Thursday, July 31, 2008

DEAR DUMB DIARY: LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED by Jim Benton



A big thank you to one of the incoming fifth graders in my middle school for introducing my to the DEAR DUMB DIARY series. After reading the book and loving it, she and her mom kindly donated it to my classroom. I read it this afternoon and fell in love as well. It is the female answer to the currently popular DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series.

Jamie Kelly attends Mackerel Middle School. She opens her diary with some serious threats to anyone's personal safety if they read these secret, sacred pages. Fortunately, most folks who have the giddy pleasure of actually holding someone else's private diary in their hot little hands will risk threats of physical harm and dive right in. (Trust me, you won't be disappointed.)

Jamie's diary is filled with typical adolescent troubles - parent issues, teacher and grade problems, dreaded cafeteria food, and the hated but ever popular classmate. These may be common concerns, but Jamie's view of the world is fantastic. She is a bit warped and twisted and not above doing most anything to get life to go her way.

One of my favorite parts is when Jamie complains about her mother's numerous "Food Crimes." Let me just give you a sample. "Last night she made a casserole with 147 ingredients, and it still tasted bad. It's hard to believe that out of 147 ingredients, not one of them tasted good. Of course I ate it anyway. If you don't eat it, Mom gives you the speech on hard work and how the hungry children in Wheretheheckistan would just love her casserole. It seems to me the kids in Wheretheheckistan have enough problems without dumping Mom's casserole on them, too."

It is not just Jamie's quirky take on things that will capture reader interest, but also the terrific illustrations. She includes her own visual take on whatever she happens to describe in her daily entries. The whole thing is a hoot and a half! Thanks again for the introduction to the DEAR DUMB DIARY books.

THE BOXER AND THE SPY by Robert B. Parker



Murder, romance, boxing, and mystery all rolled into one fast-paced read. Adult fiction author Robert B. Parker has taken a second journey into the world of YA ficiton.

Terry and Abby seem to be the only ones who doubt that Jason Green actually abused steroids and then committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. It just doesn't sound like Jason, and Terry is determined to find out the truth. He can't do it alone so he is happy when Abby volunteers to lend him a hand. Secretly, he hopes he'll also get to hold that hand somewhere along the way to discovering Jason's murderer.

When people learn that Terry is checking into the tragic death of his fellow classmate, several people step forward with threats if he continues. Kip Carter All-American football hero aka school bully tells Terry he better back off. Mr. Bullard who holds the unique dual position of high school principal and school superintendent also warns Terry to let it go. The threats just encourage Terry and Abby in their quest to uncover the real story.

Abby uses her connections and expertise as the spy of the operation. Terry works with George his trainer to hone his boxing skills should any physical situations arise. What follows are some interesting stake-outs and some bloody battles as the two face an uphill challenge to clear the name of Jason Green.

Readers of all skill levels will find the short chapters and the abundant use of dialogue will make the reading of this book fast and easy. The mix of mystery, humor, and romance will appeal to many. I look forward to reading other YA books by Parker.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

BEASTLY by Alex Flinn



Alex Flinn is one of my all-time favorite YA authors. Her books include BREATHING UNDERWATER - fantastic! and NOTHING TO LOSE - also, remarkable. Many teen readers I know come back to her books again and again. BEASTLY is her latest. It is a bit different, but she still takes a main character with a lot to learn and convinces him to change his ways.

Kyle Kingsbury is one of the privileged. His mother may have left when he was young, but he was left with his father, a wealthy news anchor. Kyle doesn't want for a thing. In addition to his very comfortable lifestyle, Kyle is blessed with good looks, or as the girls in his exculsive high school would probably say, "He's hot!" Unfortunately, Kyle is not a particularly kind individual. There aren't many people that he considers worth his while, and he is not afraid to let the rest of the world know how inferior he thinks they are.

Here's the odd twist about this story. Things open in an online chatroom. The group is rather unusual - a beast (Kyle), an unhappy mermaid, a pouting frog, and someone calling himself Grizzlyguy. It's not your average chatroom crowd. All of them have had run-ins with witches and been the victims of evil spells. Kyle became a beast when he played a nasty trick by he cruelly inviting an unpopular girl to a special school dance knowing he was actually going with his current hot girlfriend. Once there, he and his girlfriend humiliate the other girl only to discover she is actually a witch with the power to change his life forever.

