Wednesday, December 31, 2008

HIT THE ROAD, MANNY by Christian Burch



Are you ready to take a trip with a mom, a dad, four kids, and one manny (a male nanny)? If you are, you are in for one heck of a ride.

Keats Dalinger is having a birthday. He's not quite sure what to think when his father announces his birthday surprise - a cross-country trip in a rented RV. They are headed for LasVegas.


Keats shares this hilarious adventure which includes his parents, his older sisters India and Lulu, his younger sister Belly, and their live-in caregiver "the manny." (Readers may be familiar with the manny from a previous book called THE MANNY FILES.) Their adventures include the Wizard of Oz Museum, the excitement of staying at a hotel with an indoor/outdoor pool, being stopped by the police, a four-day stay at the manny's parents' farm where they witness the birth of a calf, plus much, much more.

Suggested cataloging is under the topics of family life, automobile travel, self-acceptance, nannies, brothers and sisters, and homosexuality. It is difficult to describe the content of this wonderful adventure. Practically every paragraph has laugh-out-loud humor involving some aspect of this weird and wacky family. Anyone that has vacationed with relatives will no doubt find some experiences similar to their own. HIT THE ROAD, MANNY will have readers laughing and grinning from the first page until the last.

FREE READING ... download PRIVATE by Kate Brian



Are you interested in reading PRIVATE by Kate Brian? Stop by teensreadtoo.com to download the entire book. It's a pretty cool idea - let people download and read the first book in a series for free and then maybe they'll go out and buy the rest.

Monday, December 29, 2008

THE ICE CREAM CON by Jimmy Docherty



THE ICE CREAM CON is a rolicking adventure set in a Scottish housing project. Jake Drake is tired of the criminal element in his neighborhood. Growing up disadvantaged is hard enough and Jake is sick of having a bunch of louts bullying him for his grandmother's grocery money every time he heads to the market.

Jake along with his buddies decide to take matters into their own hands. It is agreed that Cortesi the local "godfather" needs some competition. Their answer is the Big Baresi. By creating this powerful but imaginary crime boss, they hope to fight back against the injustice present in their underprivileged neighborhood.

News of the Big Baresi travels quickly and strikes fear in the hearts of many. The problem is that the fictious character may be more real than they think, and controlling the thing they have created may become more than they can handle.

THE ICE CREAM CON is an action-packed story filled with determined kids, a farting grandmother, cold-hearted criminals, and wild car chases. Written for the 9-12 age group, it offers a fun alternative to the many fantasy offerings of late.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

RES JUDICATA by Vicki Grant



Cyril MacIntyre is furious at this mother, Andy. That's not unusual. She is always doing things the infuriate Cyril. She is careless, competitive, cheap, and she's a constant worrywart, and she is forever involving Cyril in her crazy legal cases. Andy is an overzealous attorney who gets wrapped up with some of the most bizarre cases and weird clients, and somehow Cyril ends up helping her fight her courtroom battles.

Andy's most recent case has her defending a local college custodian. Newspaper stories first heralded Chuck Dunkirk as a hero, but his attempt to save the life of a famous scientist was quickly turned into an accusation of murder. It seems that Chuck was present when a small laboratory fire ignited, and when he came to the scientist's rescue by throwing a substance known as Power Powder in an attempt to put out the blaze, the opposite happened resulting in an explosion that killed the poor man. Now the scientist's widow is pressing murder charges. Cyril's mother has taken the case.

Having helped with so many previous cases has given Cyril a certain knack for recognizing when things don't look quite right. That combined with the fact he has decided to use this case as the subject for a school project, causes Cyril to examine the details of the case even closer, and he soon begins to question the true identity of Chuck Dunkirk. There are certain facts that don't quite add up.

RES JUDICATA, which in legal terminology means "the thing has been decided" is filled with quirky characters and great detective work. Cyril's off-beat life provides a colorful backdrop for the action, and readers will be kept on their toes right up until the end. Cyril's adventures can also be enjoyed in another novel by Vicki Grant called QUID PRO QUO.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

SHIFT by Jennifer Bradbury



Chris and Win have convinced their parents that after graduation they should have a summer of adventure. They will both be starting college at different universities in the fall, and as best friends they have a plan to bike cross-country from West Virginia to Seattle.

If they were honest, their reasons for the trip may be a bit different. Chris's mother has made it perfectly clear that she thinks a summer job to earn college money is what he should really be doing. When he breaks the news of the trip to his parents, his dad takes his side and encourages the idea over protests from his wife. Chris later learns that his father once had similar plans and perhaps is using this adventure to live a little through his son.

Win, however, doesn't have the backing of such a supportive family. When he announces their plan, his father barely gives him a glance and instead says Win shouldn't plan on being rescued if he gets tired or in trouble. On the actual day of departure, his mother is busy catching a plane for a trip of her own. Win's privileged background has often made him crass and wreckless, but one thing is certain - he can't wait to put distance between himself and his self-absorbed parents.

The trip is truly an adventure of a lifetime, and the young men immediately begin gathering tales they will tell for years to come. But as they travel further, Chris finds things that puzzle him about his long-time friend. There's the lack of contact with his folks back home, his vagueness about the uncle they will be visiting once they reach Seattle, and the huge wad of cash that Chris stumbles across in Win's pack.

The mystery only deepens when within a day's ride of the west coast, the guys have a falling out over a coyote and flat tire. Win rides on leaving Chris to change his flat. That's the last Chris sees of his friend. He finishes the trip alone and returns to West Virginia and then school in Atlanta. He figures Win has done the same until the day an FBI agent arrives at Chris's dorm asking all sorts of questions.

Debut author Jennifer Bradbury has created a mystery that will grab readers on the first page and won't let go until the last. With vivid chatacters and plenty of plot twists and turns, Bradbury shows a talent that promises to bring the YA world many fantastic books in the years to come.

ABSOLUTELY MAYBE by Lisa Yee



Run! Don't walk! to your nearest bookstore and pre-order this book. ABSOLUTELY MAYBE is fantastic!

Maybelline, "Maybe" to her friends, is living above her mother's Charm School. She is surrounded by glamour and future pageant hopefuls, but she feels anything but glamorous. Depending on the day, Maybe's hair color might be red, green, or blue thanks to endless boxes of unsweetened jello. Her baggy black T-shirts, her goth eyeliner, and dark lipstick have her mother frantic. That is when her mother isn't busy trawling for her next husband.

Maybe's best friends, Ted and Hollywood, are the only things that keep her going. Their support helps her tolerate her mother's boyfriends turned step-fathers until the most recent, Jake, makes an attempt to turn Maybe into more than an innocent step-daughter. When her mother sides with her pervert husband-to-be, Maybe decides it is time to follow through on her life-long dream to find her mysterious biological father. Ted and Hollywood join in the adventure as they head to L.A. in search of all their dreams.

Their arrival in California is followed by terrific opportunities for Ted and Hollywood, but not so much for Maybe. After weeks of living homeless, she finally searches out her mother's husband 2/4, the only one who made Maybe feel anyone ever cared for her. At least now she has a place to call home while she continues her search for the father she never knew.

What makes this an excellent read is the talent of author Lisa Yee. Her characters draw readers right into their lives. You'll root for some and curse others, but no matter what, they'll make you anxious to turn to the next page and sad when you arrive at the last one. I can only hope that Maybe returns someday to let readers know about the next chapter in her awesome life.

Monday, December 22, 2008

SPIRAL by K.L. Denman



Abby's life has been derailed by a tragic accident. It started as a part-time job, then a seemingly innocent request to change a burnt-out lightbulb, and then a fall in unsafe working conditions. A broken back has left Abby a paraplegic.

The world around her has changed. Her father picks her up from the hospital in an ugly beige mini-van, and she finds out he traded in his super-hot Mustang for this handicap equipped ride. When she gets home there's an obscene ramp built right over top of her mother's prized herb garden, and her upstairs room has been relocated to the den off the kitchen. Everyone tries to make the best of the awful circumstances, but Abby doesn't feel much like living anymore.

