Friday, December 31, 2010

THE COMPOUND by S.A. Bodeen



When you are a billionaire scientist you can afford to do whatever is necessary to protect your family in the event of a nuclear war.  Eli's father does just that.  He builds an underground compound designed to securely house his family for the 15 years it would take for the atmosphere to return to normal after a nuclear attack.

It has been six years since the family has entered the compound.  Well, at least part of the family.  With only a 40 minute warning before the attack, Eli's twin brother and their grandmother were not able to make it to the safety of the compound.  Eli still mourns the loss of his brother as he attempts to cope in his underground home. 

The compound was designed to meet all the family's needs from food to education and entertainment until they could return to a normal life.  Despite clever and expensive planning, life in the compound has deteriorated.  First, it was the livestock.  Contaminated feed caused the death of all the animals that were to provide fresh meat and dairy products for the residents.  Eli is also worried that the vegetables he watches over will not continue to thrive because the special bulbs needed to sustain the plants' growth are missing from the storage area.  His mother has recently shared that the flour supply guaranteed to last forever has now gone bad.

When Eli stumbles across a laptop located in his brother's unused room, he finds that he is able to log on to the internet.  When he receives an IM message from his supposedly dead brother, he begins to suspect that his father is not just using the compound to protect them, but perhaps to hold them captive.

S.A. Bodeen creates frightening possibilities in THE COMPOUND.  Ever since the second world war, the thought of a nuclear war that could destroy the world as we know it, has inspired people to investigate ways to protect themselves.  Bodeen's story takes that fear and adds a scientific twist that turns one man's attempt to protect his family into a chilling tale.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

TOP FAVORITES OF 2010

My original plan was a TOP TEN LIST FOR 2010, however, it proved impossible to narrow the field to ten.  So here, in no particular order, is my list.

BEAT THE BAND by Don Calame
MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine
BOYS DON'T CRY by Malorie Blackman
THE GUARDIAN by Joyce Sweeney
POP by Gordon Korman
OUT OF HIS LEAGUE by Pat Flynn
BLUE PLATE SPECIAL by Michelle D. Kwasney
BRUISER by Neal Shusterman
GOD IS IN THE PANCAKES by Robin Epstein
THE DEADLY SISTER by Eliot Schrefer
OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon M. Draper
JANE IN BLOOM by Deborah Lytton
CANDOR by Pam Barchorz
HALF BROTHER by Kenneth Oppel

BLANK CONFESSION by Pete Hautman



Although Shayne and Mikey have only been friends for a week, they are both involved in a murder investigation.  One of them has confessed, but is he really the guilty one?

Shayne describes Mikey as a "dink."  Combine Mikey's tiny stature and the odd thrift store suits he wears to school every day, and you have a bully magnet.  Their friendship begins on Shayne's first day in the high school when he comes to Mikey's rescue.  The two couldn't be more different, but a tight bond between them soon forms.

Readers learn the short history of this unusual friendship when Shayne confesses to murdering a high school tough guy named Jon Brande.  Mikey fills in the back story as he explains his accidental involvement in Jon's drug distribution ring and his sister's current fascination with "bad boys."  Shayne's role in the story is revealed in his drawn out confession to Detective George Rawls.  Together the two parts of the story intertwine to reveal each character's weaknesses and secrets.

Author Pete Hautman always seems to give his tales an unusual twist, and BLANK CONFESSION is no exception.  This fast read will satisfy his many fans and probably earn him some new ones.  If you are looking for something a bit different to kick off a new year of reading, try BLANK CONFESSION.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

FRAMED by Gordon Korman



How do you prove yourself innocent of a crime when you are only in middle school and everyone in authority thinks you are guilty?  That's the problem Griffin Bing is battling.  Yes, he has had his problems lately, but this time he is totally guilt-free.  Really!

All Griffin wants to do is find his missing retainer before his parents discover he has lost it yet again.  When the missing retainer shows up in the trophy case where the school's pride and joy, a famous Super Bowl ring, usual sits, fingers point immediately in Griffin's direction. 

True, he has recently been connected to the theft of a valuable baseball card and a crime at the local zoo, but that doesn't mean he is involved this time.  Unfortunately, that's not how the principal and a very annoyed police detective see things.  Before Griffin knows it, he is attending a new school especially for young delinquents and he's also under house arrest.  Both make it very difficult for him to find a way to prove his innocence.  With his amazing ability to think of a plan and with the help of several loyal friends, Griffin may be able to figure out who has framed him. 

Author Gordon Korman uses his trademark humor and passion for crazy schemes to create another great middle grade adventure.  Readers will love the quirky characters and nonstop antics as Griffin attempts to convince the adults that someone is trying to ruin his reputation.  FRAMED is the third Griffin Bing adventure.  Be sure to check out SWINDLE and ZOOBREAK, too.

BREATHLESS by Jessica Warman



Brothers and sisters have different relationships.  Katie and her brother Will have always had an unusual one.  Will may have been older by five years and at times acted like an older brother, but Katie spent most of her life protecting him.  They shared a bond that even a mental health facility and a boarding school didn't manage to destroy.

Katie remembers endless psychotic episodes followed by medication and therapy.  Even though their father was a renowned therapist, Will's schizophrenia threatened to ruin the family.  Katie witnessed her mother's stress and her father's helplessness each time Will snapped.  When he brutally attempted to end his life on the neighbor's swing set, Katie knew things were beyond their control.

After the suicide attempt, Will was admitted to a treatment facility, and Katie's parents informed her that she would be leaving her local school and going off to boarding school.  Katie surprised herself when she realized she was ready to leave family behind to make a fresh start.  All that really mattered was that the school had a swim team so she could continue with the one thing that gave her a feeling of peace and freedom.

Life at boarding school does free Katie from the pressures at home, and she even tells her new acquaintances that her brother died.  She soon discovers that she isn't the only one with secrets.  An unusual friendship develops between Katie and her roommate Mazzie.  As it becomes evident that Mazzie has her own demons, Katie wonders if perhaps they can work together to put the past behind them.

BREATHLESS is a hard-hitting look at the toll mental illness takes on family and friends.  Katie learns about compassion and acceptance as she faces the tragic facts about her brother's illness and his place in her future.   

Thursday, December 23, 2010

PROJECT SWEET LIFE by Brent Hartinger



Fifteen year old Dave can hardly believe it when his dad announces he expects Dave to get a job this summer.  Dave's two best friends tell him their dads made the same announcement.  This was supposed to be their last summer of freedom, but maybe if they put their heads together they can come up with a way to outwit their parents and save their summer.

The idea seems simple.  It's a two step plan.  Step 1: Lie to their folks and tell them they have jobs.  Step 2: Find a quick way to make the $7,000 they would have made if they really did get jobs for the summer.

After some discussion, Dave and his two buddies decide they have enough cool stuff to have a really nice garage sale.  A garage sale would only last one day and selling their stuff would surely end in a tidy profit.  Then the rest of the summer would be theirs.  They decided to call it Project Sweet Life.

With the help of Dave's uncles, the sale goes off without a hitch and earns them almost the entire $7,000.  Unfortunately, the money ends up paying for a nasty accident resulting from a toppling stack of boxes and a falling knick-knack that causes major damage to the neighbor's fancy sports car.  Now it looks like they will
need a new plan.

As each chapter ticks off another week in the boys' summer, it becomes more and more obvious that Project Sweet Life is becoming more work than anyone imagined.  Catching bank robbers and collecting the reward money, guessing the total number of jellybeans in a giant jar at the mall, and searching for hidden treasure, all turn out to be disappointments that take more effort than if the boys had just gotten themselves those summer jobs. 

PROJECT SWEET LIFE follows Dave and his friends as they plan one caper after another in hopes of avoiding actual work.  Author Brent Hartinger fills their summer with enough crazy adventures to entertain most readers, and at the same time convince them that it is probably better to accept the inevitable and just listen to their parents.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

IT'S CONTEST TIME!!!



I have an extra copy of THE BOXER AND THE SPY that I'm giving away to some lucky reader out there.

It's easy to enter!

+1 - leave a comment here along with your email address so I can contact you if you are the winner.
+2 - tell me you have just become a new follower.
+3 - tell me if you are already a loyal follower.