Readers hear Kyle's story as he struggles to remove the curse. Much like other fairy tales, he must fall in love and have the love returned in the form of a kiss in order to beat the spell. He soon learns this is easier said than done.

For those familiar with Alex Flinn and her usual realistic approach to YA novels, you won't be disappointed. This book may focus on fantasy, but the lessons learned are all too real. The fantasy will hit close to home for anyone who has ever found themselves the outcast looking for acceptance. Every collection should include a copy of BEASTLY.

Monday, July 28, 2008

DEFYING THE DIVA by D. Anne Love



Haley Patterson is not having a very good freshman year. It started out just fine when she got lucky and ended up being the only freshman in the journalism class allowing her to follow her dream of writing news stories, but things have gone down hill ever since.

The problem started when she was assigned the gossip column responsibilities when the regular columnist was out sick. Not being part of the popular scene didn't give Haley much in the way of gossip until she decided to report on a friend's love life (using only initials, of course) and a party being thrown by the queen of popular, Camilla Quinn. Using this juicy gossip in her column did not win Haley any praise; instead she herself became the target of gossip.

Camilla Quinn, an expert in creative rumor spreading, began to tell everyone who would listen that Haley was a slut. Haley the Ho could be heard whispered and then shouted through the school corridors. Camilla didn't stop there. She convinced Haley's good friends to abandon Haley and join her group instead. There were also threatening emails that frightened and embarrassed Haley. Her reaction to the humiliation was to keep quiet and wish for a quick end to the school year.

With her parents leaving for a working summer in Europe, Haley finds herself being shipped off to a small resort community to stay with her aunt. To fill her summer days, she ends up working at the resort. Summer offers new friendships and romance, but she still feels a definite lack of self-esteem and worries about her return to school in the fall. Will Camilla still be a bully, and will her friends still treat her as an outcast?

Author D. Anne Love focuses on the timely issue of bullying among America's teens. Whether it involves physical or emotional abuse either of the face-to-face variety or through email or IMing, bullying is out-of-control in many high schools today. Haley learns the hard way how to face the abuse and stand up for herself and others experiencing the same circumstances. Readers will find DEFYING THE DIVA an entertaining novel with a pertinent message.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

GO BIG OR GO HOME by Will Hobbs



Imagine having a meteorite slam through your roof and plow right through your mattress! Meet Brady Steele. That's what happened to him, but with an interesting twist.

Brady can hardly believe his luck. The meteorite is about the size and shape of a baked potato. When his cousin Quinn arrives for a visit, the two of them take the alien object to a local museum and are told by an English scientist that is one of a kind and probably extremely valuable. Well, "extreme" is something both Brady and Quinn know a lot about. They are always experimenting with ways to push the envelop, whether it's biking, basketball, or fishing for a record-setting catch, they are forever looking for a challenge. However, this strange rock may be more trouble than it is worth.

Brady and Attila, the neighbors' huge war dog, become infected with an alien bacteria that has some amazing side-effects. One is actually more dangerous than amazing, and might just prove to be too much for even determined cousin Quinn.

Readers who like action and adventure will dive right into Will Hobb's GO BIG OR GO HOME. There are facinating scientific facts, scary cave explorations, wild bike rides, and wacky characters enough for even the most reluctant reader. Brady and Quinn are involved in some hair-raising experiences too good to miss.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow




LITTLE BROTHER presents a pretty scary picture of the way things could be if terrorist threats continue and politicians keep funding the Department of Homeland Security with no thought to how this might victimize the average innocent American. There is already an incredible amount of technology devoted to "spying" on the citizens of our country, and we normally don't give it a second thought. This book will make you think and not just a little bit.


Marcus is a seventeen year old tech wizard. Granted, he often uses his skills for less than ethical reasons, but he doesn't hurt anyone. When a terrorist attack destroys the Bay Bridge near his home in San Francisco, he and several friends are captured by police (DHS) as they are attempting to help a fallen companion. They become the victims of frightening interrogation and torture.


When Marcus final gains his freedom, he vows to take back America from the out-of-control Department of Homeland Security. Using his vast techie skills he creates an alternate internet called Xnet which utilizes the old XBox game system. Marcus becomes known as M1k3y and develops a huge group of supporters who attempt to undermine the government agencies determined to destroy the true meaning and protection of the United States Constitution.


