Friday, December 31, 2010


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


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
BLUE PLATE SPECIAL by Michelle D. Kwasney
BRUISER by Neal Shusterman
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


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


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


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


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


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.