Saturday, December 31, 2011

WAITING TO FORGET by Sheila Kelly Welch

T.J. and his little sister Angela love their mother, but life with her is dangerous.  Jobs come and go.  Men come and go.  Money and food come and go.  Their mother says she loves them, and T.J. clings to that through all the chaos and turmoil that is life for Angela and him.

There were some happy times.  T.J. remembers going to live with the grandparents he had never met.  Times there were good until grandma got angry with his mother and they had to leave. 

Life when Ray was around was really good.  Ray acted like a real dad.  He spent time with T.J., and Ray was the one who taught little Angela to make the paper birds.  But, one day Ray's parents came saying something about paying for college not for him to shack up with some woman.  They even held up a picture of some girl they said was engaged to Ray.  That was the end of Ray.

Most of what T.J. remembers is bad.  He remembers when their mother left them alone and when the men she brought home were mean.  He remembers missing school because he was "sick" and rarely getting to play outside or having friends like other kids.  Through it all though, their mother supposedly loved them.

WAITING TO FORGET takes readers on a journey through T.J.'s life.  The story flashes back and forth between what he thinks of as THEN and NOW.  The NOW portions offer the promise of better times, but T.J. isn't sure that's possible or if he and Angela even deserve it.  Author Sheila Kelly Welch captures the heart-wrenching emotion of two innocent children who deserve so much more out of life.  I found their story painful yet riveting and their resilience inspiring.

THE PREDICTEDS by Christine Seifert

PROFILE is a scientific computer program that can predict future behavior.  Daphne's mother is the creator of this unique program, but Daphne never realized how it might come to touch her life.

Daphne wasn't sure if her mother resigned from Utopia Laboratories or if she was fired.  All she knew was they were moving to Quiet, Oklahoma, and she would be attending Quiet High.  Change is good, but fitting in in Quiet proves a bit more difficult than Daphne expected.

Daphne soon discovered that their move to Quiet did not mean leaving behind the controversial computer program.  The citizens of Quiet had approved the testing of most of the high school students, and they were impatiently awaiting the results. 

During Daphne's first weeks in Quiet, a student entered the school with a gun.  She ended up barricaded in a supply closet in the classroom where the shooter ended his attack by shooting himself.  Fortunately, he was the only victim, but his actions had convinced the town that finding which students might be a future threat was information they truly needed.

Anyone "predicted" by the computer program was supposed to be genetically prone to criminal or antisocial behavior.  Before the list of those predicted was released, Daphne could already "predict" how people in this town would react.  She could see the idea of good kids and bad kids was already dividing the town. 

THE PREDICTEDS by Christine Seifert is a frightening look at what could happen if scientific advances allow us to look into the future.  The computer program didn't take some things into account; for example, the question of whether fate supersedes free will is never consider in the testing or if personal choice can overcome genetic tendencies.  The behavior of the people after the list of predicteds is made public, unfortunately, reflects the prejudice that would most likely influence human behavior.  Scary, but true.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

NEW YEAR GIVEAWAY!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
Here's the first giveaway contest of the year. Enter now to win. A winner will be chosen January 15th.

Monday, December 26, 2011

DEEP ZONE by Tim Green

Ty White and his brother Thane have survived a lot.  Their parents were killed in a car accident, and then the two became unintentionally involved in a mob gambling scheme.  Both Ty and Thane are glad all of that is in the past.  Or is it?

Ty is finally getting settled back in his school routine, and Thane is wowing fans in his NFL career.  Out of nowhere bad luck strikes again.  Thane suffers a devastating knee injury followed by a life-threatening infection.  While he is in the ICU fighting for his life, Ty is once again face-to-face with members of the mob.  An upcoming trial involving their uncle who is testifying against the mob has the FBI worried that Ty will be a target. 

Throughout all the excitement, Ty is also working to earn a spot on a team headed to a 7 on 7 tournament scheduled to play as an opener for the upcoming Super Bowl.  If he can make the team, it will mean a chance to spend some quality time with Thane and show everyone that he is just as talented as his brother.