Cory Doctorow has created a modern-day 1984. Set in the not-too-distant future, this book attempts to show what could happen if we sit back and allow the government to whittle away at our rights to "protect" us from terrorism. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of terrorism and fear within our own government.


LITTLE BROTHER is full of adventure and intrigue. A lot of the suspense comes from all the technical tricks Marcus brings to the story. Some of the detail might prove too much for a struggling reader, but any tech/geek teens will not be able to read it fast enough.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

HOLDUP by Terri Fields



Some people find books with multiple POVs confusing, but I love 'em. In HOLDUP alternating chapters give glimpses into the minds of the entire cast of characters. With this setup the reader becomes invested in everyone, creating a personal attachment to even the most minor of characters.

Author Terri Fields set the scene well. It's Burger Heaven, a local fast food chain. The characters are basically employees or customers. They are connected to Burger Heaven for various reasons. Here are a few. Jordan, an honors student, needs money for college. Alex needs money for simple survival, and it doesn't hurt that a few of his fellow employees might be attractive. Manuel needs money for a set of wheels, and his paycheck is the only way that's ever going to happen. Mrs. Wilkins is eighty-something and sees Burger Heaven as a destination in her desire to maintain her independence from an over-protective daughter. Keith hopes to find the care and kindness he lacks at home.

Added to this cast of characters is Dylan. He sees himself as highly intelligent and out to make some fast money for the business venture of his dreams. Dylan doesn't care about anyone but Dylan, and Burger Heaven is simply along the path to what he wants. His actions will cause reactions in the lives of all the other characters. Will the reactions caused by his decisions be positive or negative?

Readers should be patient as the opening pages reveal each of the characters. Learning about their motivations, their hopes and dreams, creates the emotional foundation for the story. The reader is soon rewarded when the characters' lives merge into the fateful Saturday night at Burger Heaven that changes them all. Beware! HOLDUP is slightly over 150 pages and might suck you into a one-night read, but you won't regret it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

FOUND: The Missing series book #1 by Margaret Peterson Haddix



Margaret Peterson Haddix is well-known for her Shadow Children series. I predict this new series, THE MISSING, will have readers hooked as well.

FOUND: The Missing Book 1 jumps right into things with a strange twist. An airline employee witnesses a plane suddenly appearing at an airport boarding gate where no plane is supposed to be. When no one exits the plane, she is sent to investigate. As she approaches she sees through the cockpit window that the area is dark and there are no pilots aboard. The cabin door is open, but there are no smiling flight attendants helping passengers retrieve their bags to leave the plane. All she hears is a small whimper and cry, and all she sees are 36 seats each occupied by a baby. (If that doesn't make you want to turn to the next page, I don't know what more you want from a book.)

Beyond the Prologue, all I'll say is readers will meet Jonah, his sister Katherine, and his friend Chip. The three find themselves part of a mystery that is intriguing but also frightening and potentially dangerous. They work together to gather evidence and ask questions hoping to make sense of their suddenly confusing young lives.

If you read and enjoyed AMONG THE HIDDEN, you will want to check out this first book in the new series by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Monday, July 21, 2008

GENERATION DEAD by Daniel Waters





Phoebe's nickname is Morticia Scarypants. She and her best friend Margi call themselves the Weird Sisters. Dressing in traditional goth garb has often made them the freaks of the school. But recent events have made Phoebe and Margi appear practically normal.


Here's the deal - teenagers all around the country who die have been coming back. They aren't coming back to life, but they are coming back as the living impaired (dead) - zombies. Some people have been accepting of this strange occurence, while others see this different existence as a threat and treat the teens as part of an unwanted minority. Prejudice and misunderstanding make the world an ugly place for this new and different group of teens. High school bullies are out in full-force, and even the teens' own families push them aside to survive as best they can.


Phoebe is strangely attracted to Tommy whose zombie-like skills are a notch above the others. His decision to go out for the school's football team causes quite a stir in the community. The coach is against it and so are many of the players. Phoebe and several of her friends stand by Tommy and are invited into the circle of the local living impaired. They are also invited to join a group at the Hunter Foundation attempting to study the plight of the "differently biotic."


