Monday, May 31, 2010

WISH YOU WERE HERE, LIZA by Robin Wasserman

Vacations with family and friends seemed like lots of fun back when Liza was little, but now she's older and there are better things to do than hangout with family and visit the World's Biggest Ball of Twine or some Mega Route 66 gift shop.  Unfortunately, when you're in seventh grade you have to do what the family does even when you have better plans of your own.

Liza's family is flying from the east coast to Chicago.  They will be joining two other families and traveling in three cars across the rest of the U.S.A. to California.  The plan is to follow Route 66 and any other off-beat paths as they take the entire summer to explore the country. 

What follows is mile after mile of torture and one seedy motel after another.  Liza finds herself stuck with Dillie, an odd girl who wears crazy clothes and alien creature earrings and Caleb, a soft-spoken geek.  She is sure she would have more fun if she could get the attention of a hot guy named Jake.  Spending endless weeks away from cell phone reception and any internet connection with her friends from home result in total frustration for Liza.  Can she find any possible happiness on this crazy adventure?  Will she find any way to have a good time?

WISH YOU WERE HERE, LIZA by Robin Wasserman is perfect summer reading for the middle grade crowd.  Wasserman captures what it is like to be that in-between age when being with the family is the only option, but wishing you were somewhere else is the constant dream.  Liza's story is filled with tourist attractions and typical family vacation moments that will have readers nodding in agreement as they recall their own similar experiences.  Overall, it's a fun, fast read.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

POSTER BOY by Dede Crane

Life  for Gray Fallon is all about girls, video games, and the odd beer or quick high.  That is until his sister is diagnosed with cancer. 

After complaining about constant soreness and favoring a leg that made her limp, Maggie has the family's attention.  A trip to the doctor and a few blood tests reveals devastating news.  Maggie is suffering from Stage 4 cancer, and there is no cure.

Gray and his parents react in very different ways.  Gray's mother immediately makes it her job to find possible treatments, Gray's dad believes they should find ways to make Maggie's remaining months comfortable and happy, and Gray throws all his efforts into finding out what caused the cancer in the first place.  All evidence points to an environmental cause.  Chemicals in foods and the off-gassing of plastics, polyester, and all other man-made fibers cause cancer.  Gray discovers that unless you consciously avoid artificial compounds and chemicals, just about everything in our daily lives puts us at risk of developing cancer.

Gray goes from fun-loving teenager to environmentally conscious vegetarian.  He goes so far as to quit school and move to the woods near an organic farm where he has convinced his mother to being buying produce.  He wants to clean up Maggie's life-style in an effort to cure her illness, and he wants to prove to everyone that a natural life-style is the direction everyone should take.

Will Gray's good intentions be enough to save his sister?  Will he convince his family and friends that his new way of living is an example they all should follow?

Author Dede Crane has created a different book about the fight to survive cancer.  She doesn't delve into medical breakthroughs and miracle treatments, but instead focuses on one family's struggle to deal with this horrible disease by having each character take a very different path in an effort to save their loved one.  POSTER BOY mirrors the diverse ways in which humans react when faced with the knowledge that death is inevitable.  Readers can identify with the hopes and wishes each character has for little Maggie and how to handle her condition and its eventual outcome. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

BRANDED by Eric Walters

Ian and his friends have just received some shocking news from the principal, Mr. Roberts.  At the weekly assembly, Mr. Roberts announces that starting in two weeks everyone in the school will be required to wear a school uniform.

Shirts, ties, dress pants, skirts, all with a school crest will be the required attire.  Some students simply take it in stride and carry on, but Ian watches as other students openly object.  The punishment for not wearing the proper uniform is suspension. 

At first Ian has mixed feelings.  Uniforms are not the worst thing in the world.  He can even understand the argument Mr. Roberts presents in favor of the change.  However, Ian's feelings change when it is discovered that the company providing the uniforms uses sweatshop labor to create the clothes. 

In addition to being principal, Mr. Roberts teaches a class in social justice and has recently revealed the horrors of sweatshops.  Ian doesn't understand how he can know about the abusive working conditions in these places and still encourage the requirement of these particular school uniforms.

Author Eric Walters uses BRANDED to raise awareness of a terrible social issue.  Sweatshops are the subject of news broadcasts and news articles, but until the products of these companies touch us directly, we tend to turn a blind eye.  Teens will be interested in watching Ian as he struggles to make sense of opposing views on the subject and how adults often preach one thing and then practice another.

ZEN & XANDER UNDONE by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Two sisters who are totally different join together to solve a mystery.  After the death of their mother less than a year ago, Zen (Athena) and Xander (Alexandra) are looking for ways to carry on.  Their father is hiding out in his new basement bedroom and pretty much ignoring the girls.

Xander is and has always been the wild one, but since their mother's death her behavior has become completely defiant and even dangerous.  Zen is worried.

