Wednesday, March 31, 2010

THE MIDDLE OF EVERYWHERE by Monique Polak



Noah is headed to the edge of nowhere.  He is going to spend some time with his father who teaches at the Inuit school in George River located in northern Quebec.  His mother thinks this will give him an opportunity to get to know the father he only hears from once a week by phone. 

Leaving his active life in Montreal to head into a snow-filled wilderness, doesn't seem too thrilling.  It doesn't take long for something to happen though.  On his first day in George River, Noah decides to brave the frigid temperatures and go for a run.  He offers to take his father's dog along so the animal can get some needed exercise.  Just minutes into the run, a pickup truck races by and hits the dog throwing the animal into the air.  Noah watches in horror as the dog hits the ground and then lies in a pool of blood.  With the help of one of his father's friends, they take the dog back to the apartment and are able to assess the damage.  With care and rest, it appears the dog will survive.

Noah's father insists that Noah get involved in the community as quickly as possible.  He meets some of the locals at a storytelling event where he begins to see that fitting in will be a challenge.  The Inuit people may be artful storytellers, but they are far from welcoming when it comes to the white man.  Much of their history has been disrupted and damaged by the actions and interference of outsiders.

Author Monique Polak was inspired to write THE MIDDLE OF EVERYWHERE after traveling in northern Quebec.  As she shares Noah's experiences, she is able to clearly describe the vast, snow-filled area that at first looks bleak and barren to Noah, but later becomes a place he is beginning to appreciate.  This book has an interesting mix of people problems, action and adventure, as well as self-discovery.  Readers get a glimpse into a part of the world most never experience.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

STEALING BUDDHA'S DINNER by Bich Minh Nguyen



STEALING BUDDHA'S DINNER is described as a memoir.  Nguyen shares her experiences as a Vietnamese refugee coming to America in 1975. 

When the Nguyen name appeared on the list, there were three areas in the US offering to sponsor families.  According to Bich (pronounced Bit) Nguyen, her family rejected California as "warm but had the most lunatics" and Wyoming as having "cowboys" which left the only remaining option - Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Settling in Grand Rapids, placed Bich, her older sister, her father, and grandmother, in the middle of a Christian Reformed Dutch community.  Their traditional Buddhist beliefs raised many eyebrows in their neighborhood and school lives.  Bich tells of her father's job at the North American Feather Company where he made feather pillows and comforters and brought home rejected bedding for the family.  While he worked, the girls were under the care of their grandmother until he met and married a Hispanic woman named Rosa.  Their family then included a step-sister and soon a new baby brother.

Much of STEALING BUDDHA'S DINNER involves adjusting to life in America.  Once the girls started school, exposure to American culture increased beyond the influence of TV.  Most temptations in the early years came in the form of new and amazing food like candy, fast food, and convenience foods they observed and wished for constantly.  Bich's descriptions of all the tasty treats points out the glutinous importance Americans place on food.

Scattered throughout the pages are interesting facts about Vietnamese culture and Buddhist traditions.  As a family, the Nugyens struggled to fit into their new surroundings but also remain true to their own beliefs and customs.  It is clear in reading STEALING BUDDHA'S DINNER, that Bich's family experiences mirror those of every family and are remembered at times fondly and at other times painfully. 

I read this book as part of an upcoming program at my public library intended to highlight the history of the Vietnamese in Michigan.  I am looking forward to learning more.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN by Susan Beth Pfeffer



THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN is the third book in the series by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  This book returns to the original cast of characters in LIFE AS WE KNEW IT. 

It has been almost a year since the meteor hit the moon and changed life forever for Miranda and her family.  Against the odds they have survived, and Miranda has continued to chronicle their experiences in her diaries.  Some things have improved - they do have electricity once in awhile and food is still delivered to city hall on a fairly regular basis, however, fewer and fewer people are around.  Most have just not survived. 

Miranda is still living with her mother and her two brothers and the family cat, Horton.  The sunporch with its woodburner is the center of their existence.  With the approach of warmer weather, they venture out on bikes to scavenge useful items from nearby neighborhoods.  They find things like toothpaste, toilet paper, and other odds and ends that make life seem a bit more pleasant.  Miranda's mother even gives the boys permission to leave for a few days to try their luck fishing on the Delaware River.  They return with two garbage bags of shad, but the shocking news is that 19 year old Matt returns with a wife.