GENERATION DEAD is an entertaining novel with an emphasis on the power of friendship among the few against the prejudice of the many. Daniel Waters takes his readers into this strange, new reality so they understand the pressures facing both the living and the dead. Not everyone is "lucky" enough to return after death which results in questions and bad feelings in some. Hopefully, teen readers will find Waters' unique tale a fun read at the same time they see how prejudice can tear apart a community.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

WAKE by Lisa McMann



Going to sleep and experiencing your own nightmares is bad enough, but imagine experiencing everyone else's dreams as well as your own. Janie has been doing just that for most of her life.

Living with her alcoholic mother isn't much help, but having her best friend just next door offers a bit of comfort. But even Janie's best friend Carrie doesn't know her terrifiying secret. Whenever Janie is near a person who falls asleep, she is in danger of entering that person's dreams. She is especially unhappy when her new school schedule reveals that she will have study hall after lunch this year. That offers its own unique challenge since high schoolers have enough trouble staying awake in class, let alone after lunch in a boring study hall. Falling into someone's dream in front of her fellow classmates is extremely stressful. If the dream goes on too long, Janie appears to be having a seizure when her vision blurs into blindness and her body becomes paralyzed. She tries to live a normal seventeen year old life, but she faces challenges everyday.

Janie's life begins to change when two people enter her life - fellow classmate, Cabel and elderly, blind Miss Stubin. Cabel rescues Janie on the night of the homecoming dance when he takes her home on his skateboard. His kindness fascinates her, and she begins to watch him with a new appreciation. When he suddenly changes his hairstyle and makes a new fashion statement, she seems to be the only one at school who doesn't think he is a new student. After falling into one of his dreams, she realizes he has a secret of his own and vows to learn more.

Miss Stubin enters her life when Janie starts working at a local nursing home. The gentle, old woman seems pleased when Janie takes the time to talk with her and read to her. Her work at the nursing home sometimes frustrates Janie when she accidentally enters the dreams of a resident close to death. The dreams are often frightening and upsetting. Miss Stubin's dreams are more peaceful and when she dies, Janie is heart-broken. However, when Miss Stubin appears in someone else's dream, Janie realizes they had something very valuable in common. Inspired by this knowledge, Janie gathers the courage she needs to confront her unusual talent.

Lisa McMann has hit the mark with this excellent YA novel. The ability to experience and even influence the dreams of another person is scary, but fascinating stuff. Readers will sympathize with Janie and admire her strength as she deals with her unique abilities and her less-than-ideal life. Readers will also be happy to know that WAKE is not the end of Janie's story - FADE will be appearing as a sequel with hopefully more to follow.

Friday, July 18, 2008

PEELED by Joan Bauer





I was thrilled when I saw Joan Bauer had written a new book. She is one of the YA authors I admire the most. Her strong, independent female characters make her books a pleasure to recommend to my 8th grade readers.


PEELED is set in a small town where the economy depends on agriculture, specifically the apple business. The past several years have seen less than ideal growing conditions and the area is beginning to suffer. These tough times have made the area ripe (sorry, couldn't help myself) for some wealthy investors who are out to make a tidy profit at the expense of some honest, hardworking people.


Hildy Biddle is an idealistic young reporter for the high school newspaper. She wants to uncover the truth through her reporting to honor the memory of her late father who earned his living as a reporter. A challenging story comes her way as news of a ghost at the old Ludlow house hits the local news. Over the years there have been supposed sightings of old man Ludlow's ghost, but now things are stirred up again when one man is caught breaking and entering the old house and another man is found dead on the property.


As Hildy and the rest of the newspaper staff begin to investigate, it becomes obvious that the local weekly paper is sensationalizing the ghost news to sell papers. The more the young reporters dig into the situation, the more suspicious it becomes. Soon a large real estate developer is in on the action with some crazy scheme to pull the town out of its economic slump. But what will it cost the town and its long-time residents and business owners?


Like all of Joan Bauer's other YA novels, PEELED features a great female main character. Determined to do the right thing, she works tirelessly with the support of family and good friends to uncover the facts and right the wrong that threatens her town. Clever characters and interesting plot twists will definitely keep the attention of readers. The only downside I can see after finishing this book, is now I will have to sit back and wait a while to see what Bauer has to offer next.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

LOST AND FOUND by Andrew Clements





Jay and Ray are entering the sixth grade at a new school, and each is feeling the frustration that their new classmates will not be able to tell them apart. Jay will be Ray, and Ray will be Jay more than they care to think about. However, things don’t go as expected when Ray comes down with a cough and a fever that keep him at home on the first day of school.