An added complication to the story is the fact that if Ty's team makes the cut for the Super Bowl play-off, he will possibly be facing the team with the famous Troy White, the football genius.  Ty wonders if his team has what it will take to beat a team with a player who can supposedly predict exactly which plays the opposing team plans to run. 

Author Tim Green continues his Football Genius series in DEEP ZONE.  There is plenty of his signature football action and a lot more including desperate mobsters, man-eating alligators, and Burmese pythons.  Green's young fans won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

LOVE ME, LOVE MY BROCCOLI by Julie Anne Peters

Thanks to a generous neighbor, I have some new books to add to my classroom shelf.  LOVE ME, LOVE MY BROCCOLI by Julie Anne Peters was part of the donation.  I've read most of Peters' more recent books but hadn't read this one until now.

Chloe is a teen with a mission.  She is an animal rights activist.  She volunteers her time at the local Humane Society, promotes animal rights through a club she organized at school, and organizes and participates in protests aimed at the prevention of animal cruelty.

Chloe's recent efforts have been complicated by a new relationship.  Her first ever boyfriend, Brett, isn't exactly supportive of her causes.  He isn't in favor of her involvement in protests saying he fears for her safety.  He is also critical of her vegetarian lifestyle when it interferes with his plans.  Chloe finds herself having to decide between love and what she believes is her true mission in life.

Chloe is an extremely likable idealist.  Her character is sure to appeal to many middle grade readers looking for a young person willing to stand up for her values despite the odds.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

TROUBLEMAKER by Andrew Clements

I'm always interested in the latest by Andrew Clements.  He's an easy sell to the fifth graders who come to my room looking for books.  TROUBLEMAKER is one of my favorites.

Clay Hensley prides himself on being a troublemaker extraordinaire.  According the principal's secretary, Clay does have quite an impressive file.  Most of his pranks are innocent fun, but he is about to have his eyes opened to another side of the situation.

Mitchell, Clay's older brother, has just returned home after a month in jail.  While Mitch was gone, Clay listened to his father berate the judge, his brother's lawyer, and the police about how unfair Mitch was treated, but when Mitch gets home, he takes another stand.  As Clay's older brother, he steps up to impress on Clay the fact that being a troublemaker will get him nowhere.  After he hears about the insulting picture Clay drew of the principal, Mitch makes Clay promise to turn over a new leaf and stay focused on not getting in trouble.

The change is not easy for Clay.  He gets a lot of ribbing from his friends, and he's surprised that the principal and teachers don't take his efforts seriously.  However, through the experience Clay comes to realize the effect his poor behavior has on his parents and the worry he and his brother have caused them through the years. 

Although, some may say Clements is a bit preachy, TROUBLEMAKER reflects the real life pressure many kids face.  Clay's grumbling father sends a confusing message that many adults often convey to kids who don't understand the sometimes subtle meaning behind adult behavior.  Clements acknowledges the influence of an older sibling, both positive and negative, and the incredible pressure kids feel from their peers.  Overall, TROUBLEMAKER offers a lesson wrapped in a fairly entertaining adventure.

Monday, December 19, 2011

THE PROBABILITY OF MIRACLES by Wendy Wunder

Cam Cooper has grown up surrounded by Disney World.  Having parents who work as entertainers at one of the world's most famous amusement parks, mean that Cam and her sister Perry live quite an amazing life.  It's a life most kids would envy, but Cam simply takes it in stride. 

Unfortunately, Cam's world came crashing down when her father died.  Memories of their close relationship have helped her deal with another unfortunate obstacle.  Her life has been filled with hospitals and doctor visits.  For years she has been battling cancer, and she knows that she won't see her eighteenth birthday.  Doctors have pretty much said they have done all they can, but Cam's mother is not satisfied.  There may not be any more drug trials available for Cam, but her mother has found a new possibility - a place called Promise, Maine. 

According to Cam's mom, miracles happen in Promise every day.  If they follow the quirky directions and are able to make it to the tiny ocean side town, Cam may have a chance of being cured.  Cam isn't convinced, but she agrees to give it a try to humor her mother and her little sister.