A winner will be chosen on New Year's Day!  Hurry and enter so you can start out the new year with a new book!!

THE BOXER AND THE SPY by Robert B. Parker



The authorities are ruling Jason Green's death a suicide due to steroid use.  That just doesn't add up for Terry and his best friend Abby.  Jason wasn't a jock so why would he take steroids, and the only reason he would have for committing suicide was that he might be gay, but who really cares about that nowadays.

Terry and Abby decide to investigate.  When they notice other strange things going on that involve their high school principal and a powerful member of the town council who also happens to be running for governor, they start putting the pieces together.  Those pieces start forming a very suspicious picture.

Combine Terry's boxing training that helps give him focus, and Abby's keen organizational skills and great people contacts, and you have an excellent team.  They may only be fifteen years old, but their determination to find justice for Jason makes for a pretty interesting story.

Robert B. Parker's vast experience as a mystery writer gives THE BOXER AND THE SPY the perfect mix of action and intrigue for teen readers.  His trademark short chapters keep the plot moving quickly, and the added bonus of the boxing angle makes it a good book for guys.  Parker has also written EDENVILLE OWLS which targets a teen audience.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

BABY BLUE by Michelle D. Kwasney



Life wasn't perfect for Blue's family, but she and her sister Star always knew Ma and Pa loved them.  Pa might gamble a bit too much which sometimes left him arguing with Ma about the family finances, but they were all still a family.  But then Pa had to go and get himself drowned in the river.

Blue will never forget that day because she feels like she's to blame.  If she hadn't wanted to go on that picnic so much, maybe Pa would still be alive, Ma wouldn't be married to Lyle, and Star would not have run away.  That's a lot of guilt for one young girl to carry. 

The problem now is with Ma and Lyle.  He may have treated Ma nicely at the beginning, but now their frequent arguments turn into ugly bruises on Ma's face and body.  That's why Star ran away.  She couldn't stand to see their mother's pain.  Now Blue is alone as she tries to protect Ma.  Every day she hopes the phone will ring and Star will be there telling Blue she's on her way home.

In BABY BLUE author Michelle D. Kwasney paints an all too realistic picture of domestic violence and the emotional devastation it leaves behind.  She reveals the hidden guilt felt by all those involved in the heart wrenching situation.  Readers will immediately fall in love with Blue and admire her courageous determination to stand by her mother to the end.  A big thank you to Michelle for sending me a copy to read and review and then share with my students.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

THE FAST AND THE FURRIEST by Andy Behrens



Looking for a fast and fantastically funny read?  Look no farther than THE FAST AND THE FURRIEST by Andy Behrens.  I'm so glad we had a snow day today so I could sit and enjoy this one uninterrupted.

Kevin Pugh might be the son of a former Chicago Bears' football player and the brother of a sister born to play soccer, but that doesn't mean Kevin is a sports fan.  He is most definitely NOT!

Kevin's idea of a fun-filled afternoon involves sitting on the plaid couch in the basement with plenty of cheesy snacks in one hand and a video game controller in the other.  Anytime Kevin has been roped into any sporting activity something embarrassing and painful has been the result.  It seems like his constant humiliation should convince his parents that sports are not his cup of tea, but every chance they get, they are signing him up for some kind of team or camp.  They just don't understand how their son could enjoy spending so much time loafing on the couch next to the family's even lazier dog, Cromwell.

All that was true until the day Kevin was watching Animal Planet and a show about agility contests for dogs.  Imagine his surprise when the fat beagle mix lounging next to him leaped off the couch and began running his own crazy agility course through the basement rec room. 

After that first amazing burst of activity, the family dog turns into an exercise hound.  With the financial help of his friend Zach, Kevin secretly enrolls Cromwell in a training program at a place called Paw Patch and their lives begin to change. 

Author Andy Behrens uses fast-paced action and laugh-out-loud humor to capture readers in THE FAST AND THE FURRIEST.  Anyone who loves dogs or has experienced a love/hate relationship with sports will relate to Kevin's chaotic adventure.  This one is has great read-aloud potential for middle grade audiences.

Monday, December 13, 2010

THE DEATH OF JAYSON PORTER by Jaime Adoff



Jayson Porter lives on the eighteenth floor of a rundown Florida apartment building with his abusive mother and whatever boyfriend she is currently entertaining.  He is trying to hold down a part-time job and still keep up with his homework at the exclusive private school that has offered him a scholarship. 

Each day as he walks along the railing outside his apartment, he considers how easy it would be to just end it all.  He fantasizes about how quick and painless death would be if he jumped.

Only two things keep him moving from day to day - his one friend, Trax, and April, a recent acquaintance who might prove to be a cool girlfriend or perhaps an annoying stalker.  When Trax dies because the meth lab explodes in a neighboring apartment, Jayson's fragile life begins to seriously crumble.

Author Jaime Adoff takes readers deep into the troubled mind of Jayson Porter.  His sometimes sparse and always brutally honest voice reveals the heartbreak and trauma that make up Jayson's young life.  Although, he dreams of death and does make an attempt, there is still hope left for Jayson if he chooses to work hard enough to hang on to it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

GIRL V. BOY by Yvonne Collins & Sandy Rideout



When Principal Alvarez announces the city-wide contest to see which school can earn the most money for literacy, the student body of Dunfield High groans.  However, when she adds that if their school wins she will dismiss two weeks early for the holiday vacation, everyone takes a moment to reconsider.

When Luisa hears the contest will be girls v. boys, she isn't particularly excited.  School is not her favorite place.  After witnessing her older sister become a dropout and a teenage mom, Luisa realizes she needs to stay in school, but that doesn't mean she has to like it. 

Much to her surprise as she leaves her English class, the teacher asks her to stay a moment after class.  He reminds her that he is in charge of the school newspaper, and being impressed with a recent writing assignment she turned in, he has a proposal to make.  He would like Luisa to report on the girls' side of the upcoming competition.  The catch is that she will report anonymously, and a male student will do the same for the guys' side of the contest. 

When Luisa tries to tell her mother about this exciting new assignment, she is too busy getting ready for work to pay much attention.  Luisa's sister Grace only stops long enough to heckle Luisa and point out that it's a dumb idea and a waste of time.  Despite their less than enthusiastic response, Luisa decides to give the challenge her best effort.

Luisa begins attending more high school sponsored events than she ever has before.  She writes up her articles and enjoys seeing them in print, but each time her anonymous partner's articles appear in the paper, she gets more and more curious about his identity.  She and her friends have some ideas, but finding out is more difficult than anyone would have expected.

Authors Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout take the age-old competition of girl v. boy to a new level.  Constant action and non-stop guessing will keep readers glued to the story right to the end.  GIRL V. BOY captures high school drama at its best.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

THE CANDYMAKERS



Fans of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY will want to check out Wendy Mass's THE CANDYMAKERS, and if nothing else, the colorful cover is sure to attract interested readers.

LIFE IS SWEET Candy Company is hosting a candy-making contest.  Four contestants will be trying to create the winning candy recipe for Region Three.  They are to report to the candy company two days before the contest for a whirlwind tour and a chance to get acquainted with the equipment they will be using for the contest.

The four contestants include Daisy, Philip, Miles, and Logan.  Each one has a very personal reason for wanting to be involved in the contest; reasons that don't necessarily include wanting to win.  Their motivations include revenge, a secret spy mission, and the desire to make candy-making parents proud. 

Each contestant presents their story to the reader.  They may all be at the same location and subject to the same contest rules, but each has a unique twist to their personal story filling THE CANDYMAKERS with plenty of surprises.  Author Wendy Mass once again proves she is a master storyteller.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

BLOOD ON MY HANDS by Todd Strasser



Having just finished reading Todd Strasser's IF I GROW UP to my 8th graders, I was excited to read another one of his books.  BLOOD ON MY HANDS is the second book in what is described as a "thrill"-ogy that began with WISH YOU WERE DEAD. 

Callie seems to have been caught red-handed, knife in hand bent over the body of Katherine Remington-Day.  Someone in the crowd that gathered snapped a picture of Callie holding the murder weapon, and now she finds herself on the run from the police.