Syl says she has traveled from place to place ever since the meteor hit, surviving thanks to the kindness of strangers and her own wits.  When she and Matt met in an abandoned motel near the river, they stayed up all night talking and decided they were meant to be together.  Once the initial shock of being a mother-in-law and having another mouth to feed wears off, Laura decides to accept Syl, and as a family, they carry on.

A knock at the front door brings yet another surprise.  Miranda's father, her step-mother, and their new baby arrive.  They are traveling with a man named Charlie and two teenagers named Alex and Julie.  They never made it to the west coast to find Lisa's family.  Delay after delay and months in refugee camps discouraged them, so they have returned to be with family here. 

Now there are new challenges to be faced.  Can everyone live in peace in their cramped quarters?  Will the people at city hall increase the amount of supplies they pick up each Monday?  Is having her father back with them a blessing or a curse?  Time will tell.

It didn't take long to get back into the lives of Miranda and her family.  Pfeffer provides great detail as she describes life after the worldwide disaster.  Just like the first two books, the despair and fear present in this new world will stay with me for quite some time.  Miranda and her family make it painfully obvious how easily everything could be ripped away from us and how difficult it would be to survive.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CHASING BROOKLYN by Lisa Schroeder



CHASING BROOKLYN is a story about loss and recovery.  No two people grieve in the same way, but when they work together to move on, progress can be made.

Brooklyn has lost twice.  First her boyfriend Lucca died.  It's been a year, and she struggles every day.  Recently, her friend Gabe died from an overdose.  He had been helping her deal with Lucca's death, and now he's gone, too.

In an effort to move through the stages of grief, Brooklyn began writing letters to Lucca.  She poured out her anger, her fears, and her frustrations in daily letters to her lost love.  When the letters weren't enough, she knew she could talk to Gabe, but then he chose to leave her, too, and now, since his death he has begun to appear in her dreams.  The dreams are frightening and far from comforting.  She feels alone and unable to express the danger she feels from these dreams.

Help and support come from an unexpected direction.  Brooklyn begins to renew her friendship with Lucca's brother Nico.  He is battling his own demons.   Lucca is sending messages from beyond the grave directing Nico to help Brooklyn.  Unsure about exactly how to go about helping her, he hesitantly makes contact and hopes that Brooklyn doesn't misinterpret his kindness as an attempt to replace Lucca.

Both Brooklyn and Nico are struggling to understand and make sense of the deaths two very important people.  Perhaps if each can get passed their nervousness and insecurities, they can lean on each other and begin the healing process.

Author Lisa Schroeder really knows how to touch the hearts of her readers.  The powerful emotions of lost love and the sorrow of death ring out clearly in CHASING BROOKLYN.  Although her characters have every reason to shut down and isolate themselves from the world, Schroeder finds a way for them to connect and guide each other through the painful process necessary to carry on.  If you have read I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME or FAR FROM YOU, you will not want to miss CHASING BROOKLYN.

Monday, March 22, 2010

THE LAB by Jack Heath



Created as part of a program called Project Falcon, Six has always known that he is different.  When a suspicious fire destroyed the facility where Six was "born", he survived and was raised by the Deck.  Now he works for them as they try to right the wrongs of the leaders since the Takeover.

Six's official name is Agent Six of Hearts.  As an employee of the Deck, he is sent on missions to shut down enemy operations and recover hostages.  Using talents created through his unique DNA, he is able to do things the average human can't even imagine.  Those who give him the incredibly dangerous assignments are always amazed that he succeeds without the use of deadly force.

THE LAB is a typical spy-thriller, adventure novel.  There are the good guys and the bad guys, but they throw in some double-agents to add to the action.  Set in the future after a worldwide event that caused a "fog" which shortens lives and threatens the very survival of the planet, sci-fi fans will also find this an interesting read.  This is the beginning of a series featuring Six, and book two, REMOTE CONTROL, is available now.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

WINNER OF LIAR by Justine Larbalestier



The lucky winner of the LIAR contest is *MEGAN*

Congratulations! 

I'll be announcing a new contest SOON!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

PUSH by Sapphire



The story of Precious Jones is incredibly powerful.  It might even require a word of caution - the language is strong and the images are horrible.  Yet, PUSH is a book that speaks the truth for many victims of sexual abuse.  As I read, I lost count of the number of times Precious's revelations caused me to gasp. 

