cult-obsessed mother, but it landed her in a marriage to an enlisted man about ten years her senior. She wishes for more for her daughter as she writes about her struggle to be a good mom and share her love with the only positive thing in her life.

Author Ellen Hopkins works her magic in this combination of verse and prose to weave together two lives whose connections are sure to surprise her readers. Both Ariel and Maya show courage and determination as they explore their individual identities and where they fit in the world. I found THE YOU I'VE HEVER KNOWN as compelling as Hopkins's IDENTICAL.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone

Dear Martin

ARC courtesy of publisher at ALA conference.

DEAR MARTIN is a novel ripped from the headlines. Like THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas and HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon, debut author Nic Stone takes readers into the current issue of racism and police brutality. One unique difference is the main character's attempt to reach out to the late Martin Luther King Jr. as he struggles to make sense of the often tragic world around him.

Justyce McAllister is a senior in high school. His mother works hard so he can attend a prestigious school that will prepare him for a chance to earn a spot at a good college. Her sacrifice pays off when Jus learns he is accepted at Yale.

Unfortunately, Yale is still a year away and much will happen before Jus gets to begin his college career. First, comes the traumatic experience of being handcuffed by police after simply trying to do the right thing. The event haunts him as he tries to negotiate the difficult journey of attending a mostly white school filled with rich, privileged kids who never had to struggle one day in their lives. Stereotypes prevail but Jus is determined to succeed on the debate team and make his mother proud.

One day Jus finds himself stopped at a traffic light in a car with his best friend Manny. Some white guy in the neighboring car demands that Manny turn his music down. There's an unpleasant exchange that ends with Manny turning the volume up. Three gunshots follow that will forever change Justyce's life.

Author Nic Stone uses a variety of text styles to tell the story of a young black teen trying to do the right thing. Readers will see the private thoughts of Justyce as he writes letters to the late MLK hoping to be inspired to live a life that will make his family proud. News accounts of several shootings reveal the tremendous inequality and tension between black teens and law enforcement and will take readers in a totally different direction and help them relate to a current issue facing teens around the country. DEAR MARTIN is a powerful, must-read novel for both teen and adult readers.


Have Pen, Will Travel (Ellie McDoodle Diaries Series) (reissue)
THE ELLIE MCDOODLE DIARIES originally began in 2007. Having recently read HAVE PEN, WILL TRAVEL, I will now be suggesting the series for young girls looking for their own Wimpy Kid style reading experience. Author Ruth McNally Barshaw has created a dynamic female character that will inspire girls everywhere.

Due to the death of an elderly uncle of her father's, Ellie finds herself embarking on a camping adventure with her cousins. Everything about the impending week with her Aunt Mug, who spits when she talks, her Uncle Ewing, whose neck turns red when he's mad, and her three cousins promises to be the worst experience in her young life.

Arriving at the camping site, Ellie immediately discovers that this family doesn't do "camping" the way it was intended. Where are the tents and campfires and yummy, toasted marshmallows? Instead, she finds that everyone will be crammed together in a tiny cabin. How will she ever survive?

Ellie's passion for writing and drawing help her make some sense of this tragic week. She chronicles her adventures as she spies on her relatives and reluctantly participates in their crazy family antics. As she records events in her sketch diary, she begins to realize that some of the activities are kind of fun, and some of the people she is forced to be with have personalities she can sort of appreciate.

Readers of Ellie's vacation journal will find laugh-out-loud word play and unique visual representations of Ellie's week with a family she soon comes to know and love. Ruth McNally Barshaw will be part of an author panel at Siena Heights University's Celebration of Children's Literature on September 21, 2017.

Camping with

Saturday, June 17, 2017


Blood Family
Author Anne Fine has created a psychological novel ripped from headlines seen all too often. Full of pain, emotion, and the will to survive, readers will remember it long after the last page has been turned.

Edward "Eddie" is only four years old when he remembers being locked up with his mother. An evil man he knows as Harris bests Eddie's mom and deprives them of life in the outside world.
After years of abuse, Eddie and his mother are finally rescued. His mother is hospitalized with mental and emotional issues so Eddie is sent to live in a temporary foster home. He blossoms while under the care of an older couple and is disappointed when he learns he can't stay there indefinitely.
Eddie moves to a new home where another younger couple adopt him. He now has new parents and a sister named Alice. He's catching up in school and enjoying his new life with two exceptions.
Visiting his mother and seeing her barely recognize him as she babbles on about her latest craft project is almost more than Eddie can handle. His new family seems to understand and doesn't push too hard.
The day that Eddie is shown an picture of his possible future appearance is the day his new, normal life begins to crumble. The image shows a view of Harris and reveals the horrible truth that the man who held him captive and beat his mother is none other than Eddie's own blood - his father.
Readers will quickly fall for Eddie and cheer him on as he attempts to turn his mixed up life into something close to normal. When life throws him yet another curveball, readers will rush on to find out if Eddie is able to learn that blood is not the only thing that makes a family.

CYCLONE by Doreen Cronin

One ride on a rollercoaster can change your life. Nora experiences this fact firsthand when she blackmails her cousin Riley into riding the Cyclone on Coney Island. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but when the ride is over and Riley collapses, Nora realizes life might never be the same.

Riley is rushed to the hospital where it is determined that she has suffered a stroke and has a heart condition no one knew about. As she lays in intensive care, Nora's guilt mounts.

When she is finally able to see her cousin, nothing seems to get better. First there is the coma, then the gradual awakening followed by the realization that Riley can't speak or walk. Does that mean that the horrible threat Nora made to convince her cousin to ride the coaster will remain unknown by the rest of the family? Is losing Riley as a friend because she'll never be normal again worth protecting Nora's terrible secret?

Author Doreen Cronin, known for her children's book CLICK, CLACK, MOO: COWS THAT TYPE, has ventured into middle grade fiction, and this reviewer is thrilled that she has. Cronin's main character is facing the serious illness of a relative for the first time. Faced with an illness that doesn't normally hit someone as young as her cousin, Nora is frightened and confused. Understanding and dealing with the hustle and bustle of the hospital and mind-boggling medical terminology, Nora adjusts as best she can. As she deals with numbing guilt and a family in crisis, Nora learns life is rarely predictable. I'd recommend CYCLONE for ages 12 and up.