After what Katherine did to her, Callie isn't particularly upset that her former friend is dead, but she certainly is not going to be framed for the murder.  What she needs to do now is find somewhere safe to hide so she can figure out a plan.  Before too many people are aware of her instant fame, Callie makes a quick stop at a store to buy hair dye and a few other supplies to create a disguise.  Her tiny build doesn't allow her to blend into crowds of average-sized individuals so she opts for a Goth girl look in hopes of looking totally different than most people would expect.

Callie has an idea of who may have committed the crime, but she needs help.  Counting on her parents for help is worthless.  Her mother is needed at home to care for her disabled father, and her brother is in prison found guilty of the attack that crippled their father.  She must be careful which friends she goes to for help since practically everyone she knows is part of the clique lead by the late Katherine.  Her only hope lies with Slade.  But how willing will he be to help since she dumped him and broke his heart?

BLOOD ON MY HANDS chronicles the days following the murder as Callie tries to prove her innocence.  She describes her struggle to search for evidence as she hides from the police.  During the time she spends hiding, she recalls the events leading up to her current situation.  The suspense created by the twists and turns in friendships and circumstances surrounding Katherine's death and Callie's presumed guilt make for an action-packed thriller that pushes right through to the last page.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

AS SIMPLE AS IT SEEMS by Sarah Weeks



Verbena "Verbie" has always been different.  She is tiny, and she looks different than the other kids she comes across in school and elsewhere.  It isn't until she learns that she's adopted, that things begin to make sense.

Verbie's adoptive parents love her dearly, but when she is told about her biological parents, Verbie begins to act out.  It's not easy to learn that her mother drank heavily during her pregnancy causing Verbie to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome.  She was underweight and remained smaller than most of her classmates and her upper lip is strangely smooth.  Verbie also discovers that her father broke a man's neck in a fit of rage and is now in jail.  It's no wonder that Verbie is angry and lashing out at everyone around her.

When a New York City woman and her young son rent the empty house next door to Verbie, she thinks maybe this summer will be different.  Unfortunately, the first interaction with the new neighbors involves the city woman throwing rocks at and threatening Verbie's three-legged dog.  Verbie ducks for cover and decides to steer clear of these vicious people.

Rumor has it that the long empty house is haunted by a previous resident, a little girl who drowned in the nearby lake.  Verbie's first contact with the city boy comes when he stumbles across her checking out an old rowboat stuck in the mucky shoreline.  Verbie is dressed in her white nightgown, dirty and torn from her hike through the woods to the lake.  The young boy mistakes her for the ghost of the little girl, and Verbie doesn't deny his assumption.  The boy introduces himself as Pooch, and together they decide to try to fix up the old boat.  What follows is a heartwarming story about friendship and self-discovery.

Author Sarah Weeks has followed up her extraordinary novel SO B. IT with one equally as good.  AS SIMPLE AS IT SEEMS is perfect for middle grade readers.  Weeks portrays Verbie struggling with the new knowledge of her past and the rollercoaster emotions of feeling different in a way that will have readers eagerly turning pages.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

TIME FOR A LIST OF SOME OF THE KIDS' FAVORITE BOOKS



7TH GRADE FAVORITES SO FAR THIS YEAR...
LAWN BOY by Gary Paulsen
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series by Jeff Kinney
SUMMER OF THE MONKEYS by Wilson Rawls
PERCY JACKSON series by Rick Riordan
SWIM THE FLY by Don Calame
STEPPING UP by Mark Fink
TRIBUTE TO ANOTHER DEAD ROCK STAR by Randy Powell
SKATE by Michael Harmon
BAD GIRLS DON'T DIE by Katie Alender
WINGS by Aprilynne Pike
STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr
GYM CANDY by Carl Deuker
BOOST by Kathy Mackel
TWISTED by Laurie Halse Anderson
CIRQUE DU FREAK series by Darren Shan
BLUE IS FOR NIGHTMARE series by Laurie Farie Stolarz
CHRISTY MILLER collection by Robin Jones Gunn
GETTING AIR by Dan Gutman
FIRST BOY by Gary Schmidt
A SONG FOR JEFFREY by Constance M. Foland
REMEMBER ME trilogy by Christopher Pike
DARK BLUE: COLOR ME LONELY by Melody Carlson
                                                    
8th GRADE FAVORITES SO FAR THIS YEAR
THE BATBOY by Mike Lupica
LUSH by Natasha Friend
CARTER FINALLY GETS IT by Brent Crawford
TAMAR by Mal Peet
EDENVILLE OWLS by Robert B. Parker
THE WEIGHT OF THE SKY by Lisa Ann Sandell
PERFECT by Natasha Friend
PARALYZED by Jeff Rud
THE DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series by Jeff Kinney
DESERT BLOOD 10pm/9c by Ronald Cree
RUNNER by Carl Deuker
GOLDEN by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
OUT OF HIS LEAGUE by Pat Flynn
DEMONATA series by Darren Shan
SNAKEHEAD by Anthony Horowitz
RUCKER PARK SETUP by Paul Volponi
WINGS by Aprilynne Pike
COMEBACK by Vicki Grant
ALABAMA MOON by Watt Key
BOSTON JANE trilogy by Jennifer L. Holm
DEAD IS THE NEW BLACK series by Marlene Perez
LAST CHANCE by Lesley Choyce
RESPONSE by Paul Volponi
BULL RIDER by Suzanne Morgan Williams
SKATE by Michael Harmon
CHARLIE BONE series by Jenny Nimmo

Friday, November 26, 2010

THE MIRACLE STEALER by Neil Connelly



It all started when little Daniel disappeared.  Anderson "Andi" and her friend Jeff were told they had to take Danny with them on their walk.  They hiked through the woods to the fairy fort.  The two teens only took their eyes off him for a minute.  Danny was gone. 

A frantic search followed, only to discover Danny had fallen some twenty feet down into an abandoned well.  The rescue effort that followed lasted three days.  Most of the volunteers and townspeople thought little Danny would not survive, but somehow the heartfelt prayers of the faithful worked a miracle and the little boy was rescued and simply treated for cuts and bruises.

After Danny's rescue, strange things began to happen in and around the town of Paradise, Pennsylvania.  Danny's miraculous survival seemed to be contagious.  Many believers began to credit him with healing the sick, communicating with the lost, and even bringing the fish back to the local lake.  He had become the "Miracle Boy."

The problem was that Danny was now several years older, and when he was called upon to "pray" for some miracle cure or recovery, his older sister Andi worried that he didn't truly have any special powers.  What if one day his prayers weren't answered?  Would he understand or would he take the failure to heart and shoulder unbearable guilt?  Why wouldn't people just leave him alone?

Andi has seen enough.  Her mother seems to want to exploit Danny and his miracle cures.  Andi blames her mother for driving away her father.  Anger as well as fear for her brother's safety is driving Andi to devise a cunning and dangerous plan to convince Danny's followers that he is just a normal little boy.  Will she succeed before well-meaning locals and nutcases coming from near and far manage to ruin the life of her innocent little brother?

THE MIRACLE STEALER is the story of faith.  Is faith something that can be proven with facts or is it the feeling that what happens is controlled by that higher authority?  Author Neil Connelly takes readers on a journey with Andi as she struggles to decide if she has faith or if fate depends on her actions alone.  It is a struggle many face, often more than once in life.  Connelly's story will speak to many and perhaps answer the question for some.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

THE KID TABLE by Andrea Seigel



Alright, I'll admit it, a book with mac and cheese on the cover grabs my attention.  Sigh...it's a weakness I have grown to accept.  My gluttonous desires aside, here's a review of THE KID TABLE by Andrea Seigel.

The cousins have been sitting at the Kid Table for as long as they can remember.  They've had a lot of fun sitting off to the side of the grownups' table over the years.  The thing is most of the "kids" are bordering on being grownups now themselves.  Ingrid is a senior in high school, and Brianne is in college. Cricket, Dom, Micah, and Autumn are well on their way to adulthood, too.  Only little Katie, not yet in kindergarten, really qualifies as a kid anymore.  Yet, here they all sit at each family celebration.