Right from the start, Promise proves to be an odd experience.  The motel they are never really able to find is supposedly being renovated, but that doesn't prove to a problem when a handsome, young man offers them his grandfather's vacant house.  There's the magic of the sunset that appears every evening in the east against a backdrop complete with a lighthouse and leaping Orca whales.  There are hundreds of flamingos feeding in a tide pool on shrimp that are native to Florida but definitely not this stretch of Maine beach.  There's even a rare July snowfall that turns the summer setting into a winter wonderland.  Maybe miracles do happen in Promise, Maine.

Debut author Wendy Wunder has created a marvelous story of a girl trying make the most of her last summer.  Wunder's character faces her certain death with courage, humor, and a sense of hope that inspires everyone around her.  Cam learns so much that summer, and with her help, so do all those whose lives she touches.  I can't wait to share this fabulous book.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

PRETTY UGLY by Karyn Langhorne Folan

Jamee is struggling with a number of problems.  Her grandmother recently died, her mother is about to have a baby, her math teacher says she is about to fail the class, and everyone expects her to live up to the standards of her perfect older sister Darcy.  In addition to all these issues, Jamee is determined to tryout for and earn a spot on the Bluford cheerleading squad.

Several of Jamee's friends are hoping to become cheerleaders, too, but the competition is tough.  There are a few girls who act like the bosses of the cheerleaders.  The coach seems nice enough, and the tryouts put everyone on a level playing field, but a girl named Vanessa leads several other girls in bullying the newcomers.

PRETTY UGLY presents the issue of bullying in school.  Vanessa texts an unflattering picture of one of Jamee's friends to everyone at Bluford High.  Jamee is frustrated when none of the other girls steps forward to put a stop to the bullying.  Jamee risks the anger of her parents and the wrath of her math teacher when she disobeys them to stand up for her friend.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DON'T EXPECT MAGIC by Kathy McCullough

After her mother died, Delaney found herself moving from New Jersey across the country to California.  She hoped that moving in with her father would be a short term solution.  After all, he had never really been a part of her life except for a handful of short half hour visits when she was very young. 

Delaney's father is a world famous for his motivational books.  Millions of people have improved their lives thanks to his inspirational words.  The very first night Delaney spends in her new home, he rushes off to "help" a client.  One would think a daughter who just lost her mother would take precedence over some slightly panicky client.

Several days later when the client calls again, Delaney insists that her father take her along.  She promises to wait in the car but immediately breaks that promise.  What she sees through the window of the client's house changes her life forever.  Delaney discovers that her father is a fairy godmother.  Inherited genetic traits give him magical power to identify people's deepest wishes, and he also has the power to make the wishes come true.

When Delaney finds out she too might have the f.g. gene, she is determined to learn about and control this strange power.  It's not an easy task, but she discovers it will most likely draw her closer to her father which might not be as bad as she had once imagined.

Debut author Kathy McCullough gives a traditional, old fairy tale symbol a new twist.  Delaney is a likable character, and readers are sure to cheer her on as she learns to harness her own magical powers.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

WAR HORSE by Michael Morpurgo

No way am I going to see the movie recently made based on this book - I'll definitely cry.  I bought the paperback thinking I could read it tissue-free.  Nope. 

Set during World War I, Joey, the farm horse, tells his story.  He was acquired by a farmer and treated poorly until the farmer's son, Albert, took over his care.  The two became inseparable.  Albert was furious when his father sold Joey to be used by the military, and he swore to join the war effort as soon as he could and find his loyal friend.

Joey tells of working as a war horse pulling ambulance wagons and wagons loaded with shells and carrying soldiers into battle as part of the cavalry.  The first officer treated him kindly, but this wasn't always the case.  Joey and a companion horse named Topthorn worked tirelessly for both the English and the Germans depending on where the winds of war took them.