Zen is all about control.  Her interest in martial arts is just one example.  The discipline, the ceremony, and the rigid standards are perfect for her.  The emotional upheaval of losing her mother has her searching for stability.

The girls begin receiving letters and packages from their mother, sent by a mysterious someone.  The items arrive on special occasions like Christmas, Mother's Day, and birthdays.  When Zen and Xander attempt to discover the identity of the mysterious sender, they stumble across a secret life their mother has hidden for years.  Did she have an affair?  How long did it last?  Was their parents' marriage in jeopardy?

In an effort to uncover the secret, the girls question neighbors, relatives, and even the family lawyer.  They are determined to find the answers they seek no matter the consequences.

ZEN & XANDER UNDONE is an excellent addition to any collection of books for teenage girls.  Amy Kathleen Ryan takes readers on an emotional ride as her believable characters face the challenge of surviving the loss of their mother and finding a way to move on toward whatever the future might hold.  She combines heartbreaking emotions with humor and a bit of fun to capture readers and take them into the lives of Zen and Xander.

Friday, May 21, 2010

BULLET POINT by Peter Abrahams

Life for Wyatt and his friend Dub revolves around baseball.  Well, it used to anyway.  When the coach announces that baseball is being cut from the extracurricular schedule due to lack of funding, both boys are furious.  Just when they are about to earn their spots in the varsity lineup, the program is yanked.

When Wyatt finds out there might be a way to play ball somewhere else, he jumps at the chance.  Dub is going to live with his aunt in another more financially sound school district, and Wyatt is welcome to come along.  Not only will he get a chance to play baseball, but he'll also be getting out of the house and away from his unpleasant step-dad Rusty.  Although he'll miss his mother and his little step-sister, he's all in favor of the move.

Just when it looks like his luck has changed, Wyatt learns that his new school only allows one transfer student on each athletic team per year.  Dub's transfer was arranged first so he gets the spot.  Wyatt's friend urges him to make the move anyway so he might have a chance to play next year.

The new school isn't bad and an added bonus is meeting a slightly older, quite attractive girl named Greer.  She and Wyatt hit it off right away.  It doesn't take long for Wyatt to discover an amazing coincidence.  Greer's father is an inmate at the state correctional facility in the area, and he knows Wyatt's biological father who is an inmate in the same prison.  All Wyatt's ever been told is that just before he was born, his father and several acquaintances got the bright idea to rob a couple of drug dealers.  There was gunfire exchanged when they broke in the house killing a young woman and critically injuring her baby girl.  Now Wyatt is faced with a chance to meet the man he has only known by name and reputation.

The story quickly becomes an investigation in which Wyatt struggles to learn more about the man he has spent most of his life trying to forget.  As his contact with his father increases so does his desire to find out the whole story and maybe even find out if he is really an innocent man.

Author Peter Abrahams talent as a writer of mystery and suspense makes BULLET POINT a sure winner.  Readers will be intrigued by the plot's twists and turns right up until the very end.  Wyatt's character is likable and inspiring as he experiences separation from his mother and step-sister, frustration with his step-father, his first love, and the need to know his biological father's true story.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

FINALLY by Wendy Mass

Do you remember when your parents used to tell you "wait until you're 12" or "waiting until you're 16"?  You were, no doubt, just like Rory Swenson and created a list of things you would "someday" be able to do or have.  FINALLY, that day has arrived for Rory.

Being 12, means being on the edge of her teen years.  Rory can hardly sleep the night before.  She's thinking of her list - getting a cell phone, getting her ears pierced, getting a pet, and getting to go to her first boy/girl party.  Those are just a few of the things she is excited about finally being about to do.

Let's take the cell phone.  She can't believe it's true when she finds the box that looks like it's her dream come true.  Imagine her disappointment when she opens it to find a cell phone, but not the one she's dreamed of.  Instead, this is an ugly thing with two buttons.  Count them!  Just two buttons!  One to call home and the other to call 911.  WT*!  Leave it to her parents to give her her second present which is a box filled with cell phone brochures and calling plans.  They confess the two button phone is some sort of sick joke, and then tell her since the phone will be her responsibility, she must investigate all the choices and make a presentation about which are the best and then they'll make the purchase.

Next, imagine Rory getting her cell phone and managing to lose it in 15 minutes before they've even left the mall where it was purchased.  Yep, that's how being 12 begins for Rory.

FINALLY is one girl's experience as she reaches the magical age where everything seems possible.  Whatever can go wrong, does.  There are incidents involving leg shaving, make-up, being home alone, and contact lenses, just to name a few.  Author Wendy Mass captures the frustration of pre-teens as they reach the magical time that allows them to begin experiencing tidbits from the grown-up world.  FINALLY will have readers laughing, nodding in agreement, and sighing in sympathy as they follow Rory's tale of reaching 12.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A PLACE FOR DELTA by Melissa Walker

In this time of global warming, destructive oil spills, and other events that threaten our environment, reading a book like A PLACE FOR DELTA restores hope that some people are more concerned with preservation than destruction.