A surprise visit from Jim, another accident victim she met in rehab, adds some unexpected excitement in Abby's life. Jim offers her a sort of escape when he introduces her to cocaine. She hesitates but then decides a little might help fill the emptiness and frustration she experiences on a daily basis. It does make those feelings disappear, but soon it takes more and more of the cocaine to even begin to take the edge off. Abby's new world explodes when her younger brother catches her and calls in her mom and dad.

The next thing Abby realizes she is living at Spiral, an isolated treatment center miles from home. As the only live-in resident of the center, Abby learns she has been signed up for a six month course of treatment. Can it get any worse or can a place like Spiral have the answer for someone like her?

At just over 100 pages, SPIRAL by K. L. Denman, tells the story of one girl's plunge into life with a severe physical disability. Her reaction to her circumstances is not a surprise, but many might be surprised about where she finds help and a way to cope with the life changes she faces.

THIS FULL HOUSE by Virginia Euwer Wolff



Finally the conclusion of the MAKE LEMONADE trilogy by Virginia Euwer Wolff will be on store shelves in February of 09. It has been 15 years since the first book about LaVaughn and Jolly. Having just finished the ARC, I can say it was worth the wait.

High school student LaVaughn and single mother Jolly first met in MAKE LEMONADE. LaVaughn reluctantly took on the job of babysitter to Jolly's two young children. Watching Jolly struggle as a single, teen mother makes LaVaughn realize the importance of getting an education and making something of herself. What follows in the trilogy is TRUE BELIEVER and even more experience watching and helping Jolly make ends meet for her little family. THIS FULL HOUSE provides a satisfying conclusion and a hopeful future for both LaVaughn and Jolly.

An interest in science and medicine along with a determination to attend college gives LaVaughn the encouragement to apply for a program designed to give girls like her a unique opportunity. The program, WIMS - Women in Medical Science, is run by Dr. Moore. She has dedicated her life to medicine and wants to offer other girls the chance to thrive and succeed as well. Every Tuesday and Wednesday LaVaughn has the privilege of attending lectures and working in labs to study and learn the science that has always fascinated her.

LaVaughn's life is filled with the WIMS classes, her own final high school classes, a job in the hospital laundry, watching Jolly's two kids while Jolly studies for her G.E.D., and juggling anything else that comes her way. With the encouragement of those around her, LaVaughn is beginning to think college might actually be in her future. However, the constant desire to help her friend Jolly find the answers to her mysterious past are about to possibly derail the future she has fought so hard to plan. LaVaughn thinks she might have found the long missing mother Jolly so desperately needs and wants in her life.

Those readers who have yet to discover this remarkable trilogy should stop by the library or bookstore and get their hands on a copy of MAKE LEMONADE. Meeting LaVaughn and Jolly in that first book will bring readers back until they reach the conclusion in THIS FULL HOUSE. It was definitely a story worth waiting for.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

BIG LISA SCHROEDER CONTEST IN HONOR OF THE RELEASE OF FAR FROM YOU.

FAR FROM YOU release celebration and contest!

Lisa Schroeder, author of I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, is celebrating the release of her upcoming YA novel, FAR FROM YOU, and hosting a contest with LOTS of great prizes!For three days leading up to the book's release date of December 23rd, you can watch VLOGs and hear some excerpts read from the book.

The VLOG schedule is as follows:

Sunday, December 21st – Liv's Book Reviews - http://livsbookreviews.blogspot.com/

Monday, December 22nd – What Vanessa Reads - http://whatvanessareads.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, December 23rd – Lisa Schroeder, author - http://lisa-schroeder.livejournal.com/ AND http://myspace.com/writerlisa

Help spread the word, and you might win a fabulous prize!Copy and paste THIS entire blog entry into your blog between now and December 21st, then come back to Lisa's blog at either Livejournal OR Myspace and leave a comment with the link to your blog and you will get TWO enteries to win a number of prizes.Wondering what you might win?
Here is the list (there will be multiple winners):~

An Advanced Review Copy of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, by Carrie Ryan~

An Advanced Review Copy of SOMETHING, MAYBE, by Elizabeth Scott~

Young adult novel GIRL, HERO by Carrie Jones~

Young adult novel, THE POSSIBILITIES OF SAINTHOOD by Donna Freitas~

Young adult novel, UGLIES by Scott Westerfield~

Pair of YA fairy tale retellings by Cameron Dokey (BELLE and BEFORE MIDNIGHT)~

TWILIGHT movie soundtrack~

$15.00 Barnes and Noble gift card along with some Harry & David's chocolate moose munch~

And of course, a signed copy of FAR FROM YOU.

For more chances to win, watch one or all of the VLOGs and leave a comment on that vlogger's page, and you get another entry. That means if you post the schedule on your blog AND comment on all three VLOGs, you can have FIVE entries for the contest!

A live drawing with winners announced will be done by Lisa Thursday morning, December 24th, in a special holiday VLOG.

Friday, December 19, 2008

BURN by Suzanne Phillips



Cameron Grady never imagined high school would be such torture. Other than a personal interest in running, he's never been much of an athlete. He's smaller than the average freshman, and that along with his long hair and keep-to-himself attitude have made him the target of abuse. Rich Patterson and his jock buddies are making it their daily job to ridicule Cameron with verbal abuse and physical assaults.

Cameron knows the horrors of domestic violence thanks to an abusive father. He and his younger brother Robbie are thankful that their mother finally packed them up and left her cruel husband. Talking to her about his school situation though is difficult. She's busy with work and trying to make her relationship with Randy a local cop work out. He knows she loves him and his brother, but telling her what he suffers daily at the hands of bullies is not something he is able to do.

The constant torture reaches a peak the day Patterson and his buddies corner Cameron in the locker room. Naked and defenseless, he is savagely beaten, and the insult continues when he is able to drag himself to his next class in the computer lab, only to discover pornographic pictures featuring his humiliation are being broadcast throughout the school. It is more than Cameron is willing to take.

Running releases some of the built up pressure, but he only finds true relief in the presence of fire. First it's lighting matches and letting them burn to his fingertips, but after a while the feeling of relief only comes with more dangerous stunts. After the locker room incident Cameron finds his inner "firebug" is almost out of control. Unfortunately the thrill he gets from his brush with danger inspires him to plan revenge against his tormentors.

BURN gives readers an inside look into the horrors of bullying. Author Suzanne Phillips portrays not only the victim, but also the sad reality that many victims suffer while observers of the violence remain mute or simply choose not to notice or admit that bullying exists. BURN is a powerful story that will hopefully speak to a growing problem in today's classrooms and school yards.

Monday, December 15, 2008

PLAIN TRUTH by Jodi Picoult



Every once in a while I slip off the YA wagon and read a "grown-up" book. This time the call of Jodi Picoult was one I couldn't resist. I've read several of her books, and I'm glad to add PLAIN TRUTH to that list.

Katie Fisher, a young 18 year old Amish girl, and Ellie Hathaway, a hard-core defense attorney, find their lives joined together by the possibility of a terrible crime. Young Katie is unmarried and pregnant; not something one usually associates with an Amish girl. Having hidden her pregnancy, Katie goes into early labor and heads toward the family barn where she gives birth to a premature baby boy. The following morning the dead baby is found wrapped in a shirt and hidden under the hay.

Ellie Hathaway stumbles onto the case while visiting her aunt. A new case, especially this one, is not what she is looking for at the moment, but as a distant relative of the accused girl, she agrees to take the case. The circumstances of having an Amish client in what they refer to as an "English" courtroom requires bending some rules and sort of inventing some new ones. Ellie finds herself living with the Fisher family and getting a firsthand experience with Amish life.

In typical Picoult fashion, this novel unfolds quickly and provides readers with many twists and turns. She masterfully paints a picture of Amish life in contrast to the world as viewed by the American court system. I was fascinated by this different life I've only glimpsed when travelling through parts of southern Michigan and northern Indiana. Picoult offers heartwarming relationships and heartwrenching drama in PLAIN TRUTH. Although I review this as a "grown-up" book, it certainly has a place as a reading selection in any high school collection.