Joey's story is an amazing one filled with happiness, pain, and tragedy.  WAR HORSE should appeal to a wide-range of readers, but be sure to have a tissue or at least your sleeve handy.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

KILL YOU LAST by Todd Strasser

Shelby doesn't know who to trust.  The world of comfort and security she has always known is crumbling around her.  Yes, she lives in a super cool house in a top notch neighborhood.  Yes, her father is a well-known photographer who drives a Ferrari, but suddenly life is changing.

Shelby and her father have always been close.  She loved zooming around with him and found him much easier to confide in than her more distant mother.  Over the past several years, she had begun to notice that her parents were growing apart.  They now slept in separate bedrooms, but they had a ready excuse that was supposed to explain the change.  Her father had also decided his photography business would perform better if he moved it to a different location that required him to be gone for days and sometimes even weeks. 

Despite these subtle changes, Shelby didn't suspect anything.  She was busy finishing high school and making plans for college.  However, when the news reported three young girls missing and evidence pointed to the possible involvement of her someone in her father's business, Shelby found herself doubting everything she had always known.

As more news surfaced, Shelby discovered that her father seemed to be living a double life - that of a devoted father and confidant, and that of a man interested in luring young women to his business for more than just head shots for their would-be modeling careers.  How could she have been so trusting and yet so blind?  How could her mother not have noticed some telltale sign that her husband was fooling around?  And now, who can Shelby trust to help her figure out the truth?

KILL YOU LAST is the third book in Todd Strasser's "thrill"-ogy.  Each book highlights a mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end.  If KILL YOU LAST sounds interesting, don't miss WISH YOU WERE DEAD and BLOOD ON MY HANDS.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

BELLY UP by Stuart Gibbs

BELLY UP by Stuart Gibbs is fabulously fun!  It is packed with action, mystery, suspense, and lots of laughs.  This one will not be gathering any dust on the shelf.

Twelve year old Teddy Fitzroy is not your average pre-teen.  He has lived with his parents in the wilds of Africa.  His everyday life has been like a continuous African safari.  Now he's back in the United States, but his life is still far from average.

When war broke out in the Congo, Teddy's parents decided for the sake of their son they needed to seek jobs in a safer environment.  They both landed jobs at an innovative theme park in Texas known as FunJungle.  Created by billionaire J.J. McCracken, FunJungle is a zoo/safari experience combined with a Disneyland type theme park.  People from across the country are flocking to this new vacation destination.  However, the success of the park is threatened when its mascot and main attraction, Henry the Hippo, is found dead.

Teddy can't believe it when he sees the hippo partially submerged with its legs sticking straight up toward the sky.  After the initial shock of seeing Henry dead, Teddy begins to wonder exactly what happened.  Since FunJungle is Teddy's home, he knows his way around and manages to sneak in to observe the autopsy conducted by the park's resident vet.  The procedure reveals that the hippo was murdered, and Teddy sets about trying to solve the case.

What follows is a non-stop adventure.  Teddy tries to enlist the help of his mother and several other park employees, but his ideas are dismissed as just those of a kid.  Determined to get to the bottom of Henry death, Teddy gets involved with J.J. McCracken's thirteen year old daughter, and together they discover some incriminating evidence.  Someone must think Teddy is getting too close because he suddenly finds himself the victim of several potentially deadly attacks.

Author Stuart Gibbs has filled BELLY UP with tons of fascinating animal facts and plenty of intriguing twists and turns as the search for Henry's killer reveals many secrets surrounding FunJungle.  Readers won't be able to stop once they've started reading.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

THE DAY BEFORE by Lisa Schroeder

The lives of two people are about to change.  Amber has chosen to spend this last day at her favorite spot - the beach.  She meets Cade who has chosen the beach for his day as well.

Both their family situations are about to change forever.  They feel the changes are out of their control, and both fear the potential effects on their relationships with parents and siblings.

Amber's fears involve opening herself to strangers about to become part of her family.  Cade's situation fills him with guilt as the change he faces causes him to fear for his very life.