A PLACE FOR DELTA spans two generations and travels from Georgia to Alaska and back again.  Kate was raised by her biologist mother to respect the wilderness and all it contains.  When she is given the chance to study under Dr. Yu, an expert in the study of polar bears, she jumped at the chance.  Living in the northern reaches of Alaska in not much more than a shack didn't bother her as long as she was experiencing and learning more about the wild.  What she didn't expect was a chance to help rescue and raise a polar bear cub.

Delta was rescued after her mother was shot.  Her rescue was kept a secret in case the killing of her mother turned out to be part of a plot to destroy the polar bear population to benefit greedy oil companies.  When Kate learns of the orphan cub, she volunteers to be its care-giver.  She also enlists the help of her young nephew, Joseph. 

Joseph arrives from Georgia and steps right into the role of polar bear feeder, teacher, and entertainer.  Even though he worries that Alaska is pretty far from his home in Georgia, it doesn't take long for him to fit right in in Barrow, Alaska.  On one of his first trips to town, he meets Ada.  They become fast friends and soon join forces to solve a mystery.  Both of them are privy to whispered secrets about the death of Delta's polar bear mother and some strangers poking around the area.  They use their insider status to gather enough information to help figure out what is going on.

A PLACE FOR DELTA by Melissa Walker is packed with action.  Even before she has her characters living in the Alaskan wilderness saving polar bears, she creates suspense with hikes in the woods of Georgia that include bears and rattlesnakes.  Her characters are very conscious of nature and their surroundings and always trying to do right by the environment.  This is a great book for readers interested in environmental causes or for those who simply remember trying to save that little abandoned baby rabbit or tiny featherless baby bird.  Substitute an active little polar bear and an intriguing mystery, and readers should be pleased when they pick up a copy of A PLACE FOR DELTA.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Here are some more reading suggestions from my 8th and 9th grade girls.

GODDESS OF THE MOON series by Lynne Ewing
VAMPIRE ACADEMY series by Richelle Mead
DARK GUARDIAN series by Rachel Hawthorne
HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick
LUV YA BUNCHES by Lauren Myracle
VAMPIRE KISSES series by Ellen Schreiber
THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams
TTYL series by Lauren Myracle
PAPER TOWNS by John Green
SWINDLE and ZOO BREAK by Gordon Korman

Monday, May 10, 2010

COMPROMISED by Heidi Ayarbe

Maya loves science.  She approaches every situation first with a "hypothesis" and then a plan of action.  Her life is filled with situations that need her attention.

Raised by a single father after her mother's suicide, Maya has been shifted from place to place as her father has "hustled" to make a living for them.  He was caught in his last con-game, and now he's in prison and Maya has become part of the system.  As the newest resident in the orphanage, Maya latest "hypothesis" is focused on escape.

She puts her plan into action when she learns she may be headed to live with an odd, overly-religious family.  Her brief visit with them made her extremely uncomfortable, and she knows she doesn't have much time before she could be living with them permanently.  She packs her few possessions and following her father's vague instructions, heads back to the last place she called home to find a box of her mother's things that supposedly holds valuable information about an aunt who might be her last chance for a real home.

Maya is joined by Nicole, another resident from the orphanage.  Not long into their journey, they meet Klondike, a homeless, street kid with a disfiguring burn and Tourette's syndrome.  Together they begin the search for Maya's aunt.

Life on the streets is tough.  The three leave Reno behind by hitchhiking and bumming rides however they can.  The little money they have doesn't last long, and as hunger sets in, they resort to raiding dumpsters and shoplifting.  They sleep on the streets and try to warm up by stopping in libraries as Maya tries to gather information about her only surviving relative.

Author Heidi Ayarbe does not glamorize life on the streets.  Her story of Maya and friends is bleak and without much hope.  Readers will be driven to read out of morbid curiosity as they observe the downward spiral of the three travelers.  COMPROMISED gives insight into the increasing problem of the homeless and the sad fact that innocent children are among them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I am pleased to announce the winner of my two book giveaway is


I've already contacted you by email, and you will receive your prize books soon.


When I asked the guys to list their book suggestions, of course, the girls wanted to contribute, too.  Their list was a long one so here is Part 1.

NEW MOON by Stephenie Meyer
WISH YOU WERE DEAD by Todd Strasser
HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown
GOING TOO FAR by Jennifer Echols
L.A. CANDY by Lauren Conrad
GRIEF GIRL by Erin Vincent
NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL by Justina Chen Headley
COPPER SUN and DAY OF TEARS by Sharon Draper
BLEED by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Stay tuned for Part 2....

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Don't forget to sign up my two book giveaway contest.

Deadline is May 5 and there are NO entries yet!  Your chances to win are tremendous!!

Click here to enter.