Friday, December 12, 2008

PORTIA'S ULTRA MYSTERIOUS DOUBLE LIFE by Anna Hays



It is 3:47 A.M. in Palmville, California, and there has just been an earthquake. Portia is used to that sort of thing, but it still comes as a surprise when it happens at night. Freddy Fred Frederick, Portia's cat never seems to get used to the rock and roll of earthquakes. His reaction is to hide under Portia's bed, and even tasty treats used a bribes won't lure him from the safety of his hiding place.

Portia is surprised when her mother wakes her later that morning. She had been dreaming of far-away places and the father she never really knew. When she hears school has been cancelled due to the earthquake, she has time to contemplate this most recent dream of her wandering father. Portia focuses on the unique quality of her dreams. Her sleeping mind invents amazing adventures and imagines her father as a mysterious detective. Each dream places him in some new location and Portia receives "dream postcards" with mysterious and unreadable messages. More than anything, Portia would like to know about her absent father, but earthquake damage requires her immediate attention.

Since there is no school, she is drafted by her mother to help clean up the family business. Indigo, Portia's mother, owns and runs a health food cafe called Contentment or The Tent. It has sustained considerable damage from the quake and its aftershocks. While helping to clean Indigo's office, Portia finds a possible clue to the mystery of her father. The clue gives her the courage she needs to begin a serious search to locate him.

Readers of PORTIA'S ULTRA MYSTERIOUS DOUBLE LIFE are in for a treat. Portia's tale is cleverly told with humorous twists and turns. Quirky characters fill the pages as the community of Palmville attempts to make their earthquake ravaged town beautiful again. The community effort is inspiration for Portia to begin the adventure unraveling the mysteries of her missing parent. Young teens will find much to like about Portia and her situation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER by Sally Nicholls



A big thank you to one of my 8th grade students for bringing this book to my attention. She told me it was excellent, and I do agree.

WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER tells the story of the last 4 months in the life of eleven year old Sam McQueen. Sam was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of six. He successfully battled the disease twice, but this third bout will be his last. Now at home and taking drugs, not to cure the disease, but only to gain him some extra time, he decides to write his story.

With the help of Felix, another terminally ill young boy, Sam puts his thoughts and feelings on paper. He details his daily activities, his frustrations with his illness, and the many unanswered questions he has about the end. He makes a list of what he would like to do before he dies, including things like "be a teenager", "ride in an airship", and "go up down-escalators and down up-escalators."

Sam's straight-forward approach to his situation and those connected with his life provide an emotional, yet inspiring story. There are humorous moments and heart-wrenching times as Sam lives his remaining days with both amazing curiosity and humble dignity. It is a powerful story I'm glad I didn't miss.

HURT GO HAPPY by Ginny Rorby




HURT GO HAPPY is the story of a young deaf girl and her struggle to adjust to the hearing world around her. Her story combined, with a grumpy old scientist and a rambunctious chimp, make for a book that is sure to be successful with readers both young and old.


Joey lost her hearing at the age of six. Things haven't been easy for her since her communication with others is limited to lip-reading which isn't as easy as it might seem. She is not able to understand her little brother or even her step-father who wears a drooping mustache. Joey's mother is her only real connection with the world, and she refuses to allow Joey to learn sign language because she believes it will draw attention to her disability. School is a struggle most days, and Joey looks forward to returning to the safety of her family and the nature surrounding her country home.


One afternoon while hunting for mushrooms, Joey stumbles onto the property of Dr. Charlie Mansell. At first the grouchy old man orders her off his land, but then he recognizes her disability and invites her into his home. Charlie reveals that he was raised by deaf parents, and he is shocked to learn that Joey has not been allowed to learn American Sign Language. She forms a special friendship with Charlie and the chimp he rescued from the horrors of a science lab. The scientist and the chimp work together to teach Joey how to sign.

Complications arise when Joey's mother finds out about the secret lessons. Their mother/daughter relationship begins to crumble as Joey asserts her independence and demands that she be allowed to continue with her new relationships. The mysterious cause of Joey's hearing loss seems to be the motivation as her mother continues to object to the use of sign language. Charlie is insistent that Joey cannot hope to live a normal, productive life without it.


Ginny Rorby has created an emotional and touching story with likeable human characters and one fun-loving chimpanzee. Readers will be entertained as well as educated about life with a disability and the cruelty of animal testing.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

BOOK GIFT SUGGESTIONS FROM THE 8TH GRADERS


BOOKS AS CHRISTMAS GIFTS

These are the books the 8th graders think would make the best holiday gifts.

TWILIGHT SAGA by Stephenie Meyer

DEATH'S SHADOW (latest book in the Demonata series) by Darren Shan

HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins (and we wish she would hurry with the second book)

RUNNER by Carl Deuker

WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS by Wilson Rawls

UNINVITED by Amanda Marrone

EIGHTH GRADE BITES and NINTH GRADE SLAYS by Heather Brewer

LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow

BLISS by Lauren Myracle

IMPULSE by Ellen Hopkins

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher

ZANE'S TRACE by Allan Wolf

THINGS CHANGE by Patrick Jones

BEFORE I DIE by Jenny Downham

GODDESS OF THE NIGHT by Lynne Ewing

SHE SAID YES by Misty Bernall

BOX OUT by John Coy

SKATE by Michael Harmon

CIRCLE THE SOUL SOFTLY by Davida Wills Hurwin


*And I'd like to add PAPER TOWNS by John Green


Have a Merry Christmas!




T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte



Just a brief comment about a brief, but powerful book. T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte, a novel in verse, is an excellent follow-up book for any literature or history class studying the Holocaust.

LeZotte tells the story of a young German girl caught up in the threat of Hilter's Tiergartenstrasse 4 program. As Nazi forces attempted to exterminate the Jews, they also created an evil program aimed at those of any race, class, or nationality who they determined to be defective due to physical or mental frailty. Paula Becker, a young deaf girl, was one such example. Simply because she was deaf she became the target of T4.

This short novel tells the tale of her struggle to avoid the gas chamber. She relates a life of constant movement. With the help of a young man she calls Poor Kurt, she is able to move from one safe haven to another to avoid discovery and certain death. Her story reveals the frightening facts of how the medical profession was used to justify the deaths of innocent victims simply because of their unfortunate handicaps.

T4 is yet another example of the horrors of the Holocaust and the awful evidence of mankind's potential for evil.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMAN SCHOOL by Dori Hillestad Butler



THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMAN SCHOOL explores cyberbullying. Zebby and her computer savvy friend Amr decide to start a news website for their school. Zebby is especially frustrated with their current newspaper and the fact that the advisor doesn't let them print anything of importance to the students at Truman School. If they start a website not connected to the school, everyone will be free to publish whatever happens to be on their minds, and hopefully the news stories will tell the real truth about middle school life.

The initial idea behind the online news site was a good one, but things quickly get out of hand. A mysterious poster named milkandhoney starts posting mean comments aimed directly at a girl named Lilly. Zebby and Amr don't want to remove the cruel posts because they've promoted the site as one where people are free to express their views, but they are bothered by the vicious attacks on a girl they at one time considered a friend.

When links begin to appear on the Truth about Truman site that direct readers to even more nasty attacks on poor Lilly, Zebby and Amr begin to question the soundness of their original plan. Things really turn ugly as Lilly starts faking illness to avoid school, and then she actually disappears. The entire community becomes aware of the online bullying and heads begin to roll.

Many books focused on the problem of bullying can be pretty intense and often contain actions and language more appropriate for older teens, but THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMAN SCHOOL makes its point and aims its material at a middle school audience. It is a worthy addition for any library or classroom.

Friday, November 28, 2008



If you are looking for one of those "ripped from the headlines" type stories, you'll be interested in LOOKING FOR JJ by Anne Cassidy.