In their homeroom class, Jay is surprised when only his name is called off by the teacher. Shouldn’t Ray be called right after him? As the day continues, all the teachers do the same. No one mentions Ray at all. It is not until Jay accidentally notices a blue file with his name on it that looks twice as thick as everyone else’s that he realizes the two files have been combined. The school seems to have no idea that his twin brother Ray even exists.

As soon as Jay gets home after school, he tells Ray about his interesting discovery. By then Jay has enjoyed one entire day not being a twin. He’s even worked out a plan that would allow both boys to experience that wonderful feeling of being one of a kind. They can take turns attending school. One can go and one can stay at home. What can go wrong? Read LOST AND FOUND by Andrew Clements and find out.

THE LAST EXIT TO NORMAL by Michael Harmon





Life was going along just fine for Ben Campbell until he hit fourteen. That was the year his father announced that he was gay and his mother left. His dad's boyfriend moved in, and Ben started counseling and also misbehaving.


Now after three years of run-ins with the law, Ben's dad has decided the only way to save Ben is to leave Spokane. At age 17 city boy Ben finds himself living in Rough Butte, Montana. Edward, who Ben calls Momdad, has agreed to take them back to the hometown he left when he was Ben's age. In Rough Butte Ben is surrounded by homophobic cowboys, Edward's acid-tongued mother Miss Mae, and an abusive neighbor with a strange young son.


Used to doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants, ends quickly for Ben as Miss Mae schools him in acceptable country behavior. She expects respect and hard work, and she doesn't hesitate to use her wooden spoon as a weapon to encourage it. Ben reluctantly falls in line and even finds it rewarding at times. His father and Edward seem pleased for the most part, and his improved attitude and behavior are useful in his quest to attract the attention of the beautiful girl living just four doors down the street.


There are still frustrations for Ben. Completely forgiving his father for trashing his life back in Spokane is proving harder than he expected. Rough patches between father and son keep tensions high, and to complicate matters, Ben becomes convinced that the young neighbor boy is the victim of dangerous abuse. Ben's efforts to seek justice for the boy create a whole new set of problems.
It is almost impossible to turn the pages fast enough in THE LAST EXIT TO NORMAL. Michael Harmon's protagonist is one of a kind. Readers will root for him one minute and against him the next as they experience his struggle to accept what life has dealt him. Don't miss this one!

Monday, July 14, 2008

ACTING OUT: Six One-Act Plays, Six Newbery Stars



ACTING OUT includes six one-act plays by the following Newbery Winners - AVI, Susan Cooper, Sharon Creech, Patricia MacLachlan, Katherine Paterson, and Richard Peck.

Each play includes character descriptions, detailed stage direction, and production hints from each author. The unique element in the plays is in the instructions given to the six authors turned playwrights. They were asked to write the scripts about anything they wanted, but each was asked to choose one word to be used in all six of the plays. In an introduction by the editor, the six words are revealed so readers have the pleasure of watching for their appearance as they read through each play.

The plays do reflect the authors' styles, so readers familiar with their other works will enjoy these quick reads. ACTING OUT provides excellent material for a casual read or for actual performances in the classroom or beyond.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

THE CHRONICLES OF VLADIMIR TOD: EIGHTH GRADE BITES by Heather Brewer



Vladimir Tod is your typical eighth grader. Tall, thin, black hair, pale complexion - many would describe him as "goth." Although, one thing makes him less than typical - he is a vampire.

Vlad lives with a woman he calls Aunt Nelly. She is really a family friend who took him in when his parents died in a mysterious house fire. She knows Vlad's secret. His father was a vampire who broke the eternal vampire code and fell in love with a human, Vlad's mother. The three had been living a fairly normal life until the fire. Now the closest thing to family Vlad has is Aunt Nelly and his best friend Henry.

Living the life of a normal teen hasn't been as difficult as one would expect. Being only half vampire makes things a bit easier. Using sunscreen makes it possible for Vlad to go out during daylight hours to attend school and do regular teen stuff. The issue of food is made easy since Aunt Nelly is a registered nurse and can bring home bags of blood the hospital will soon mark for disposal. His dark hair and pale skin often result in comments from class bullies, but Vlad takes it all in stride and lives quite happily.