The story begins with the Bar Mitzvah.  Uncle Kurt is forty-six, but he's decided that converting to the Jewish faith and having a Bar Mitzvah is the next important milestone in his life.  The family has gathered, of course, to show their support.

Somehow Ingrid has become the center of the conversation at the Kid Table.  Brianne, a psychology major, has declared that Ingrid is a psychopath.  She is ticking off a list of behaviors she insists verify her diagnosis.  Ingrid finds it difficult to defend herself as she listens to Brianne recount the sudden and mysterious deaths of so many of Ingrid's beloved pets over the years.  Just because her dog Long John died of old age while asleep at the foot of her bed, doesn't make his death her responsibility.  Or does it?

As these older "kids" find themselves attending family events like the Bar Mitzvah, Thanksgiving, New Year's Brunch, and more, this cast of cousins reveals all their unique and interesting characteristics.  One cousin's anorexia is becoming more apparent, another is most definitely gay, and yet another's changing behavior and dress are crying out for some sort of attention.  As Ingrid tells their story, she battles with her own guilt about possibly being in love with her older cousin's boyfriend.

Author Andrea Seigel brings back many a childhood memory for readers who can recall their own experiences while dining at the Kid Table.  These infrequent holiday get-togethers offer cousins a chance to catch up, cause a little mischief, and also reveal the growing pains and stress of getting older and someday living up to family expectations.  Quirky characters mixed up in sometimes all-to-real situations make THE KID TABLE a memorable and enjoyable read.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

DAVID INSIDE OUT by Lee Bantle



High school for David is about running on the track team, hanging out with his friend Eddie, and dating Kick.  Lately, however, he has been feeling strange. 

In track his track performance has been unsteady at best.  When Sean steps forward to offer his help as a pacer, David is pleased, but maybe a bit too pleased.  Being around Sean makes him nervous but in a good way.  He thinks he'd like to be around Sean more than just at track practice.

Then there's Eddie.  They've been friends since elementary school.  Eddie has suddenly decided that it's time to come out as gay.  When he invites David to join his new Gay/Straight Alliance club, David puts his foot down and refuses.

Kick and David have been dating long enough that David realizes it is probably time to make a move.  He knows she is expecting something, but just getting up the nerve to kiss her is more than he can handle at the moment.

David is beginning to wonder just exactly what is going on.  He is finding it more and more difficult to shower and dress in the same locker-room with Sean.  The guy is like a magnet drawing David closer all the time.  Finally, it happens.  They have a moment together that confirms what David has been feeling.  It's Sean he loves not Kick.  But now that David has come to terms with who he is, Sean doesn't seem to be able to do the same.

Author Lee Bantle takes readers into the life of a young teen struggling to understand his sexuality.  Bantle describes David's inner battle to recognize his true self as well as his need to be accepted by those he loves.  The excitement of young love and the fear of rejection have David hiding his true feelings from family and friends.  DAVID INSIDE OUT provides a positive perspective for teens struggling with similar issues whether personally or as a friend.

THE FENCES BETWEEN US: THE DIARY OF PIPER DAVIS by Kirby Larson



THE FENCES BETWEEN US by Kirby Larson is a new book in the Dear America series.  Having already read Larson's HATTIE BIG SKY, I knew she would handle the historical subject matter in a way that would make the reader feel part of the past.  I wasn't disappointed.

Piper Davis lives in Seattle, Washington.  It is 1941, and her older brother has just enlisted in the Navy.  The worst thing she can imagine happens when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.  Her brother was one of the few lucky survivors from the USS Arizona.  In fact, his heroic actions also saved a friend and fellow crew member.

With her brother still on active duty but safe, Piper focuses on how her life at home is changing because of the war.  Her older sister had been enrolled at the university, but she drops out to go to work in a factory to support the troops.  Residents of Seattle feel the effects of the war as they prepare for "black outs" in case of enemy attacks, plant victory gardens in their backyards, and "do without" as rationing begins. 

Piper's father is dealing with another change brought on by the war.  He is the pastor of the Japanese Baptist church.  Fear and prejudice quickly spread creating hard feelings and hate.  When the government decides that moving the Japanese to incarceration camps is the way to handle the situation, Pastor Davis fights to keep his congregation together.  When he realizes the fight is over and his church members must be relocated, he decides to take Piper and follow them.

Piper hates leaving her sister, her friends, and her school, but what choice does she have.  She and her father move into a rented house near the internment camp.  The Japanese children she has grown up with are forced to live with their families in horrible conditions, but as Piper visits them and eventually begins to attend school at the camp, she is amazed at the resilient attitude of these proud people.  They are determined to survive and even thrive despite the fact that the country they call home has turned its back on them.

Kirby Larson describes the living conditions and treatment of the Japanese in vivid detail.  Using the experiences of an actual Baptist pastor who continued to serve his loyal church members, she keeps true to the historical facts surrounding the incarceration of tens of thousands of Japanese held near Eden and Twin Falls, Idaho.  She explains that as the war raged on in Europe and the Pacific, another battle was waged right here on American soil. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

THE RIVER by Mary Jane Beaufrand



Moving the family to a tiny town in Oregon was supposed to create a safer, simpler life for the Severance family.  Ronnie's Dad was a lawyer in the big city, but nerves and stress have him heavily medicated for depression.  Mom has everyone working to revitalize an old inn she believes will provide income for the family and something a bit less stressful for her husband to do.  Whatever decisions were made by her parents, Ronnie feels left out and totally out of her element in Hoodoo, Oregon.

Ronnie spends most of her free time running.  It occupies her and allows her to spend time along the river, the only attraction in the community that interests her.  When she is not out running or busy helping her mother around the inn, she gets roped into babysitting for a nearby family.  It's not really her thing so she's quite surprised when an odd friendship forms between her and one of the children, a little girl named Karen.

Karen educates Ronnie in the ways of the countryside, especially the river and its wildlife and unpredictable beauty.  Ronnie is amazed at the time she spends with the little girl, and how she comes to appreciate her new surroundings.  Through Karen, Ronnie comes to know some of the locals like Ranger Dave, Gretchen, and Keith Spady.  They are all people she will come to a count on when tragedy strikes.

The day Ronnie discovers little Karen's body in the river, her world is turned upside-down.  The pint-sized adventurer was so accomplished at crossing the river on slippery rocks and skipping stones across its waters that it's hard to believe she met her end there.  Ronnie feels like she failed her small friend when attempts to resuscitate her fail.  Now she is plagued with memories of their short time together and a growing suspicion that her death may not have been an accident.

THE RIVER by Mary Jane Beaufrand is the story of an unusual friendship wrapped up in a mystery.  Filled with frequent flashbacks of Karen's carefree days, Beaufrand weaves the stories of the two girls together.  Other interesting characters and surprise twists will keep readers on their toes as they follow Ronnie's efforts to find justice for her friend.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

HOW TO STEAL A CAR by Pete Hautman



"Did you know that a car gets stolen in this country every twenty-eight seconds?"  This is Kelleigh's not-so-innocent comment to her mother as she is preparing the family's dinner.

Kelleigh doesn't even have her driver's license yet, but she is doing a lot of driving.  It started when she and her friend witnessed a businessman drop his keys in the parking lot of the mall.  He didn't notice his mistake and headed off to do whatever business he had planned.  Kelleigh picked up the keys and used them to steal her first car. 

She isn't sure exactly what motivates her.  It could be just the rush she feels when she first enters the car and starts the engine.  It could be a reaction to the tension she's feeling at home between her parents.  It might be the potential money she could earn if she keeps working with experienced car thief Deke.  Whatever it is, it is habit-forming, and she can't seem to stop.

Kelleigh comes from a good home.  Her father is a defense attorney and her mother works in real estate.  The family eats dinner around the table each night, and she goes to Pilates with her mother every Saturday morning.  They have raised her to know the difference between right and wrong.  So why is Kelleigh stealing cars? 

Pete Hautman, author of GODLESS, SWEETBLOOD, and MR. WAS, shows off his talent at creating unique storylines.  HOW TO STEAL A CAR doesn't have the classic plot where teenager steals car, gets caught, and after punishment learns a lesson.  Instead, Hautman delivers an action-packed story about a character searching for motivation.  Hautman fans will want to check out this clever, quick read.