It starts with Alice Tully, formerly Jennifer Jones, six months after being released from a juvenile facility and relocated for her own protection. Six years ago Alice (JJ) murdered her best friend. Now she needs to start over, but that may be easier said than done. The world is curious and perhaps freakishly attracted to stories like hers. Why does a 10 year old murder another youngster? What motivates such an attack, and is it possible for someone like that to change?

To this day Alice doesn't know what caused her to snap while holding that baseball bat, but it happened and it changed her life forever. Growing up with an emotionally unstable and often neglectful mother may have contributed to Alice's brief loss of sanity, but no one will probably ever know. She just knows that this chance to start over is a gift, but one wrong move may have jeopardized the opportunity. After innocently sending her mother a birthday card, sensitive information about Alice's new life is now in the hands of the newspaper people. Now her fate may rest in the hands of those out to cash in on her fascinating and violent past.

Anne Cassidy is able to creatively combine both the past and present stories of 10 year old Jennifer Jones and teen Alice Tully. Readers learn about the tragic event that shaped the life of Jennifer and her current desire to resume a peaceful life as Alice. LOOKING FOR JJ would be a worthwhile addition to any age 14 and up collection.

Monday, November 24, 2008

THE WAY HE LIVED by Emily Wing Smith



THE WAY HE LIVED is about Joel, only Joel isn't around anymore. He died in a tragic camping accident. Those left behind are trying to make sense of it all and decide how to continue on without him.

Written from six different points of view, it reveals Joel piece by piece. His sisters Tabbatha and Claire tell what life is like for them since his death. Both are confused that their parents chose this difficult time to move the remaining family from the house where they grew up to a luxurious seven bedroom house in the high-end part of town. Their father throws himself into his work, and their mother who always had her "bad days" seems to only find solace by locking herself away in her room and letting the family muddle on without her. Emotionally sensitive Tabbatha gradually finds a reason to slowly move on toward a possible college life, and Claire has to runaway before she is ready to come back and face what is left behind.

The other voices of the novel belong to Joel's friends and acquaintances. They include Adlen, Miles, Norah, and Lissa. Their stories link to Joel through direct personal relationships or by way of others connected to him. Each person has their version of this respected but slightly mysterious individual.

Much like our own lives, each person presents a unique picture to each different person with whom we connect. Can a true picture ever be created of anyone after they are gone? It seems only you might know the real you.

Emily Wing Smith is able to capture each personality. The flow and tone of each chapter is unique to the individual. She presents their pain and their fear of moving on without this missing person who so touched their lives. There is a feeling of true loss and sadness, but it is coupled with hope and the human desire to carry on.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

BLISS by Lauren Myracle



Bliss is a child of the hippie culture. Raised on a commune, she is now living with her straight-laced grandmother in a small southern town. Her parents have escaped to the wilds of Canada to avoid participation in the Vietnam War.

Life as the new girl at Crestview Academy is difficult at first. Everything is a bit strange when you've been raised away from modern-day society. But Bliss is a friendly soul and soon makes friends with a nice group of girls. They show patience as they help her learn the ways of everyday southern life. However, life on the commune didn't prepare Bliss for the prejudice and sometimes mean-spirited nature of the south. She likes her new friends, but often doesn't understand their hateful treatment of others.

After a strange encounter on the deserted third floor of the possibly haunted Hamilton Hall, Bliss develops an unusual friendship with Sandy, the school outcast. Thinking Sandy represents something different and rebellious is at first a welcome attraction for Bliss. However, she soon begins to wonder if Sandy is different in a more dangerous way. Could there be a connection between Sandy's odd behavior and the voices Bliss hears when she comes too close to Hamilton Hall?

Set in 1969, BLISS is filled with late 60's references. Everything from Andy Griffith show quotes to the horrors of the Charles Manson murders are slipped in on eerie black inserts between the chapters. The book is a fast read and creates disturbing images that make it a real chiller that will capture readers on the very first page.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

EVERY SOUL A STAR by Wendy Mass



EVERY SOUL A STAR is the story of three teens and a total solar eclipse. They are three strangers brought together by a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Ally has lived at the Moon Shadow campground for as long as she can remember. Her parents, dedicated star watchers, bought the campground when they discovered that it would be ground zero for an upcoming total solar eclipse. Over the years they created a stargazer-friendly atmosphere and now are expecting over a thousand people to spend time at their campsites. Ally can hardly wait to welcome the crowds and observe this amazing act of nature.

Bree is into make-up, nail polish, and clothes. She keeps a scrapbook of clothes and pictures of models and studies it faithfully, since her life's dream to become a runway model. She is incredibly popular at school and can't understand her younger sister, the science geek. Bree's life comes crashing down around her when her scientist parents announce that the family is moving to the Moon Shadow campground. They will be living there for at least the next several years, since the family currently running the place is relocating to the city. How can they be serious? Bree can't imagine life without the mall, tons of friends, and TV.

Jack is pretty much an outcast at school. He's overweight and not at all interested in sports. He's smart enough but he'd rather listen to his music than pay attention in class. When he is offered another option instead of summer school to make up his failing grade in science, he finds himself boarding a tour bus filled with science nerds all headed to the country to witness a some crazy eclipse.

Author Wendy Mass works her magic as she intertwines the lives of Ally, Bree, and Jack. Using alternating chapters, she tells the stories of the three teens as they become forever connected by an eclipse. She successfully captures the frustrations of her characters as they meet the challenges of their changing lives. Her descriptions as they experience the rare total solar eclipse will have readers googling to see if they will ever be close enough to witness such a spectacle.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

DEADVILLE by Ron Koertge



First of all, gotta love the cover on this one. Second, Ron Koertge has always been able to capture me by the end of chapter one, and this book is no exception.

The most popular girl in school fell off a horse and she's now in a coma in a nearby hospital. Ryan finds himself drawn to her bedside even though he is most definitely not in her social circle or even the distant stratosphere of her world. Does he visit her because she is perhaps the hottest girl in school or because he hopes to move in on her absent boyfriend's territory or because two years ago he lost his own sister in her battle against cancer? The strange thing is that Ryan doesn't really know why he visits this girl in a coma. It's just something he feels he must do.

Running parallel to the Charlotte Silano coma-girl story are several other captivating plot lines. Ryan's visits to the hospital allow him to meet and develop a relationship with Betty, another girl from school who previously didn't really hang in the same crowd with Ryan. There is also the strained relationship between Ryan and his parents. He maintains a fairly normal mother/son relationship, but the connection between father and son has deteriorated to almost nothing since the death of his sister Molly. It's not just a problem for Ryan since his father has seemingly cut ties with his wife as well. He has changed his whole lifestyle right down to his choice of a vegan menu. Ryan's mother has chosen to throw herself into yoga and meditation to cope with the loss of her daughter. It seems a healthy avenue to stress relief, but she appears to be getting a bit to close to her instructor, causing Ryan to fear for his parents' marriage.

One benefit of Ryan's frequent visits to Charlotte's hospital room is that he is putting some distance between his so-called friend Andy and the never-ending supply of pot that has so far been getting him through his periods of grief. Is it possible to stay sober and confront tough times enough to pull himself together? That's the question facing Ryan for most of DEADVILLE.

Ron Koertge successfully takes readers into Ryan's world of emotional stress and pain. Everyone has their own way of coping and DEADVILLE illustrates them all in a direct, straight-forward style.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

LIVING DEAD GIRL by Elizabeth Scott



LIVING DEAD GIRL is the heart-wrenching story of a girl whose life ended when she was abducted by a stranger. Alice tells the story of the five terrible years she spends as the prisoner of a sick, pedophile. Her emotional experience will tear at your heart and send chills down your back.


Not quite 10 years old, Alice is on a school field trip to the aquarium. After an argument with her friends, she finds herself alone - the perfect opportunity for Ray. He offers to help her find her classmates, and she is soon trapped in a terrifying situation.


Ray has done this once before. The other Alice spent years as his captive until she was no longer the "little" girl he desired. Now he has found a new Alice to take her place. He uses threats to her family's safety to manipulate her. His abuse is both emotional and physical. Although vaguely described, it is obvious how Alice suffers. Since five years have passed, Alice is no longer as pleasing as she once was, and Ray has decided to use her to help him find a replacement.