Things begin to change when Mr. Craig, Vlad's English teacher, suddenly disappears. The substitute hired to replace Mr. Craig is a strange character who focuses his attention on Vlad. Mr. Otis Otis (yes, that's his name) assigns some weird classroom projects. Much to Vlad's discomfort, he is assigned the topic of vampires. Mr. Otis begins asking some pointed questions about Vlad and his family that inspire Vlad to begin an investigation of his own. The resulting investigation uncovers his father's journal, another mysterious volume, tattoos, and other markings that turn up in the most unexpected spots.

EIGHTH GRADE BITES has intrigue, humor, and enough scary moments to satisfy most readers drawn to the recent increase in vampire related tales. Also, if you like it, author Heather Brewer, has written a sequel titled NINTH GRADE SLAYS.





Saturday, July 12, 2008

GO LONG! by Tiki & Ronde Barber with Paul Mantell




GO LONG! is a middle school football story starring Tiki and Ronde Barber as young, up and coming players. Tiki and Ronde draw on their early years in the sport to encourage young people to use their talents and play the game with a sense of fair play and teamwork.

The story begins as Tiki and Ronde start their 8th grade year. They are anxious to take the field as starters this year, but the coach upsets the entire team when he announces that he is moving up to coach the high school team. The players nervously await the naming of their new coach. It is a surprise to all when history teacher, Mr. Wheeler, is given the job. He is a terrific teacher, but that doesn’t guarantee anything about his coaching skills.

When the first few games end in defeat, Tiki and Ronde doubt the new coach has what it takes to create a winning team. Besides, Cody, the team’s quarterback, is also out of control. Cody argues with Coach Wheeler and questions his every move causing team morale to sink to an all-time low. It is not until Tiki and a few loyal players take the time to get to know Coach Wheeler and his plans for the team that things start to look more positive for a winning season.

GO LONG! presents a positive message of cooperation and team spirit, and that along with a strong plot line and likeable characters make it a book that won’t gather much dust on the shelf.

Friday, July 11, 2008

PREY by Lurlene McDaniel



Author Lurlene McDaniel explains that she didn't really set out to write this book, but given the increasing number of media stories about teacher/student affairs, the book seemed to write itself.

Lori Settles is the new history teacher, and Ryan Piccoli finds himself in her class. She has the attention of all the males in the classroom with her tight outfits and stiletto heels. The difference with Ryan is that she has his attention, and he has hers as well. Their lives are on a collision course the day Ryan enters her classroom.

With his father out of town all week on business and his mother gone from his life since he was just two years old, it doesn't take long for Ryan to become involved with Ms. Settles. He is not in any sports or after-school activities, and at first his friends don't seem to notice that he is not the "involved" friend that he used to be. His meetings with Lori go from the coffeeshop to the bedroom in record time. She introduces him to another world where he gets all the attention he is missing at home.

As in so many of these situations, Ryan soon realizes that his life is spinning out of control. She is demanding more of his time, and his friends are beginning to suspect something weird is going on. Long-time best friend, Honey Fowler asks the most questions, making Ryan pretty nervous about the whole situation.

Veteran YA author Lurlene McDaniel takes on a controversial subject and handles it well. She doesn't pull any punches with the delicate details of the affair, so this is definitely a book for the older end of the teen spectrum. However, mature teens who read PREY will see an honest portrayal of how making the wrong decisions can create a ripple-effect that encompasses way more territory than anyone ever suspects.

STANFORD WONG FLUNKS BIG-TIME by Lisa Yee



Middle grade readers will definitely be able to relate to Stanford. He has basketball on the brain, and like most dedicated athletes, school plays a distant second place in his life. When he receives the bad news that he has flunked sixth grade English, he knows his parents will be annoyed, but he didn't think annoyed would include grounding him from summer basketball camp and enrolling him in summer school with the dreaded Mr. Glick.

Standford (yes, he was named for the famous university) has grown up in the shadow of a super-intelligent older sister. Now she is away at college, and he is left alone with a busy father, a caring, but over-worked mother, and a grandmother who is sometimes a few wontons short of a full load.