Precious is a sixteen year old black girl about to give birth to her second child.  This child and the baby with Down's Syndrome she gave birth to at age twelve both share the same father and that father is Precious's father, too.  As she tells her story, she recalls abuse that began when she was only three.  Instead of protection, her mother offered only jealous rage, threats, and beatings.  Now her father is gone, and her mother blames that on Precious, too.

Unable to read or write, life looks hopeless for Precious until she learns of a special school.  With it comes the promise of a GED and maybe more.  With a little help, Precious is enrolled, and after a frightening first day, she begins to connect with Blue Rain, the teacher of the pre-GED classroom.  Precious discovers there are others just like her, with tragic stories and messed up lives.  She works hard to catch up and prove that she can be worth something to herself and her children.

PUSH by Sapphire is the book that inspired the movie PRECIOUS.  It's not surprising that this heart-wrenching story would capture the attention of some movie producer or director.  Right now I'm still digesting the horror that is life for Precious and don't know if I will ever go to see the movie.  All I do know is that this young girl and her story will be staying in my mind for a very long time.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

8TH GRADE SUPER ZERO by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich



Reggie would like nothing more than to spend all his time with his best friend Joe C. working on Night Man, their super-hero comic.  The story ideas are all Reggie's and the artwork is Joe's.  They are sure it's going to be spectacular.

Something always seems to interfere with Reggie's plans.  He somehow gets roped into acting as campaign manager for one of the most annoying girls at school.  Vicky has him passing out flyers and putting up posters wherever there's a smidgen of empty wall space. 

Reggie has also started attending his church's youth group meetings.  He's not really sure about the whole "God" thing, but he is finding the community service work surprisingly rewarding.  The group is visiting a local homeless shelter and interviewing people about their experiences.  Reggie is shocked to see a kid from his school using the shelter, and he finds himself connecting with him both there and at school whenever he gets a chance.  His interview with an older homeless man inspires him to present the idea of more community service involvement at school.  However, when he mentions his idea as a possible direction for Vicky's campaign, she is less than thrilled.

Maybe Reggie should just run his own campaign.  He thinks this stuff is important, but would it be possible to convince others of its importance?

8TH GRADE SUPER ZERO by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich offers a refreshing look into the world of middle school.  There are the typical self-centered students, the bullies, and the jocks, but Reggie is an example of a misfit who just might have found a way to shine.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon M. Draper



Sharon Draper is one of my favorite authors.  Her books usually focus on high school characters living through high school problems.  OUT OF MY MIND heads in a different direction.  The main character is faced with the daily struggle of living with severe cerebral palsy.  Draper takes readers into a world most can't even come close to imagining.

Melody is trapped not only in a wheelchair but also in her own body.  She has very little control over her physical functions.  She can't walk, can't feed herself, but the worst thing is she can't communicate beyond grunts, squeals, and unreliable facial expressions. 

People might think her biggest problems are her obvious physical disabilities, but if Melody could speak, she would reveal that she is actually a very smart young girl.  She has a photographic memory and from as early as she can remember she has been learning words and storing them away.  She learned her alphabet, how to count, and gained early reading skills just like every other youngster whose parents sat them in front of the TV to watch Sesame Street.  Melody even has a fairly decent command of a second language, Spanish, thanks to the cultural diversity of preschool TV programming.  The fact remains, no one knows because Melody can't tell them.

Fortunately, Melody's parents sense that their child is intelligent and capable of learning just like every other child, maybe even more.  They speak for Melody and insist she attend public school.  It hasn't always been successful because school officials place Melody in a special education room where the teachers haven't always given her the attention she deserves.  With the help of one devoted teacher, a college teacher's aide, and a loving neighbor, Melody is given a chance to learn and also a chance to speak in her own unique way.

Melody's world opens even more when she is mainstreamed into several regular classrooms.  She gains confidence and the knowledge that she is as smart as or smarter than many kids her age.  With the academic playing field on the level with her peers, she is able to show off her skills and make some friends.  However, even though fitting in and being "normal" may be her greatest desire, but it might prove to be an impossible dream.