Most would think that even a young victim would find some way to escape this horrible situation, but Alice explains that an easy escape is made complicated by emotional torment and the general apathy of those around us. This is a powerful story very carefully created. It has been adverstised as YA (young adult) and does have it's place in that genre, however, I would caution it deals with an incredibly sensitive and heinous topic suited for the mature reader.

Monday, November 10, 2008

BOOST by Kathy Mackel



OK, I'll admit I judged this book by the cover. When I saw a girl with a basketball, I immediately thought, "Hey, there's something you don't see every day. A sports book about a girl." Anyway, I bought it, and now that I've read it, I can say my money was well spent.

Savvy Christopher is in the eighth grade. Right there you know the odds are stacked against her. The middle school years have never been known as the easy years. Savvy is battling more than just her age. She is the new girl in town. Her family is bankrupt and has had to leave their very nice home in New Mexico to move in with an aunt who runs a sheep farm in New England. Talk about a lifestyle change! On top of that, Savvy is a startling 6' 1" , soon to be 6' 3" in her stocking feet. She lives and breathes basketball, but she doesn't exactly blend into the crowd.

Savvy's story begins in July. She goes to the tryouts for the local 16 and under basketball league. She's pretty sure she has a chance at making the team, but then she runs into Gonzo, another 13 year old trying out for the team. The twist is that Gonzo doesn't plan to actually tryout. Her plan is to head on over to the other tryout being held for the 18 and under group. She convinces Savvy they have a chance with the big leagues. Amazingly, both girls show their stuff and get a call from the coach offering them a spot on the team. Now the challenge is being accepted by the older players and getting a chance to do more than just ride the bench.

In between the basketball challenges, Savvy is faced with issues at home. She finds herself helping out on the farm when Aunt Betty is laid up with a broken ankle. The hours she spends hauling around bales of hay, herding sheep, and cleaning out the barn help Savvy develop some needed muscle for the basketball court. But as the summer ball season heads into tournament play, Savvy's newly developed strength is called into question and earns her accusations of possible steroid use.

Readers who follow the plot carefully will most likely come to the logical conclusion well before the end of the book, but the non-stop action will keep them turning pages right to the end. I was pleased to see a sports book focus on girl players. Many of the girls I have as students gladly pick up the books featuring boys and they don't complain, but I'm anxious to share this one with them because they deserve to see themselves at the center of attention, too.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

PAPER TOWNS by John Green



John Green, author of LOOKING FOR ALASKA and AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, has outdone himself. His latest YA offering PAPER TOWNS is fantastic!

The clever crafting of this novel is amazing. The search for Margo Roth Spiegelman takes readers on an incredible journey revealing that we may think we know a person, even ourselves, but no one truly sees through the many layers that make up who we are.

Quentin believes he has a few short weeks left of his senior year, and what follows will be a typical summer and then college. That is until Margo appears at his bedroom window one night and changes his world.

He has never been part of the popular crowd - those who orbit around Margo. As her childhood friend and neighbor, Quentin remembers a time when they were quite close, and frankly, he has spent many hours daydreaming that that closeness could develop into something on a more serious level. But he is a nerd who hangs out around the bandroom about as far away from the world of Margo as possible. When she comes asking for his help, he can hardly believe it.

The night with Margo is incredible. Not what one would expect - but well worth giving up a good night's sleep and having to drag himself to school the next day. After several days back at school, it becomes clear that Margo has disappeared, and Quentin may have been the last person to see her. Her family only seems annoyed with her disappearance since it is not the first time she has pulled this sort of stunt. Their reaction is to report her missing and then change the locks so whenever she decides to return from her latest adventure, she'll know they don't appreciate her inconsiderate absences.

Unlike everyone else, Quentin can't stop thinking that Margo has done more than just run away. He begins to believe she is dead. Puzzling clues reveal a number of possibilities, and with the help of a few friends, he begins to follow the clues. In his determination to find her, Quentin discovers Margo may not be who he always thought she was. He is also discovering some startling things about himself.

John Green combines Walt Whitman, Dylan and Guthrie, some fabulous pranks and spot-on humor with the delights and pains of high school romance into a clever and sensitive coming-of-age story. This book takes YA literature to a whole new level.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

THE 8TH GRADERS' MUST-READ LIST FOR NOVEMBER

According to my students, these books are definitely worth reading. Included with the title and author is the suggested interest level (MG=middle grade and UG=upper grade) and the AR point value for each book.

Happy reading!!

DEEP, DARK, AND DANGEROUS by Mary Downing Hahn (MG, 7 pts.)

ZANE'S TRACE by Allan Wolf (UG, 3 pts.)

DAEMON HALL by Andrew Nance (MG, 8 pts.)

THE BOXER AND THE SPY by Robert Parker (UG, 5 pts.)

HIT AND RUN by Lurlene McDaniel (UG, 4 pts.)

WHAT HAPPENED TO CASS MCBRIDE? by Gail Giles (UG, 4 pts.)

HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff (UG, 8 pts.)

TELL ME WHAT YOU SEE by Zoran Drvenkar (UG, 8 pts.)

DEADLINE by Chris Crutcher (UG, 10 pts.)

HOOT by Carl Hiaasen (MG, 9 pts.)

HURRICANE SONG: A NOVEL OF NEW ORLEANS by Paul Volponi (MG, 4 pts.)

HARMLESS by Dana Reinhardt (UG, 8 pts.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

THE HAND YOU'RE DEALT by Paul Volponi



With the recent popularity of poker, especially Texas hold'em, Paul Volponi's new book is sure to be a success. Usually Volponi focuses on sports, but his switch to poker as a theme in THE HAND YOU'RE DEALT will still satisfy his fans and most likely earn him some new ones.

Huck Porter has grown up surrounded by poker. His father was a local poker champion and taught Huck everything about the game. As he sat by his father's deathbed at least he was comforted by the fact that the man proudly wore the treasured watch every tournament winner got to wear for a year until a new winner was crowned. But that comfort suddenly disappeared when the watch was stolen by Mr. Abbott, Huck's high school math teacher, who insisted his poker skills had won him the right to wear it.

From the moment of his father's death, Huck swears to seek revenge. His every waking thought is focused on how and when he will beat Abbott and wear the watch that had made his father so proud. Unfortunately, many things stand in his way. His mother doesn't approve of the poker tradition set by her late husband, his best friend thinks it's time to let the whole thing go, and the girl of his dreams doesn't view their relationship to be as serious as Huck would like. Even getting in the famed local poker tournament is proving to be a bit of a challenge.

Volponi uses family loyalty, colorful characters, and card shark action to draw readers into the story of Huck's attempt to regain what rightfully belongs to his family. Understanding the finer points of poker is not a necessary requirement. Readers just need the ability to follow some fast-paced action and cheer on the good guys.

Monday, October 20, 2008

CHECK IT OUT - A GREAT CONTEST OPPORTUNITY

Interested in entering a contest to win some cool books? Check out The Pageflipper's blog.

http://thepageflipper.blogspot.com/2008/10/monthly-prize-pack.html

It will just take a minute of your time and a bit of sharing about a good book you've read recently. Come on -- give it a try! But hurry because you only have until November 1.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

HIPPIE CHICK by Joseph Monniger



If I heard someone else say this about a book, I would immediately roll my eyes and decide to skip reading it, but here goes ... HIPPIE CHICK is a beautiful book! Seriously, if you have a chance to read it, run, don't walk, and grab the chance.

Lolly Emmerson is an independent fifteen year old who sets out for an evening sail in the Florida Keys. She leaves a note for her mother as her neighbor suggests and heads out in the small boat she has handled by herself on countless sails. This time events conspire against her when the boat hits some underwater wreckage causing it to overturn. Lolly is thrown overboard with only her lifevest for support.

After hours of struggle and a bump against her leg she is sure is a bull shark, she manages to climb onto the floundering boat. Her fragile hold on the disabled craft doesn't last long, and she slips back into the water, and what she believes to be certain death.