Since summer school is the last place his basketball buddies expect him to be, he invents a school job with his father's company. Keeping his school dilemma a secret becomes even more difficult when his mother arranges an additional tutor, the infamous Millicent Min. She is not just a nerd, she is a genius who skipped from middle school to high school and is even taking a college course this summer. If the guys knew what was going on, he'd be kicked out of the Roadrunners before he could sink another free throw.

Lisa Yee has created a group of endearing characters that will keep the most reluctant readers entertained. There is just the right amount of sports action, family drama, romantic appeal, and humor to hold the attention of the middle school crowd. It is terrific for grabbing off the shelf or for reading aloud. I plan to recommend it highly to the 6th-7th grade teachers in my building this fall.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

THE DEAD & THE GONE by Susan Beth Pfeffer



An asteroid hits the moon and pushes it into an orbit closer to Earth. The tides are rising. The weather is changing. There are earthquakes and volcanic activity where there never has been any before. How will world survive?

Alex Morales and his two sisters, Bri and Julie, find themselves living alone in their New York City apartment. When the unthinkable happened, Alex's father was attending their grandmother's funeral in Puerto Rico, and Alex's mother was called in to work at her job at the hospital. Alex and his sisters never heard from them again.

They try to continue a normal routine. Fortunately, the two Catholic schools they attend are still open for business. As their food supply runs low, they feel lucky to be able eat their school lunches so they can stretch the food at home as long as possible. But as the summer wears on and conditions worsen, Alex discovers he is capable of many things to keep his sisters from going hungry. Scavenging dead bodies and bartering anything that comes his way are just a few of things Alex learns to do to make ends meet.

As summer turns to fall, the temperature drops significantly and parts of the city are evacuated and closed down. It becomes clear that their real survival will depend on Alex's ability to escape with his sisters to a safer part of the country - if such a place even exists. What can Alex do? Who can he turn to for help? And will he be able to find a solution before they die along with the city?

Susan Beth Pfeffer has written THE DEAD & THE GONE as a companion to LIFE AS WE KNEW IT which describes the same catastrophic global event from the view a young girl living in a more rural setting. Both books are chilling in their presentation of an event that seems frighteningly possible. With the scientific community warning us about global warming and recent documentaries and movies portraying the horrific consequences of extreme environmental events, this book creates a reading experience that could keep readers awake nights imagining how they might handle the challenge to survive.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

THE CIRCLE OF BLOOD by Alane Ferguson



Cameryn Mahoney is back in another forensic adventure. Ever since she convinced her father, the county coroner, that she would make a great assistant, she has been involved in some pretty awesome investigations. This latest one is no exception. Warning! If detailed, gory descriptions send you running for the nearest restroom, don't read this book.

Within the first few pages of THE CIRCLE OF BLOOD, Cameryn finds herself investigating a horrible accident scene. A teenage driver met his end on a nearby mountain road, and it's the responsibility of Cameryn and her dad to piece together the events that led to the tragedy. Using her forensic knowledge, Cameryn reminds the authorities that to find the decapitated head of the young victim, they will need to follow the blood trail left when centrifugal force parted the head from its body. Ugh! Cameryn takes it all in stride, but she is frustrated when her father forces her to remain at the scene of the accident collecting specimens. Suddenly he seems concerned about her, and she doesn't know why.

The teen's accident is just that, an accident, but it provides the jumping off point for many other twists and turns in the plot. Cameryn has recently been reunited with her mother causing tension in her relationship with her father and grandmother. She thought she knew all the secrets hidden in her past, but she soon finds there is more - much more.

Justin, the new deputy, is also becoming a more important part of Cameryn's life. He is important as the person responsible for reuniting her with her mother, but their relationship many be headed for even more. She begins working closely with him when a young girl is found dead in an alley. The tricky part of this new investigation is that Cameryn suspects that her mother may somehow be involved in the girl's death. Keeping secrets from her father and Justin could cost Cameryn more than she is willing to give.

Alane Ferguson is the author of two other CSI-type YA novels - THE ANGEL OF DEATH and THE CHRISTOPHER KILLER. She fills her books with plot twists and turns, detailed autopsies, and enough suspense to keep readers on the edges of their seats beginning on page one. If you love a good mystery and can stand the gory details, you won't want to miss THE CIRCLE OF BLOOD.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

ALIVE AND WELL IN PRAGUE, NEW YORK by Daphne Grab


Life has suddenly changed for Matisse Osgood. Her father, a famous sculptor, is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The decision to move to a small community in the New York countryside may be the best situation for her ailing father, but Matisse, born and raised in NYC, is totally out of her element.