REMOTE CONTROL by Jack Heath



"The first thing he saw was a soldier with a megaphone leaning through the second-floor window of one of the buildings; the second was the sixteen snipers aiming at him from the windows all around."

Events like the one above are fairly common place for Agent Six in REMOTE CONTROL, the sequel to Jack Heath's THE LAB.  It is filled with heart-stopping images just like it.

The world is still controlled by ChaoSonic and Six is still struggling to survive as he battles evil without the use of deadly force.  This time his identical twin is kidnapped by a new villain named Vanish.  Vanish mistakenly believes he has kidnapped Six and is asking for a ransom or the teen will be killed.

As Six begins the Mission to rescue his brother, he encounters a new individual, a mysterious girl who keeps herself hidden but offers survival advice Six finds quite confusing but useful if he is able to unlock the cryptic clues.  Adding difficulty to his mission is the fact that the Deck has been compromised leaving Six completely on his own.  With no one to trust, he must keep track of everyone and can't rely on anyone.

Readers looking for non-stop action, violence, and intrigue should pick up a copy of REMOTE CONTROL as soon as possible.  Jack Heath has a real knack for creating 007-type gadgets backed by spy-thriller adventures, and Agent Six's superhuman skills are sure to please.

Friday, November 12, 2010

BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I'LL BE DEAD by Julie Anne Peters



Author Julie Anne Peters has written an incredibly powerful new book focusing on bullying and the issue of suicide as a consequence.  With this problem appearing so recently in national news, BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I'LL BE DEAD is a book to be read and taken seriously.

Overweight, misunderstood, and bullied for almost her entire life, Daelyn has already tried suicide.  Her attempts so far have failed, but after finding a website called Through-the-Light, her determination to end her life has been renewed.

After multiple attempts, the most recent resulting in permanent damage to her esophagus and vocal cords, her parents have her under close watch.  She finally regains her computer privileges which allow her to find the website that has connected her to others serious about terminating their lives.  She is officially registered on the site and has chosen her DOD - Day of Determination.  In 23 days she will be dead.

What follows is Daelyn's account of those 23 days.  She details her horrific past including "fat camp" and its humiliations, a sexual attack in the boys' restroom, and countless other bullying incidents that have stripped her of any feelings of trust or self-worth.  Feeling totally friendless and never able to confide in her parents, she has suffered alone.

During the 23 days, Daelyn does have some new insights.  As she documents her struggles online, she is able to view her past in a new light that provides a kind of release.  She also meets a boy outside her school as she waits for her mother's car each day.  This odd character has serious issues of his own, but he relentlessly pursues her friendship and helps her imagine new possibilities.

Much of this book is dark and deeply disturbing, especially when Daelyn spends time online.  To realize that there are sites like the one she visits that describe in such detail the methods and options for suicide seekers, it is frightening to think how venerable people might be influenced to take this drastic step.  Peters attacks this subject bravely and doesn't attempt to soften it or romanticize it.  She provides a needed voice for those unable to express the inner torment caused by the cruelty and viciousness of some in our society today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

JUMP by Ginger Rue



Brinkley Harper is the queen of Story High.  Everyone knows her and many fear her.  Because of her reputation as a bully, Brinkley has been ordered to see a therapist.  If she doesn't keep her appointments, she faces possible expulsion from Story High which her parents are concerned will severely limit her college choices.  Brinkley reluctantly meets with the counselor, but she doesn't have any plans to cooperate.

Returning home from her appointment, Brinkley is greeted by Tallulah, the family's housekeeper.  Brinkley's parents may indulge her every whim, but they are usually too busy with their careers and social engagements to spend any real time with their daughter.  Tallulah takes care of Brinkley and shows extreme patience with the teen's abusive behavior. 

On this particular night Brinkley is upset by her parents' latest last minute vacation disappearance so she heads to bed.  The next thing she knows she is waking up, not in her comfortable bed, but in a classroom at Story High.  Confused and unsettled, she rushes to the nearest restroom, and what she sees as she looks in the mirror baffles her even more.  Instead of her stunningly beautiful face, she is looking at the face of a hideous goth girl named Miranda.  What is going on?

Brinkley realizes she has somehow taken over the body of one of the people she would be least likely to associate with at Story High.  Everyone she encounters believes she is this Miranda so she stumbles through her day trying to do whatever the girl would do. 

When school ends, Brinkley/Miranda heads home to Miranda's house only to discover that the poor girl lives with a rather terrifying and abusive father.  Brinkley also learns of Miranda's secret habit of self-injury which causes her to view the girl in a whole new light.

Brinkley finds out that sleep releases her from Miranda's body, and she once again has her own life back.  But she soon discovers that this is just the beginning.  Will seeing life through the eyes of those around her change how Brinkley herself views the world? 

Author Ginger Rue takes readers on a wild ride as Brinkley jumps from character to character.  Though farfetched in terms of reality, Brinkley's experiences will have readers doing a bit of self-examination.  How do we really treat others and how is that treatment perceived?  JUMP is fun and entertaining but thought-provoking as well.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

STORYTELLER by Patricia Reilly Giff



When Elizabeth's father tells her he will be traveling to Australia to sell his wood carvings, she thinks it means she'll have to stay with Mrs. Eldridge and endure her overweight bulldog and his bad breath.  She's in for a surprise.  Father says Elizabeth will be staying with her Aunt Libby, her mother's sister.

Staying with Libby means living with someone she doesn't even know and going to a new school where she doesn't have any friends.  All Father says is it is time Elizabeth learned about her mother's side of the family.

Libby makes Elizabeth feel as welcome as possible.  The house is awfully quiet and her aunt's cooking is horrible, but when Libby shows Elizabeth to the room she'll be using while she visits, everything feels a bit better.  The room belonged to Elizabeth's mother when she was a girl.  There's a handmade quilt on the bed and a cozy chair by the window perfect for snuggling up in with a good book. 

It doesn't take long for Elizabeth to discover the faded sketch of a young girl hanging in the hall.  It is amazing how much the girl resembles her.  Libby tells Elizabeth that the girl's name was Eliza "Zee", and she lived during the Revolutionary War.  Elizabeth is filled with questions about this mysterious girl from the past, and what follows is a fascinating journey into her family history.

Author Patricia Reilly Giff tells the stories of modern-day Elizabeth and 18th century Zee through alternating chapters.  Elizabeth learns not only about the mother she lost years ago, but also about her family's place in history.  Readers also hear Zee's story as she fights for survival during a time of war that separated families and tore apart lives.  Giff's gift for writing historical fiction is put to excellent use in STORYTELLER as she bridges from past to present to connect the story of two young girls.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

BEAT THE BAND by Don Calame



In the author blurb for BEAT THE BAND, author Don Calame states, "It was hard saying good-bye to the characters in SWIM THE FLY.  And then I realized I didn't have to.  I just needed to find a way to get them back into trouble again."

This reader is extremely pleased that Calame missed his characters enough to give them another chance in BEAT THE BAND.  I found them even more engaging and entertaining the second time around.

It is sophomore year, and Cooper Redmond has a new goal in life.  He has decided during his second year in high school he needs to find a way to hit all the bases, and he's not referring to athletic feats on the baseball diamond.  Cooper has his sights set on Prudence, the leader of the hottest group of popular girls in the school. 

When Mrs. Turris announces the semester long health project, Cooper sees it as his chance to shine.  He is sure the odds are in his favor and he'll score Prudence or at least one of her minions as a project partner.  When the Fates intervene and give him hated Helen Harriwick as a partner, his whole plan begins to crumble.  And if having a disastrous partner is not bad enough, the subject of their partnership project is contraception.  It's truly the end of the world for Cooper.

Cooper thinks he may have the answer to all his problems when he hears the announcement about the upcoming Battle of the Bands.  He and his buddies Matt and Sean have experimented some with the rock band idea.  Maybe they could dust off their instruments and with a little practice wow everyone with their musical talent enough to get everyone thinking of Cooper as a cool dude and not as some loser stuck with "Hot Dog" Helen.