As Lolly beautifully relates her story, she describes the arrival of three manatees. One of the huge, gentle creatures allows her to cling to him as they make their way to a feeding area in a tiny mangrove bay. Lolly credits the manatees with her eventual rescue, but once rescued, she finds it difficult to relate her curious adventure to news reporters and interested friends.

Many authors of survivor tales focus on frightening, desperate attempts to beat nature and hang on until help arrives. Joseph Monninger tells this story in a different way. The focus is on the mysterious, sensitive side of nature. Lolly experiences a deep connection to her manatee rescuers that only she can understand. Monninger gives readers a peek into Lolly's emotional, life-changing experience.

HERO TYPE by Barry Lyga



Kevin Ross, known as Kross to his friends, has been called a hero in his hometown and beyond. But can the seemingly innocent decision to remove a couple of magnetic ribbons from the back of his ugly, brown used car catapult his hero status to that of hated enemy? You bet it can!

Kevin happened to be at the right place at the wrong time for a serial killer called The Surgeon. For potential teen victim and classmate Leah, it was a case of the right place at the right time. Since saving Leah from certain death, Kevin can't look anywhere in town without seeing his name and hers linked on "thank you" signs and congratulations of all kinds. People can't seem to be able to do enough for Kevin, and they watch anxiously as he appears on TV and waits to collect a reward for his heroism.

All this praise and excitement is confusing for Kevin. He has long had a crush on Leah and relishes the attention she is now giving him; however, there are several secrets in Kevin's life that cast a shadow on all this positive attention. One secret is his father's mysterious military history in the Gulf War. Even when Kevin's mother still lived with them, the subject of his father's military service was off limits. The other secret is Kevin's own guilt for some event that actually placed him with Lead in the alley at the time of the killer's attack.

On the day Kevin pulled in the driveway with his new, used car, his father angrily demanded that the "support our troops" ribbons be removed immediately. When Kevin innocently explains that the local car dealer had slapped them on as he drove out of the used car lot, his father still insists they need to go. Unfortunately for Kevin, a news reporter still following the local hero, witnesses the removal of the ribbons. This news is interpreted as "un-patriotic" behavior, and it unleashes the fury of a town proud of its patriot values.

As Kevin battles the public, who days before spoke of his heroic deed, he learns more about his parents' divorce, his mother's decision to move to California, and his father's struggles in the Gulf War. Readers can watch as Kevin learns the true meaning of patriotism and the freedoms we all take for granted. His story is especially intriguing in this time of political turmoil and tension. Author Barry Lyga clearly demonstrates the division that can be created by different interpretations of what it means to support one's patriot beliefs.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

THE JUVIE THREE by Gordon Korman



What do you get when you mix three juvenile delinquents on their last chance before doing some long term hard time, one do-gooder out to help them become better people, and Gordon Korman? THE JUVIE THREE! It is a fast-paced, page-turner complete with humor, action scenes, romance, and some fascinating twists and turns.

Douglas Healy lived through his own hard times as a teen, and now he is determined to give some hope to a new crop of troubled teens. He has worked hard to cut through the red tape and bureaucratic nonsense to open a small halfway house (apartment) for three lost boys. Gecko, Terence, and Arjay have commited a variety of crimes from driving a stolen getaway car to murder, and society seems to say their are beyond hope. The efforts of Douglas Healy have given the three a last chance.

Gecko seems grateful and determined to do the right thing. Arjay is confused and suspicious, yet strangely appreciative, that a stranger would take the time to reach out a helping hand. Terence looks at the situation as an opportunity to make a quick buck and escape ASAP. When Terence breaks the rules one night and attempts to sneak out by way of the fire-escape, the other two boys step in to protect what they view as their last chance at a real life. The scuffle between the boys is interrupted by a sleepy and angry Douglas Healy who has the unfortunate luck to plummet head first from the fire-escape to the pavement below.

Fearful of the outcome if they are caught, the three boys load an unconscious, bleeding Healy in the back of a stolen car and rush him to the nearest emergency room where they dump him and then high-tail it back to the apartment. Until they can decide what to do next, they agree to keep up appearances and stick to their usual daily routine. What follows is an amazing tale of how three supposedly "no good" kids follow the rules and make the right decisions without adult supervision. The plot twists and turns will keep even the most reluctant readers on the edge of their seats. Don't miss THE JUVIE THREE.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

8TH GRADERS RECOMMEND THESE FOR OCTOBER

Here's a list of must-reads from my 8th graders.

GRIEF GIRL by Erin Vincent
SIDE EFFECTS by Amy Goldman Koss
HIT AND RUN by Lurlene McDaniel
WHAT HAPPENED TO CASS McBRIDE? by Gail Giles
DEFYING THE DIVA by D. Anne Love
SKATE by Michael Harmon
THE LAST EXIT TO NORMAL by Michael Harmon
ALL THE LOVELY BAD ONES by Mary Downing Hahn
GOSSIP GIRL series by Cecily von Ziegesar
GIVE A BOY A GUN by Todd Strasser
WAKE by Lisa McMANN







































































Saturday, September 27, 2008

BLAZE by Richard Bachman



Yes, that's right, I just finished reading a "grown-up" book. One of my students brought it to school and asked if I would read it. He said he started it but had found it confusing.

It is the story of Clayton Blaisdell Jr. aka Blaze. He stands 6' 5" and just under 300 pounds. Early on in life he was blessed with considerable intelligence, but that changed after his drunken father pushed/threw him down a staircase, not once, but three times. A severe head injury put him in a coma for several weeks and upon recovery in a state orphanage called Hetton House. Life there was barely tolerable, and left Blaze with even bigger problems and some horrible memories.

Once free of the orphanage, Blaze ends up the sidekick partner in crime of a man named George. George enjoys Blaze's innocent and big-hearted approach to life and teaches him the value of a good con. Tired of small time con games, George cooks up a scheme to kidnap the baby of a wealthy couple. The plan appears to be derailed when George is fatally stabbed during a poker game. But after George's untimely death, Blaze is determined to pull off the kidnapping on his own.

With George's ghostly voice haunting him, Blaze carefully follows the plan. At least he tries to carefully follow the plan. His limited cognitive abilities make for some interesting and often humorous variations on George's original scheme. The baby is successfully snatched, but there are multiple clues left behind as well as the dead body of the baby's grandmother. Blaze now finds himself with little Joe and the challenge of figuring out how to keep him comfortable and make his demands known. Besides that, he didn't count on becoming attached to the little fellow.

Richard Bachman aka Stephen King creates a fast-paced, quirky story about a likeable criminal character. Blaze is huge and deadly, but he will touch your heart as you read about his tragic childhood and his bumbling attempts to follow his friend's dangerous plan. I'm glad this book was passed my way.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

WAR IS... : SOLDIER, SURVIVORS, AND STORYTELLERS TALK ABOUT WAR edited by Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell



I just realized that today is PEACE DAY, and I spent most of it reading a book about war. It left me anything but peaceful. I'm angry about a number of things shared in the stories included in this book.

First of all, I'll mention the introductions written by the book's editors Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell. They are worth reading even if you don't read the rest of the book. Their ideas about war differ, but those ideas led both to create this collection of war stories - and a powerful collection it is.

The book includes accounts from soldiers, reporters, and civilian survivors. There are stories from past wars and current wars and all the horrific wars in between. Some stories tell gruesome tales; others find some shred of hope. Whatever the storyteller chooses to share, it reveals the truth and will touch the emotions of all who read it.

My anger flared most when I read of the current war, and how we don't seem to have learned anything from the past. As an educator, I was shocked to learn that the military and the signing of young volunteers is actually a part of the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Bill. The law states that the military must have the same access to secondary students as post-secondary educational institutions or prospective employers. "The law also requires high schools to provide the military access to students' names, addresses, and telephone numbers -- unless a parent or student contacts the school to deny permission to release this information." Included in this article is the suggestion that all high school seniors should be given access and help in reading the military recruitment contract. Basically, the military makes hollow, meaningless promises within that contract. Our young people sign up thinking they are agreeing to 4 to 8 years of service with a variety of monetary benefits, and the whole thing has been proven to be completely meaningless.