Matisse's mother, also an artist, seems to think pretending nothing is wrong is the right way to handle both her husband's disease and their sudden move. Matisse doesn't help matters by avoiding her father whenever possible, disagreeing with anything her mother suggests, and constantly moping about the disadvantages of country living.

Adjusting to a new school and making friends is made difficult when Matisse becomes the victim of vicious gossip. After a jealous classmate visits the Osgood home, the rumor begins that Matisse's father is not sick, but instead addicted to prescription drugs. She doesn't want to be treated with pity because of her father's real illness, but she finally realizes the illness is not going away and she begins to recognize the support system that has been right there waiting to help her. Her new friend Violet, Marcus the star quarterback, and her next door neightbor Hal prove to be just what Matisse needs as she comes to terms with her new life.

Author Daphne Grab's first YA novel is one you won't want to miss. She does an excellent job capturing Matisse's free spirit, and at the same time, reveals the heartbreak of facing the serious illness of a family member. ALIVE AND WELL IN PRAGUE, NEW YORK should be a part of everyone's collection.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

HURRICANE SONG by Paul Volponi



Miles has been living in Chicago with his mother and has recently moved to New Orleans to live with his father. His father left the family years ago to play jazz music. Miles knows that his father's life is his music, but when his mother remarried and the family in Chicago increased by three kids, he knew he had no choice. Taking a chance on his father seemed like the only way to go.

So far the two months father and son have spent together hasn't been all that great. Miles is looking forward to playing football and maybe even making the varsity team at his new school. Unfortunately, he knows he probably won't see his dad at any of his games. His dad can't even remember that it's football Miles plays and not basketball.

When news that a huge hurricane is heading toward New Orleans reaches them, Miles, his father, and his uncle pile into the car with the idea of heading toward Baton Rouge and higher ground. The traffic is terrible, and the car soon overheats, leaving them stranded on the highway. As the storm gets closer, their only option is to follow the rest of the evacuees to the shelter at the Superdome.

In the several days Miles and his family spend in the Superdome, the storm batters the exterior of the massive building while the interior suffers from a "storm" of its own. When tired, frightened people are crowded into a facility not equipped to handle the situation, there are bond to be problems. In those few days Miles experiences horribly unsanitary conditions, watches as thugs threaten, beat, and steal from innocent people, and sees death and suffering no person should ever have to witness.

Most of us watched the drama of Katrina unfold on our TV's, but Miles's experience brings us the reality of the actual storm and those first days afterward. Sadly, many are still suffering and trying to recover years later. Everyone should read this book as a reminder that our country reacted poorly in the early stages of the disaster, and even at this late stage, not enough has been done to help rebuild the lives of so many.

THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS by E. Lockhart



Through the years movies and books like THE SKULLS, DEAD POET'S SOCIETY, A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, and THE DA VINCI CODE have increased our fascination with secret societies. With the help of a quirky character named Frankie Landau-Banks, YA author E. Lockhart has managed to unlock some of the mystery behind that secret world.

Frankie at age 14 is mild-mannered and considered a good little girl by family members. Attending the prestigious Alabaster Preparatory Academy is a family tradition, but Frankie blends into the shadows and is anything but a stand-out.

Between her freshman and sophomore year, the hormones kick in and Frankie returns to the school where many barely recognize her. Along with the physical changes come many emotional ones. Frankie no longer wants to be known as the geeky little sis of older sister, now Berkley student, Zada. As Frankie becomes romantically involved with senior Matthew Livingston, she is introduced to the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds.

Growing up with an Alabaster alumni as a father, she has heard stories about the Basset Hounds, but hushed secrets of the group's activities never really interested her - until now. Frankie stumbles across one of the group's secret meetings and her fascination begins. A strong desire to play a more active role in Matthew's world and the disgust that only males are accepted as members, motivate Frankie to investigate this secret club more thoroughly.

THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS is the humor-filled tale of one girl's adventures as she goes from a meek and mild girl nicknamed "Bunny Rabbit" to a scheming, plotting mastermind of prep school pranks. To repeat an often over-used, but very appropriate phrase - it's "a real page-turner" you won't want to miss.