What follows is a story hilarious and raunchy enough to hook every guy reader and gross out most girls brave enough to crack the cover.  Calame is right on target with the thoughts and antics of 10th grade boys.  His gritty locker room banter combined with offbeat characters like Cooper's dad and his crazy schemes work to create a super sequel to SWIM THE FLY.  This one has me waiting eagerly for what Calame has to offer next.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

MASTERS OF DISASTER by Gary Paulsen



Yup, it's a new Gary Paulsen novel!  MASTERS OF DISASTER is just what its title suggests.  A group of boys share their wacky adventures. 

Henry Mosley and his pals, Riley and Reed, are out to make a name for themselves.  Their daring stunts are reminiscent of Paulsen's own adventures in HOW ANGEL PETERSON GOT HIS NAME and the stunts he describes in HARRIS AND ME. 

This one has enough action-packed disasters to keep the most reluctant of middle grade readers turning the pages.  Just prop this one up so the cover art shows, and it will sell itself.

EXTRAORDINARY by Nancy Werlin



Phoebe was raised by two loving parents who told her constantly she was an extraordinary girl, but now Phoebe's life may depend on her ability to admit she is simply ordinary.

In seventh grade Phoebe made a big decision.  She decided it was time to make some new friends.  Inspired by the arrival of a strange, new girl, Phoebe made it her goal to befriend Mallory.  The more she got to know Mallory, the more she knew the new girl needed her.  What she didn't realize, was that it was a friendship controlled by forces far beyond anything Phoebe could ever imagine.

The years passed quickly as the friendship between Phoebe and Mallory grew.  The two became inseparable.  Phoebe learned about Mallory's ailing mother, and with her own mother's help, arranged for daily care and medication so Mallory could live a more normal teenage life.  Mallory even had her own room across the hall from Phoebe's so she could get away when necessary.  The two were almost like sisters.

Phoebe wasn't totally surprised when Mallory mentioned her brother was planning a visit.  Mallory's mother's condition meant she was forced to live a rather secretive life sometimes.  This mysterious older brother had been living in Australia for years, but a career change made it possible for him to return for a surprise visit. 

Ryland has a strange magnetism that attracts Phoebe instantly.  He exhibits a quiet maturity that has Phoebe wanting to know more and more about him, however, when opportunities present themselves for private moments, Ryland makes it crystal clear that Phoebe must not let Mallory know about their relationship.  When frustration drives Phoebe to sneak a peek in Ryland's bedroom, she finds something that she cannot begin to understand or explain.

Author Nancy Werlin takes readers into the fairy realm once again in EXTRAORDINARY.  She weaves a fascinating family history into a tale of friendship, romance, and personal sacrifice.  The story of friendship is carefully constructed in the here and now, and then it is creatively mixed into the fantastic world of the fairy kingdom complete with a dying queen and her quest for a source of renewing power.  Fans of Werlin's IMPOSSIBLE will be rushing to grab this one off the shelf.

Monday, November 1, 2010

GIRL, STOLEN by April Henry



Cheyenne feels awful.  She and her step-mother have just left the doctor's office where x-rays revealed that Cheyenne has pneumonia.  Her step-mother leaves Cheyenne resting in the running car while she heads into the store to pick up a prescription.  It all seems simple until a stranger slips into the front seat and steals the car. 

As the car thief speeds out of the parking lot, a glance in the rearview mirror reveals he has a passenger, but by now it's too late.  When Cheyenne realizes what is happening, she begs her captor to release her, promising not to tell anyone.  When her promises are ignored, Cheyenne reveals the real truth - she is blind.

Griffin, the young car thief, is in a panic.  His actual target in the shopping center parking lot was to steal packages from unlocked vehicles.  Stealing a car was not part of the plan, but when he saw the classy SUV was just sitting there with its engine running, he just reacted.  Now he will be delivering a really cool car to his father, but the added surprise of a kidnapped girl is definitely going to complicate matters.

Cheyenne tries to use her remaining senses to follow the route Griffin takes into the country.  She knows she isn't far from home, but she has no idea how to figure out exactly where she is.  When her kidnappers find out she is the daughter of the company president of Nike, they are determined to demand a sizeable reward.  As they plot and plan their next step, Cheyenne listens carefully for clues revealing their names and the location of the house where she is being held. 

Author April Henry has created quite a thriller guaranteed to keep readers on the edge of their seats.  GIRL, STOLEN is filled with plenty of excitement and suspense.  There is the obvious complication of Cheyenne's blindness and the added difficulty of her physical illness and her immediate need for antibiotics.  Those problems alone would be enough for most authors, but Henry adds other creative plot twists that will keep readers on their toes.  GIRL, STOLEN is a must-read for action and adventure fans.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

YOU ARE NOT HERE by Samantha Schutz



I was excited to see Samantha Schutz had written a novel.  Her memoir I DON'T WANT TO BE CRAZY revealed her talent as a writer and her tremendous ability to describe her own very raw and painful experiences. 

YOU ARE NOT HERE is a novel in verse.  The focus is on Annaleah and the sudden and tragic death of someone near and dear to her. 

If pressed, Annaleah would not be able to articulate her true relationship with Brian.  They've been seeing each other for a short while and have shared a first kiss and much more, but to say he is her boyfriend still doesn't seem quite right.  Their relationship has not included any outsiders.  When Annaleah visits Brian, he always hustles her out before his father comes home.  She hasn't really shared her budding romance with friends either.  Her one attempt to describe her feelings about Brian brought harsh criticism from her closest friend, Marissa.  And as far as introducing Brian to her mother, forget about it.  Better to leave that woman in the dark.

Because of the secretive nature of their relationship, when Brian suddenly dies while playing basketball, Annaleah has nowhere to turn.  Since no one truly understands, she withdraws, spending all her time either in her room or visiting his gravesite.  Their relationship was viewed as casual causing Annaleah's mother and friends to look upon her continued grieving as unnecessary and ridiculous.  Unable to explain, Annaleah sinks deeper and deeper into despair as she mourns the loss of a young man she realizes may not even have loved her.

Schutz explores the human reaction to death and loss in YOU ARE NOT HERE.  The process of grieving is such a personal experience, and Schutz demonstrates that fact as she takes Annaleah on this often lonesome journey.  Readers looking for a "problem" type novel will find this fast-read satisfying, although rather predictable.

CRAZY by Han Nolan



Memories from before his mother died and before his father went crazy are the only things keeping Jason going, but his grasp on reality may be slipping.  A cast of characters inhabit his mind; their voices constantly whisper commentary on his every thought and action.

Jason's life is a complicated mess.  He's trying to keep up his grades, write for the advice column of the school newspaper, and keep an eye on his father.  It had always been his mother's responsibility to keep track of his father's erratic behavior, but now she's gone so Jason is in charge of damage control when his father dons his Greek war helmet as he rants and raves against the Furies who he believes killed his wife and are out to destroy him.

The stress of juggling his own life and his father's has Jason talking to the voices in his own mind.  Giving him advice, criticism, and sometimes comfort are characters named Crazy Glue, Fat Bald Guy with a Mustache, Aunt Bee, Sexy Lady, and Laugh Track.  They are his only "friends" until he joins a therapy group at school and finds he does have other friends who are there to provide support and encouragement.

It is not easy for Jason to open up to strangers, but when his fellow group members pitch in to help when it is revealed that his father has stolen a multi-million dollar violin, Jason learns the true value of friendship.  When things get so bad that Jason's only recourse is to admit his father needs medical help, his new friends continue to cheer him on.

CRAZY is the story of a young teen's struggle to keep together what's left of his family.  Author Han Nolan uses the unique voices in Jason's head to vividly portray the emotional torment he experiences as he watches his own father crumbling before him.  Readers will come to know and love Jason and admire his courage and determination to hold it all together under unbearable circumstances.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

AUTHOR NED VIZZINI IS COMING TO STAIR PUBLIC LIBRARY!!!!



Author Ned Vizzini whose book IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY was just released as a major motion picture will be visiting Stair Public Library in Morenci, MI.


This will be Ned's fourth visit to the tiny Michigan community. He will be speaking on Saturday, November 13 at 2:00 pm as part of a program entitled New York City in a Tiny Midwest Town.