Other things that raised my hackles were the accounts of how unappreciated our veterans feel, the harassment suffered by women in the military, and the horrific expectations we place on innocent young people only just out of high school. The emotional and physical scars are something no human should have to endure.

Aronson and Campbell have compiled this collection to speak to a YA audience, but this is a book everyone should read. It needs to be in every public library, high school library, college library, and perhaps in every waiting room and lobby around the country. Just picking up this book and randomly choosing and reading a selection will have an impact on any American.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

TEST by William Sleator



What if all learning was directed toward one test? What if your future was determined by that one test? Hmmmm.... With the current system believing in the theory of NCLB (No Child Left Behind), isn't that the direction being pushed on education today? When that ludicrous theory begins appearing in current YA fiction, it seems that perhaps the "experts" should take some notice.

William Sleator, popular YA fiction author, uses NCLB and AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) as the central theme of his new novel TEST. Thought by some critics to be simplistic and wrapped up with a too tidy conclusion, I found still found it close enough to the reality of classrooms today to raise my blood pressure a notch or two. It also gave a sense of real purpose to that Publisher's Note: " This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental." Any teacher in an Amercian classroom today will recognize a frightening numbers of parallels between this story and what they are actually living in their own classroom.

According to TEST, the country is made up of two worlds. There is a world of the powerful people. They have money and the ability to live an easy life with beautiful homes and unlimited material goods, including helicopters for transportation which allow them to avoid endless traffic problems and prolonged exposure to toxic pollution. While the other world must face limited money and supplies, long and unpleasant commutes to work and school, and dangerous living conditions. Success in the world of the "haves" is guaranteed, while success in the world of the "have nots" depends on the ability to pass the XCAS test which is the only path to college and a future with any sort of promise. Failure to pass the test results in expulsion from school and a direct path to whatever meaningless, low paying job that will hopefully be available.

Ann finds herself struggling with school which consists of endless preparation for the XCAS. She is a senior and her test results this year will determine the rest of her life. She is frustrated with boring classroom material and disgruntled teachers whose only motivation is creating good student test scores to secure their own jobs. Ann knows that her father works for the wealthy man responsible for publishing the hated test, and that that man has direct connections to the president who believes NCLB is the best way to educate the masses.

When Ann meets Lep, an immigrant from Thailand and a fellow student, she learns even more about the testing system and the corruptness of that system. With knowledge comes danger, and Ann soon feels her life is being threatened as a result of the powers behind the XCAS.

Readers of TEST are taken into both worlds - the powerful and the underprivileged. The similarities to today's current educational practices are startling. Hopefully, this is not the direction our educational system wants maintain. NCLB is a system in need of change. Books like TEST might bring that need to the attention of the right people.

Monday, September 15, 2008

IMPOSSIBLE by Nancy Werlin



Nancy Werlin's new book is an interesting combination of mystery, suspense, and the paranormal. She uses a variation of the song "Scarborough Fair" as the backdrop for an evil family curse.

Generations ago an angry elfin knight placed a curse on the young women of the Scarborough clan. Each girl became pregnant as a teen and upon giving birth to a daughter, each girl went insane. The only way to break the curse was to complete three tasks described in the lyrics of the song. Until now it seemed the curse would carry on forever.

Lucy Scarborough now seventeen has always known her birth mother was Miranda Scarborough, but luck brought her into the lives of Leo and Soledad Markowitz. They have raised her since birth and understand the complications of her life story. Through the years they have been plagued by visits from Miranda. Her insanity has been the cause of many embarrassing situations. Now as Lucy is approaching her last year in high school, she hopes that she can avoid anymore encounters with her crazy mother and get on with her life.

Early in the story Lucy is preparing for her prom and her date with Gray Spencer. Her adopted parents are nervous about the date since it is one of her first, and they haven't actually met Gray. As the couple is posing for pictures and is about to leave for the evening, the unthinkable happens. Miranda shows up in her baggy T-shirt and flowing shirt, pushing her rusty shopping cart full of bottles and cans. Everyone is shocked when she begins to attack, throwing glass bottles at everyone in the yard. She is finally hauled away by the police, but not before Gray makes a get-away in his new car leaving Lucy humiliated and dateless.

Just when Lucy is ready to give up on him and attend the prom with a long-time childhood friend, Gray returns, apologizes for running off, and begs her to still be his date. She happily accepts, but it proves to be the beginning of yet another horrible experience. As the two are leaving the prom later that evening, Gray takes Lucy aside and forces himself on her and rapes her. The experience is not only terrible, but also puzzling as Lucy tries to connect the gentle high school boy with the vicious act and the sinister voice she hears during that attack.
Weeks after the prom, Lucy discovers she has followed in the footsteps of the Scarborough women and become a pregnant teen. Will her fate be the same? Will she give birth to a daughter, and will she lose her mind?

Werlin creates an interesting mix of past and present. Lucy seems one moment to be a typical teen, and the next, the victim of an ancient evil. The turning of each page reveals another fact about the family curse. The lyrics of the song provide the clues necessary to break the curse, but those clues are not crystal clear and require creative solutions from Lucy and her helpful family and friends. Encouraged by hope and love, Lucy fights to change the direction of her life at the same time as she learns to accept the hand fate has dealt. Werlin fans will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

HURRICANE by Terry Trueman



La Rupa, Honduras is a small village with a handful of houses. The villagers all know each other like a tightly knit family, so when disaster hits it changes their world forever.

A powerful hurricane hits Central America. Young Jose watches his village disappear under an avalanche of mud. When the storm clears, he and his mother and younger siblings discover that their house is one of the only remaining structures still standing. Nearly half of their fellow villagers have been buried in the mudslide. To complicate matters, Jose's father, older brother, and older sister are missing.

Survival requires those left behind to put aside their grief to work hard finding food and water as they attempt to clear away the mud enough to recover needed possessions and bury the dead. Jose steps up to the challenge when he journeys to find help for his sick little brother. International U.N. volunteers depend on him as a translator and organizer. As he works nonstop and prays endlessly for the return of his missing family members, Jose matures and becomes the man of the family.

Terry Trueman captures the fear and devastation associated with a powerful hurricane. Readers will easily relate to the emotional trauma of losing family and friends while also trying to continue life in horrifying conditions. With recent hurricane threats, this story brings the frightening details to life.

Monday, September 8, 2008

IDENTICAL by Ellen Hopkins



Secrets. IDENTICAL is all about secrets.

Twins Kaeleigh and Raeanne are alike in many ways, but each have their own secrets. In fact they are part of a family that is full of secrets. Their father, a district-court judge, has his own unspeakable secret. Their mother, a soon-to-be elected Congresswoman, has her own hidden secret. Even their grandparents have decade-old secrets they are reluctant to reveal.

Although the twins are identical in appearance, their personalities take them in very different directions. Raeanne, the risk taker, involves herself in questionable sexual relationships and experimentation with illegal drugs. Her goal is to numb herself to the world around her. She feels unloved by her parents and powerless when it comes to protecting her more vulnerable sister. Kaeleigh is the compliant one. Her need to please and satisfy makes her the easy target of a father looking for the wrong kind of love in a very wrong place.

The hidden lives of all the characters are slowly revealed as Kaeleigh and Raeanne alternate as narrators describing their world. Each girl handles life as best she can, since each feels alone and unable to seek help or guidance from even those they come to call friends.

IDENTICAL is Ellen Hopkins at her best. Once again she uses her unique style to communicate the story. The verse is straightforward and honest. Although some say they find her directness too harsh, I appreciate that she doesn't sugar-coat the controversial issues she chooses to tackle. There isn't anything "nice" about what happens in IDENTICAL, and Hopkins doesn't try to cheapen it by softening the facts. Readers should brace themselves for a gritty story, but it's one that will have them appreciating the simple love and trust present in their own lives.