As Amber and Cade go through the day, they try to focus on the moment and make the day perfect.  Spending the day together, they make a connection that could very well turn into more than just a casual acquaintance. 

Lisa Schroeder uses her poetic talents to involve readers in the one day experience of Amber and Cade.  They will be touched by these young teens and the dramatic changes they are about to embrace.  THE DAY BEFORE is Schroeder's best work yet.

Friday, December 2, 2011

GREAT FIRST LINES...

After an interesting discussion with my 8th graders about successful opening lines, this one was judged to be pretty good.

HEAVEN LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE MALL by Wendy Mass

"For fifty cents and a Gobstopper
I lifted my shirt for the neighborhood boys."

We'll be back with more later.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

STIR IT UP by Ramin Ganeshram

STIR IT UP by Ramin Ganeshram combines a great story about an ambitious young teen with a bunch of mouth-watering recipes for traditional West Indian dishes.

Anjali has grown up working in her family's restaurant.  She learned all about cooking from her mother, father, and grandmother, but she possesses a true natural talent for combining ingredients that leaves even those veterans around her in awe. 

What Anjali wants more than anything in the world is to have her own cooking show on Food Network TV.  When she hears about a contest for Super Chef Kids, she is determined to enter.  Unfortunately, the contest takes place the same day as the entry exam for the special high school her father wants her to attend.  He refuses to listen to Anjali's arguments that winning the cooking contest will offer her a better chance for a successful future, but she decides not to let his objections stand in her way.

As a fan of the Food Network, and especially the cooking contests, I loved this book.  Anjali's determination and dedication to make food her life had me rooting for her even though she defied her father's wishes to go for her dream.  I haven't tried any of the recipes, but I'm sure many readers will be inspired to do so after reading STIR IT UP.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

LOST AND FOUND by Anne Schraff


Darcy misses her father, but he's been gone for five years now and she has moved on.  She gets good grades in school, helps her mother around the house, and makes sure she comes home right after school to take care of her ailing grandmother so her mother can get to work.

Lately, Darcy has been losing patience with her little sister.  Jamee is only in the eighth grade, but she acts like she's older than Darcy.  When Darcy hears rumors that Jamee is hanging around with a no-good character from Bluford High, she confronts her.  Jamee says it's none of Darcy's business who she hangs out with, and as Jamee's attitude toward family and friends worsens, Darcy becomes even more concerned.

Another concern Darcy faces is the sudden appearance of a strange man in a Toyota.  She sees him parked outside the school and right in front of their apartment building.  A call to the police one evening when Darcy's mother is at work reveals that the man is actually their father trying to find a way back into their lives.  Things really heat up when Jamee goes missing.

Author Anne Schraff has created this less than 140 page quick read for the Bluford High series published by Townsend Press.  Packed with complicated issues, it offers reluctant readers a chance to read about teen problems much like their own.

DARK INSIDE by Jeyn Roberts


Mason's mother saved his life.  Her car accident got him called out of school early,and being at the hospital when the explosions destroyed his school, saved his life.  Unfortunately, his mother died from her injuries, and all his friends died in the blasts.

Aries watched as the man on the bus began rocking back and forth.  She leaned over to whisper to her best friend Sara who agreed the man must be crazy.  The moments that followed were a nightmare Aries would never forget.  The ground beneath the bus exploded sending everyone toppling.  By the time the bus came to rest on its side, Aries was one of the few left alive.  After a frantic search with help from a stranger, Aries found Sara - dead.

Mason and Aries are among the lucky few who survive what turns out to be a worldwide disaster.  Earthquakes and the resulting fires, plus bomb explosions cause widespread devastation.  Those left behind have the challenge of surviving without power, cell phone service, or any means other communication.  Complicating matters is that some of the survivors are infected by some disease or possessed by some evil and are now killing machines to be avoided at all costs. 

DARK INSIDE by debut novelist Jeyn Roberts is the beginning of a new series involving a group of survivors on the hunt for remaining family and friends and a new place to call home.  They must learn to live without most modern conveniences, limited food supplies, and the constant threat of the humans turned monsters.  Roberts provides plenty of intense action along with interesting back stories making DARK INSIDE a fast-paced read with the potential to be the next great YA series.