Please come join us if you are in the area.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ZORA AND ME by Victoria Bond & T.R. Simon



Two authors, Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon, take on the impressive and creative task of presenting a unique view of well-known author Zora Neale Hurston.  Hurston, renowned author of such books as THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD and JONAH'S GOURD VINE, is memorialized in this new fictional version of her childhood.  In ZORA AND ME Bond and Simon attempt to imagine the great storyteller's early years.

The story is told by Carrie, a childhood friend of Zora's.  According to Carrie, Zora began her storytelling career as a child and used her talent to fascinate and entertain everyone both young and old.  Always ready with a tale, Zora's favorites usually seemed to involve the folklore of the area.

ZORA AND ME forces on a creature half gator/half man thought to stalk victims in the marshes and swamps.  When a headless dead man is discovered along the railroad tracks, Zora's imagination soars.  She creates a tale combining this recent discovery with other unexplained events that is sure to raise the hairs on many an arm.  Young and old in her tiny community are drawn into her story, and everyone fears for their safety.

Readers and fans of the adult Zora Neale Hurston will be captivated by this imaginative portrayal of the young Hurston.  It doesn't take much of a leap to believe that this little storyteller could grow to be an award winning author.  Bond and Simon are to be applauded for their efforts.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

ITCH by Michelle D. Kwasney



Leaving Florida and moving to Ohio?  Delores is sure that it represents the end of the world.  Her beloved Gramps died, and Gram has put the house up for sale so they can move into a mobile home next door to relatives in some tiny Ohio town.

Delores's memories of Gramps include her nickname, Itch, his 1957 convertible, and his smelly cigars.  They spent endless hours sitting together in that old car, listening to the radio and talking about everything.  Missing Gramps is bad enough, and now she has to leave her best friend Bailey behind, too.

Gram and Delores settle into their new home.  According to Gram, they have to sell the Florida house and Gramps car to make ends meet.  Life also changes when Gram decides to use her old hairdresser skills to get a job in a local beauty parlor.  Delores starts school where she begins to make friends with several of the girls in her grade.  She misses Bailey, but once she meets Gwendolyn "Wendy", she hopes she might be on her way to finding a new best friend.

Wendy is a champion dancer and baton twirler who lives in a fancy house the total opposite of Delores's trailer park home.  As their friendship begins to blossom, Delores suspects that Wendy's storybook life might have a dark side.  When evidence surfaces that Wendy is being abused by her mother, Delores looks to advice from Gramps about how speaking up takes courage.

ITCH by Michelle D. Kwasney describes one young girl's grit and determination to make the best of a difficult situation.  Moving was the last thing Delores wanted to do, but with the help of her supportive grandmother and her own generous spirit, she meets her challenges head-on.  She not only adapts to her new surroundings, but also steps up to help a new friend.  Delores is sure to inspire middle grade readers as well as entertain them with her story.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS by Kristina Springer



Tween girls will get a kick out of this one.  With all the middle grade angst involving boyfriends and popularity, Kristina Springer has hit the nail on the head.

Tori is feeling totally abandoned by her best friend Sienna.  After all Sienna spent the summer at some fabulous house in Florida getting a tan, and apparently, getting an amazing boyfriend, while Tori stayed at home doing absolutely nothing as she waited for Sienna's dwindling texts and emails.  Now seventh grade is about to begin, and Tori doesn't even know if they are still friends.

It quickly becomes obvious that all Sienna is planning to do is talk about Antonio.  He sends the best emails.  He gives the best presents.  He's the best kisser.  Tori is getting more jealous by the minute, until she realizes that this long-distance boyfriend might not really exist.

The more Tori listens to Sienna, the more she begins to believe that Antonio is make-believe.  Tori decides two can play that game, and she invents Sebastian.  Now the battle is on!

Kristina Springer takes all of the worst parts of seventh grade behavior and brings them together in MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS.  All the feelings of insecurity and inferiority of not fitting in and not being popular are present in the characters of Tori and Sienna.  Even though the ending is fairly predictable, readers will find the journey there an interesting one. 

CROSSING THE TRACKS by Barbara Stuber



After Iris lost her mother to tuberculosis, she spent all her free time working in the family shoe store.  She planned on spending even more time working with her father once school was out for the summer.  Much to her surprise, Iris learns that her father has other plans.

Iris is going to be taking the train to live with a doctor and his aging mother for the summer.  She will be helping with patients and caring for the old lady.  While she is away, someone else will be running her father's store while he and his girlfriend spend time in Kansas City opening a new store. 

Iris finds herself living in a strange town with people she's never met.  It is painfully obvious that she doesn't know the first thing about housekeeping and cooking, much less about helping the doctor care for patients.  Fortunately Dr. and Mrs. Nesbitt understanding and are willing to give her time to adjust.  What follows is a summer filled with new and different experiences.

It is soon clear that Mrs. Nesbitt is not as helpless and ailing as Iris thought.  Young Iris seems to be just what the doctor ordered.  His mother and Iris become fast friends as she teaches Iris the things she missed due to the early death of her mother.  Iris feels a sense of family she has always missed, and it allows her to discover just how strong a person she real is.

Author Barbara Stuber creates Iris's story using both humor and tragedy.  CROSSING THE TRACKS illustrates how Iris takes what appears to be an uncomfortable and unwanted situation and turns it into the experience of a lifetime.  Readers will be touched by Iris as she changes from a shy, unsure young girl into a confident young woman.

Monday, October 11, 2010

DARK SONG by Gail Giles



Ames Ford goes to a fancy, private school.  She has an iPhone, her own brand-new laptop, and more clothes than she could wear in a lifetime.  She lives in a house with a home theater and a bedroom designed by a professional decorator.  She doesn't want for anything.  However, things are about to change...

When Ames's dad announces that his company has downsized leaving him without a job, he tells Ames and her little sister Chrissy that nothing will change.  He tells them he was given a good severance package that will tide them over until he gets a new job.  There is nothing to worry about...

Why are her friends suddenly acting strange and asking her how she is holding up?  How does everyone know that her father lost his job?  And what's this about him making a deal to avoid jail time?

When the real truth comes out Ames's life turns into a nightmare.  The house is up for sale, precious possessions are sold at a yard sale, and suddenly they are leaving Boulder and heading for Texas. 

Ames's reaction is anger and rebellion.  Not usually a troublemaker, Ames begins to explore her wild side when she meets Marc.  He offers her love and protection, but by the time she realizes just exactly what he has in mind, it might be too late.

Author Gail Giles has created another thriller perfect for teen readers.  DARK SONG explores the love/hate relationship most teens have with their parents.  She takes a look at just how far one girl might go to retaliate against controlling parents.  This fast-paced novel is a page-turner that won't stay on the shelf long.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

JUSTIN FISHER DECLARES WAR! by James Preller



Fifth grade is turning out to be a lot different than fourth grade.  Justin Fisher is used to being the class clown, but his new teacher is treating him like a troublemaker.  What was once funny and earned him a round of laughter, now is getting him sent to the principal's office.

Justin is determined to come out the winner in his self-declared war against Mr. Tripp.  How can a guy with a goofy mustache really expect kids to take him seriously?  Justin vows to break him one way or another.

Unfortunately, Justin's classmates have turned on him.  They are acting like he's more of a disruption than a distraction.  When a school talent show is announced, they discourage him from entering because he will just "ruin everything".  That reaction just makes him more interested in scoring a spot in the program.

Author James Preller describes fifth grade to a tee in JUSTIN FISHER DECLARES WAR!  Every class has a Justin, and at some point, every class begins to object to the disruption caused by a chronic goof-off.  Preller's novel offers excellent read-a-loud potential with ample opportunity for discussion about behavior and its consequences.  I'll definitely be recommending this one to both students and teachers in middle grade classrooms.

Friday, October 8, 2010

MY WORST BEST FRIEND by Dyan Sheldon



Gracie has always been surprised that Savannah considers her a friend, not just a friend, but a best friend.  Gracie lives a fairly boring existence with her father hovering protectively.  She is not really sure why Savannah finds her so fascinating.

Things have changed a bit recently, though.  Frequently forgetful, Savannah seems to be even more scattered.  When she sets a time to meet Gracie at the coffee shop, it has become a common occurrence for her to be late or possibly not show up at all.  Her excuses are pretty lame, even bordering on rude.