My 8th Graders Say ... Read These Books!

Here's list of books my 8th graders either read over the summer or since school started. They recommend them as "must read" titles.

TWILIGHT and NEW MOON by Stephenie Meyer
BLOOD BEAST and DEMON APOCALYPES by Darren Shan
THE CAR, HARRIS AND ME, and the TUCKET SERIES by Gary Paulsen
FAKE ID and CLUB DREAD by Walter Sorrells
BEST FOOT FORWARD by Joan Bauer
BEANBALL by Gene Fehler
RED IS FOR REMEMBRANCE by Laurie Faria Stolarz
ELDEST by Christopher Paolini
TEEN ANGST? NAAH.... by Ned Vizzini

Saturday, September 6, 2008

LOCK AND KEY by Sarah Dessen



Seventeen year old Ruby has been living on her own for several months since her alcoholic mother suddenly packed up and left. Things haven't been all that great, but she figures she'll be eighteen soon and maybe life will turn around. Then there's a knock on her door. Thanks to the nosy landlords, Ruby finds herself first in the care of social services and then moving in with her sister Cora who she hasn't seen in years.

As far as Ruby knows, Cora left her years ago with their drunken mother and was never heard from again. Suddenly Cora and her husband Jamie are stepping in to rescue Ruby. They are providing a beautiful house in a wealthy gated community, a preppy private school, and the offer of credit card shopping sprees. It's completely overwhelming. Not used to the extravagant lifestyle, it takes a while for Ruby to trust her sister's motives.

Even though her past life was difficult at best, Ruby returns to her old house, her old school, and a few old friends as she tries to adjust to her new and sometimes confusing situation. As she begins to open up to Cora, Jamie, and Nate the boy next door, she learns that real family and friendship can provide support she never even imagined was possible.

Author Sarah Dessen continues her string of excellent YA novels with LOCK AND KEY. It's a story filled with real people dealing with real problems. Her well-developed characters are easy to relate to, pulling readers into the smoothly written plot. As with most of Dessen's books, I felt a part of their lives as I turned each page. LOCK AND KEY is a worthwhile addition to any collection.

Monday, September 1, 2008

DOES MY HEAD LOOK BIG IN THIS? by Randa Abdel-Fattah



Amal is Australian-Palestinian-Muslim. She was born in Australia, and it's all she knows. She went to a Catholic grade school and is now in eleventh grade in an Australian preparatory school with plans to attend college. She is surrounded by a mix of cultures and variety so she normally blends in with the crowd. However, things are about to change.

Religion is taken seriously in Amal's household. They observe Muslim traditions as they live their busy lives. Despite being raised by strict and concerned parents, Amal counts herself lucky that they believe in education and the freedom to follow her future dreams, unlike her friend Leila's mother who believes she must be married off to an acceptable man as quickly as possible. Even though religion plays an important role in Amal's life, it still comes as a complete surprise to her parents and friends when she declares that she wants to become what she calls a "full-timer." She has decided to wear the hijab, the head scarf worn by Muslim women.

Knowing she will likely risk ridicule and hear comments like "terrorist" and "towel-head", Amal is determined to adopt this visible sign of her faith. Her parents are surprised but supportive and attempt to prepare her for the worst. Her mother shops with her for attractive fabrics and gives her instruction in the proper wearing style. Her father insists that she meet with the principal of her school to seek approval for this controversy decision before she attempts to wear the hijab. But Amal doesn't want to wait; she wants wear the hijab on her first day back from school holiday. She believes she must jump right in and not give herself any reason to compromise her decision.

DOES MY HEAD LOOK BIG IN THIS? highlights not only Amal's life-changing decision to be different and wear an outspoken statement of her faith, but it also focuses on her friends who experience struggles of their own at school and at home. There is something for everyone in this book. Readers can relate to many of the pains of being a modern teenager. Even though the action is set in Australia, readers from cultures all over the world will relate to Amal and her friends as they live through typical teen experiences.

Friday, August 29, 2008

MOXY MAXWELL DOES NOT LOVE STUART LITTLE by Peggy Gifford



Moxy Maxwell is the worldest biggest procrastinator.


In an earlier review readers learned that she does not love writing thank you notes. In this first of her adventures, readers get to watch as Moxy finds every possible way to avoid reading her summer book assignment - Stuart Little.


Mrs. Maxwell lays down the law and insists that Moxy finish the dreaded book before her big swimming performance later that evening. But Moxy just can't seem to get started. She quickly realizes that the hammock in the backyard would surely be more comfortable than her bedroom, so she heads that direction. Once there she thinks she ought to return to the kitchen for a peach - just the snack she needs to concentrate. Not being able to stop with one peach, she makes another trip back to the kitchen. It's then that she has her best idea - why not plant a peach orchard. It would probably provide enough income to pay for her college education which would be sure to please her mother and also save her from reading some silly book about a mouse.


This little book (less than 100 pages) is a fast and funny read. Moxy's adventures in procrastination will no doubt sound familiar to all of us with that nasty habit of putting things off.

PURGE by Sarah Darer Littman



Janie believed it was under control. What began as just a little something to relieve that "full" feeling after a big meal at a Chinese restaurant, became the focus of her life. Janie can admit now that she is bulimic. What she can't understand and admit is why she has let this disorder consume her.

Perhaps her family is to blame. Her father dotes on her "perfect" older sister. That older sister only pays attention to her own "perfect" wedding plans. Janie's mother not only has a career to attend to, but also that "perfect" wedding to orchestrate.

The boy of her dreams finally asks her out, but after only a few short dates expects her to sacrifice her virginity. Afterward she doesn't feel loved, she just feels like a slut. Embarrassment keeps her from confiding in her real friends which causes hard feelings and separation.

Now after total humiliation at her sister's wedding, Janie finds herself at Golden Slopes, a treatment facility for eating disorders. She is now one of the Barfers waiting in frustration for the Starvers to straggle in for every scheduled meal. In between therapy sessions, she shares her thoughts in a journal. More than anything she wants to go home, but first she must confront her situation and come to terms with the root cause of her constant desire to purge.

Author Sarah Darer Littman brings a fresh voice to this growing problem among teens today. Her story proves how wide-spread the problem of eating disorders has become. Among her cast of characters, readers will hear from males as well as females, the well-to-do as well as the disadvantaged, and even someone well beyond her teen years who has fallen victim to the disease.

Littman highlights the seriousness and the life-threatening effects of eating disorders, but at the same time through humor and the results of positive treatment, provides hope and encouragement. PURGE due out in April 2009 is one you won't want to miss.

Monday, August 25, 2008

BEFORE I DIE by Jenny Downham



BEFORE I DIE is the emotional story of Tessa, a sixteen year old facing cancer and the final months of her life. Author Jenny Downham captures the frustration, fear, anger, and determination of Tessa's experience.

It has been four long years of treatments, transfusions, and promising remissions, but now the end is near. How does Tessa want to live her last months? She decides to make a list of the ten things she wants to do before she dies. Number 1 on the list is sex. With the help of her older friend Zoey she crosses off number 1 and moves on to the rest of the list.

Life has become a roller-coaster of emotions, not only for Tessa, but also for her family and friends. Since her diagnosis, her father has dedicated his life to her care. It takes all his energy to keep track of treatment schedules, medications, and online research for possible new cures. Tessa's new approach to "living" her final days has him anxious and worried. Each new adventure on her list leaves her weaker, and her recovery time lengthens. But even after setbacks, Tessa is determined to experience as much as possible.

Although some of the items on her list seem fool-hardy at best, Tessa learns much about the truth of life. Her wreckless early sexual encounter is followed by a later relationship that allows her to experience true love and total commitment. She is able to understand and appreciate all that has been special about her short life.

Readers will be quickly drawn into Tessa's world. They may shake their heads at some of her choices, but they will also recognize what drives her to live as much as she can. Anyone who tries to imagine how they would spend their remaining days, if those days were numbered, will not judge Tessa, but most likely admire her strength and courage. I know I certainly did.