My heart went out to Melody as she struggled to communicate with those around her.  Sharon Draper captures the frustration Melody faces every moment of every day.  Even though Draper provides a supportive family for Melody, she also shows the frustration of raising a child like Melody.  With a direct and frank approach, Draper reveals the ups and downs of dealing with cerebral palsy.  Draper covers everything from the physical challenges to the crushing guilt associated with having and raising a child with the condition in her trademark Draper style.

Friday, March 12, 2010

THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN by Josh Berk



Looking for a wacky adventure?  Get your hands on a copy of THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN.  I'll admit I was attracted by the title thinking it sounded like a "good time" read, and I wasn't disappointed.

Will Halpin is embarking on a new and sort of terrifying journey.  Will is deaf and has spent his educational years attending a special school for the deaf.  He has recently made the decision to enroll in public high school.  In addition to his deafness, Will is a bit on the chunky side and not exactly up on the latest fashion trends, dating habits, and musical interests of mainstream high school teens.

Will does his best to understand his surroundings by lip-reading the words of his teachers and classmates.  He meets a fellow misfit, Devon Smiley, who knows how to finger spell, and they strike up a friendship.  Together, the two pass the time observing and commenting on the various oddities of their classmates and teachers.  As outsiders, they watch as star football player, Pat Chambers, hands out coveted invitations to one of his special parties.  Knowing neither of them has a chance of being invited, they watch in fascination to see which privileged few receive the limited invites.

The party takes a backseat in the action when the students go on a field trip to a nearby abandoned coal mine.  Just as it looks like they'll be boarding the bus for the return trip to school, panic breaks out when it is reported that Pat Chambers has fallen down the mine shaft and is dead.

Will and Devon decide to take on the challenge of investigation the tragic accident, and they first thing they encounter is that it probably was no accident.  What follows next involves computer hacking, researching the backgrounds and habits of various teachers and students, and stumbling across a number of shocking discoveries.  Can a deaf kid and a Hardy Boys fan make sense of the clues and help the police solve the mystery?

THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN by Josh Berk features sarcastic humor and clever mystery elements as it reveals what it's like to try fitting in when you have a disability.  Berk's characters creatively reflect high school stereotypes making them entertaining and easy to relate to.  Overall, an enjoyable read and one many teens will be interested in check out.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

TEXAS SWEETHEARTS BLOG INTERVIEW



Lots of excitement here today!  I was interviewed on the Texas Sweethearts blog. 

http://texassweethearts.blogspot.com/2010/03/featured-sweetheart-sally-kruger.html

WOW!  Thanks Jessica, Jo, and P.J.

Monday, March 8, 2010

RIDING INVISIBLE by Sandra Alonzo



Yancy Aparicio is a good kid.  He stays out of trouble, he gets good grades, his parents are proud of him, but there's a catch.  Yancy feels invisible.  Even though his folks say all the right things about his excellent behavior, they aren't focused on him.  Their attention is constantly directed at his older brother, Will. 

Will has something the experts call Conduct Disorder.  The way Yancy sees it, the kid is simply out of control.  Will is in treatment, sees a therapist, goes to special classes, and takes meds however all makes very little difference in his behavior.  He is a danger to society.

Yancy has decided to document events in a journal.  He's calling it his Adventure Journal because he has decided to run away.  Will's last act of violence involved Yancy best friend, a horse named Shy.  Will threatened to kill the animal.  He cut off the horse's tail and viciously attacked him with a pair of scissors.  Yancy has had enough.

The boy and his horse set out through the suburbs and head into the desert.  Their destination is a place called Palmdale some fifty miles from home.  Yancy plans to camp out along the way, and once he arrives in Palmdale, hopefully, find a job on some ranch for room and board and a stall for Shy.  His only thought is to put as much distance between his horse and his psychotic brother as possible.

Despite the supplies he packed, Yancy's journey gets pretty rough.  The heat, difficult trail conditions, and lack of water take a toll on the traveling pair.  Before he knows it, he and Shy are in trouble.  Fortunately, a Mexican ranch hand from the Triple R Ranch comes to his rescue.  He convinces his boss that Yancy is his nephew and gets him a job and a place to stay.  The work and companionship help Yancy feel a safety he hasn't felt in a long time, but how long will it last.