On one such occasion when Gracie had been waiting for over an hour for the tardy Savannah, Cooper showed up and invited Gracie to go to a local community center called the Neighborhood.  Gracie and Cooper have always shared a common interest in promoting worthy causes, and now Cooper wants to show off the community center in hopes of recruiting her as a volunteer.  She has a terrific time but is almost discouraged by the careless attitude Savannah has when Gracie tries to share her enthusiasm about the great work done at the center.

Having Savannah "forget" appointments or complain of schedule conflicts is one thing, but when she begins to include Gracie in downright lies to hide her real activities from others, Gracie decides something must be done.

In MY WORST BEST FRIEND author Dyan Sheldon portrays friendship at its worst.  Many readers will unfortunately be able to relate to Gracie as she experiences Savannah's mistreatment.  After her initial shock and disappointment, Gracie shows readers how to deal with an abusive friend.  MY WORST BEST FRIEND provides a peek into an all too common problem in the world of BFF's.

Monday, October 4, 2010

MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine



Caitlin's brother Devon was one of three victims killed by a school shooter.  His death leaves Caitlin and their father alone to pick up the pieces and make some sense of what is left.

Being able to mourn and share their grief is complicated by the fact that eleven year old Caitlin has a condition known as Asperger's syndrome.  She does not recognize most social clues that moderate normal behavior.  Unable to interpret simple facial expressions leaves her clueless about how to interact with others.  Devon has always bridged the gap between his little sister and the rest of the world, but he is no longer there to help.

Caitlin gets some help from Mrs. Brook, a counselor at her school.  They spend time every day working on social skills, manners, and what Mrs. Brook calls empathy.  Caitlin's very literal approach to situations makes her a target for taunting and teasing that only aggravates the problem.  Now, learning to grieve her brother's death is also an important part of her daily therapy.

One thing Devon left behind might prove useful as Caitlin and her father attempt to recover and move on.  Devon's Eagle Scout project sits unfinished in their living room as a reminder that he will never return to complete it.  When Caitlin gets the idea that she and her father could finish the project as a way to find closure, it seems like an impossible task.  But with determination and some breakthroughs at school, maybe they can achieve the impossible.

MOCKINGBIRD is a heart-warming story of loss and recovery.  The addition of Caitlin's struggle with Asperger's adds an amazing element to the tale.  Kathryn Erskine recreates the world as seen through Caitlin's eyes in such a realistic and believable way; readers will be drawn in and inspired by the little girl's courage and strength.  This book is truly a loving work of art.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

SOMEWHERE IN BLUE by Gillian Cummings



Two mothers and two daughters struggle to understand one another and survive what life has dealt them. 

Sandy is grieving the loss of her father and doesn't understand why her mother isn't sharing the same level of grief.  His rapid decline and death from cancer didn't give Sandy the needed time to adjust to what life would be like without him.  They were close in a way that always seemed to exclude her mother, but it took losing him for Sandy to recognize it.  Now Vivian is left without her husband and also without a real relationship with her daughter.

Lennie is embarrassed by her mother.  Teresa is a single mother determined to be an object of desire for men - any men willing to give her the time of day.  The men she allows to escort her home both disgust and frighten her teenage daughter.  Lennie doesn't understand how Teresa can have such low standards and take such irresponsible risks.  In addition to trying to protect her mother, Lennie is knee-deep in trying to help her friend Sandy move on after the death of her father. 

Both Sandy and Lennie are about to discover secrets their mothers have kept hidden for years.  Those secrets could either draw them closer together or tear their delicate relationships farther apart. 

Author Gillian Cummings deftly describes both situations using relatable and realistic mother/daughter vibes that will ring true to readers even if they haven't experienced the suffering and loss felt by Cummings' characters.  SOMEWHERE IN BLUE explores the depths and suffering of loss and damaging stress of hidden secrets.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

FALLOUT by Ellen Hopkins



FALLOUT speaks for three teens whose lives are connected by one woman and the grip of a drug known as the "monster".  Hunter, Autumn, and Summer are three of Kristina's children.  If those names seem familiar, it is probably because you met them in CRANK and GLASS, two novels by Ellen Hopkins.

CRANK and GLASS are the fictionalized story of Hopkins's daughter's addiction to meth.  In this final book FALLOUT, the author imagines the future and how it might look for an addict's children.  What will those children remember of the past, and what will they take with them into the future?

Hunter has been lovingly raised by his grandparents and wants more than anything to take his life in a different direction than his mother.  He has dreams of a career and has found the woman he may want to spend the rest of his life loving, but he fears that through genetic connections he will eventually crash and burn.  Responsibility and commitment were major elements missing from his mother, and now as Hunter approaches adulthood and his own relationships that require those key components, he worries they will be his downfall, too. 

Summer has known some semblance love from her father, and she's been tolerated by his various girlfriends, but it never completely filled the hole left by the mother who moved on without her.  Now her father is serving time for DUI, and his latest girlfriend is in no position to take care of a teenager, Summer finds herself shoved into a foster care family with problems of their own.  It's the last thing she ever thought she would do, but running away seems like the only answer.

Autumn lives with her grumpy grandfather and her Aunt Cora.  Now that her aunt is getting married and moving to Austin things are about to change.  The last thing Autumn wants to do is live alone with an ailing grandfather, and complicating matters is the fact that after falling for Bryce and having unprotected sex, she might even be pregnant.  The last thing she expects to learn is that she has a sister and several brothers - all fellow victims of a mother too focused on her own selfish desires.

Novelist Ellen Hopkins takes her loyal readers on a trip into the future as she gives voice to the children of her famous Kristina.  Hopkins explains in her Author's Note that she has imagined the lives of Kristina's children some years from now to illustrate the impact substance abuse can have, not only on the life of the user, but also on the lives of everyone they touch.  As in CRANK and GLASS, Hopkins's message is loud and clear and will hopefully help others whose lives have been complicated by drugs or alcohol.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

BOYS DON'T CRY by Malorie Blackman



BOYS DON'T CRY by Malorie Blackman is an emotionally charged story about love and family and the different shapes they sometimes take.  This book is one you won't want to miss.

Dante is anxiously awaiting his A Level exam results.  He is proud of himself for taking the exams a year early, and he's eager to know if his scores will have him headed to university in the near future.  But when a knock at the door brings his old girlfriend and not the postman, Dante is in for the surprise of his life.

Melanie has been gone for over a year.  The last time they spent any time together was at a friend's party.  That night they were both drunk and ended up in an upstairs bedroom where they had a less than memorable sexual encounter.  Now Melanie was sitting in his living room holding a baby on her lap.  Dante is at first confused and then shocked when Melanie tells him the baby is his daughter Emma.

If finding out he has a daughter is not enough, Melanie asks Dante to watch the baby for a bit while she goes out to run an errand.  Before he has a chance to object, she is gone.  And not long after, Melanie calls from her mobile phone and tells Dante she won't be coming back.

Dante's father is furious when he hears about his son's irresponsible sexual behavior, but to Dante's amazement, he immediately leaps into action making a plan and getting the supplies they need to care for a baby.  Dante is equally shocked when his younger brother Adam falls head-over-heels in love with little Emma.  All Dante can think about is how to get Melanie to come back and get him out of this impossible situation.

Even though his A Level exam scores are perfect, Dante knows his plans for university and the future have become a distant dream.  He quickly learns being a father might be the hardest job on earth.  The more time he spends with Emma, the more his love begins to blossom.  With the help of his dad, his brother, and his aunt, Dante begins to take his responsibility seriously.

Maybe it is learning to love his daughter or maybe it's spending more time at home, but Dante also begins to discover his usually cheerful younger brother has some problems of his own.  He finds himself filling not only the role of new father, but also that of protective older brother.  Through it all he learns the true meaning of love and all the joy and pain it can bring.

Author Malorie Blackman takes the usual teen parenthood story and turns it upside-down.  Readers will be quickly drawn into Dante's experiences and will feel every moment of fear, regret, and exhilaration as he deals with all life has thrown his way.  There are fabulous moments of joy, flashes of anger, and terrible tragedies as this odd family struggles to hold it all together.