RIDING INVISIBLE is the journal of a fifteen year old boy trying to protect his horse and himself from violent behavior caused by mental illness.  Yancy's family is in the midst of a battle that threatens their very survival.  Author Sandra Alonzo captures their emotional story through Yancy's journal entries.  His tortuous descriptions of Will's behavior reveal his own feelings of guilt as he tries not to hate his parents for their lack of attention and tries not to give up on his own brother.  Mixed in with the writing are drawings and cartoons that illustrate Yancy's inner thoughts as he attempts to make sense of the mess around him.  RIDING INVISIBLE is a simple, yet powerful book that is sure to captivate readers everywhere.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

COUNTERFEIT SON by Elaine Marie Alphin



For years a young boy lives with a serial killer and witnesses horrible acts of abuse and killing.  Convinced that he has been "bad" and the beatings he receives are intended to correct his behavior, he follows the orders of his captor by attending school daily as if nothing is wrong, appearing in public places calmly and quietly, and returning to help his captor hide evidence and bury the bodies of other not so lucky boys.

When the serial killer is finally caught in a police raid, the young boy, who for years has been told he is the son of the killer, decides his only chance for a better life is to pretend to be one the missing boys.  Neil Lacey's parents can hardly believe that the son they lost six years ago has been returned.  Although at least one detective is suspicious of such a happy ending, they take Neil home and try to resume a normal family life. 

Neil still thinks of himself as Cameron, and in his mind, he thinks of his cruel abuser as Pop.  With knowledge he gained from newspaper clippings recounting stories of the missing Neil Lacey, he hopes to fool his new family.  Between fear of discovery and the fear that the horrible beatings and other abuse he suffered at the hands of Pop will somehow return, Neil tries to settle in and renew relationships with his parents and brother and sister.

As the days and weeks after his rescue pass, Neil feels less and less secure.  His sister Diana claims to have doubts that he is really her brother, and forensic testing on the bodies of the killer's victims might still ruin everything.  Can he possibly pull this off?  And why is he feeling more and more like maybe he might actually be Neil Lacey?

COUNTERFEIT SON is the type of story you might expect to watch on some TV docu-drama.  It's the amazing story of survival a kidnap victim being reunited with anxious family members, but with twists and turns that make this a riveting adventure.  Author Elaine Marie Alphin creates an immediate emotional attachment to Neil.  Whether he is the long-lost kidnap victim or the abused son of the maniac doesn't really seem to matter.  His character will captivate readers and their desire to know his complete story make this book excellent reading.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

SHRINK by Heather Morrall



Eloise Meehan knows she needs help, but finding just the right person to help is becoming a problem.  She is dealing with the accidental death of her brother, the suicide death of her mother, living with her chronically depressed father, and her own eating disorder.  Her family doctor referred her to a therapist, but things aren't going well.

Mars bars are Eloise's favorites for bingeing.  She and her friends are preparing for exams.  They know their future depends on passing the tests, but their focus is more on the end of year party than on study sessions.  They've been trying to distract Eloise with shopping for the perfect outfit for the party.  They don't seem to see that she has a weight problem.  Eloise is sure that people notice how fat she is, and she constantly dreams of her ideal weight. 

Visits to the therapist have her obsessing more and more about her weight.  At the hospital she sees other girls admitted there as in-patients.  She looks at their skeletal frames and protruding bones and envies them.  Her weight fluctuates from a high of 46kg to a record low of 39.1kg, and the more she sees these girls, the more she wants to be like them. 

As the visits to the therapist continue, it is obvious they are not connecting.  When the therapist wants to discuss weight issues, Eloise deflects her, and any attempts to deal with her family tragedy stalls out as well.  Eloise returns to her family doctor in search of someone else.  It seems to be a Catch-22 for Eloise.  She knows she has a problem, but her overwhelming desire to be thin prevents her from accepting help.

(Since SHRINK was written by an author from the UK, I found myself needing to seek help converting kgs to pounds so I could make sense of Eloise's struggles. I'll provide translation here for any future readers.
46kgs = 101 lbs. and 39.1kgs = 86 lbs.)

SHRINK by Heather Morrall takes readers through a year in the life of 16 year old Eloise.  With a life filled with the pressure to succeed at school while at the same time dealing with two tragic deaths and a father with problems of his own, there is no shortage of issues for readers to relate to.  The issue of anorexia is a constant plot element and will have readers wondering if it is a result of Eloise's life tragedies or a legitimate problem of its own.