Friday, November 25, 2011

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: CABIN FEVER by Jeff Kinney

Author Jeff Kinney continues to entertain with his latest WIMPY KID book called CABIN FEVER. 

Greg knows Christmas is just around the corner, and he also knows he needs to clean up his act or Santa won't be happy with him this year.  "Santa's Scout" a little elfish doll his mother says keeps an eye on kids for Santa, seems to be following him around.  It could be just a trick played by his older brother Rodrick, but it's still creeping him out.

As usual things go wrong for Greg at home and at school.  No matter what he tries to do to make himself look good for Santa, it seems to backfire.  His dad isn't impressed when the kid Greg claims is bullying him turns out to be a kindergartner.  He also isn't very popular after he uses a hose and sprinkler to clear the snow from the neighbor's driveway.  He and Rowley also strike out when they try to start their own fund-raising carnival in competition with the one put on by the school. 

There are many more crazy schemes that go wrong, and the story finally ends when Greg, Rodrick, Manny, and their mother are snowed in for days.  Readers won't be disappointed with the new DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: CABIN FEVER.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

NEW GIVEAWAY CONTEST!!!!

Imagine my surprise when I discovered the local Dollar General store has some pretty cool YA books for just $3!!!  When I saw this one, I snatched it up for a giveaway contest.

All you have to do to win this copy of PARANOID PARK by Blake Nelson is fill out the form below.

Contest deadline is December 15 at midnight.

THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE by Kathryn Erskine

Father/son relationships are tricky, and Mike's relationship with his father is no exception.  The Professor is a genius with high hopes for his son.  Disappointed in Mike's grades, his father wants to find a way to improve Mike's math skills so Mike won't "end up on the street someday."  Mike is more realistic about his math abilities.  He knows no matter what he does, math is never going to be his strength.

Since his mother's death, Mike and his father have been on their own.  Actually, Mike has been holding things together for the two of them.  His father suffers from a condition that doesn't allow him to learn and recognize faces of even those closest to him so Mike is lucky that his father even remembers his name.  As far as the day-to-day running of their household, his father might be a genius and a college professor, but if paying the bills and grocery shopping was left to him, they wouldn't have a roof over their heads or a thing to eat.

When Mike's father announces that he is going to be lecturing at a university in Romania for the summer, Mike begins preparing himself for the trip.  However, Mike is informed that he will be going to live with a great aunt and uncle in some remote Pennsylvania town.  Mike isn't thrilled to be spending the summer with people he doesn't know, and he is also concerned about how his father is going to function in some foreign country without him.

Another part of Mike's summer living arrangement involves working with his great uncle Poppy on an engineering project with something called an Artesian screw.  According to his father, Mike will gain valuable mathematical and engineering skills.  Once in Pennsylvania, Mike finds a huge mix-up that involves everything but an engineering project.

THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE by Kathryn Erskine is filled with crazy adventures involving Mike's great aunt Moo who can't see and has trouble finding the correct words to express her sometimes off-the-wall thoughts, his uncle Poppy who refuses to leave his easy chair and eats only scrapple, and the town's desire to help a single minister in the community adopt a young Romanian boy.  Mike finds himself in charge of a community festival and a fund-raising effort to raise the $40,000 needed to bring little Misha to the United States. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

THE END OF THE LINE by Angela Cerrito


Life for Robbie was fairly normal when he met Ryan.  Having a new student at Red Brick Elementary wasn't that unusual, but Ryan was.  That first day Robbie watched as the new kid spent the day crouched under his desk, and then for some reason, it was Robbie who finally made friends with him.

The first time Ryan came to Robbie's house he stayed for dinner.  Robbie watched in awe as Ryan grabbed the food in his hands and shoved it in his mouth.  He ate and ate like he had never eaten before.  It didn't take long for Ryan to become a part of the routine at Robbie's house.  He came over every day after school and usually stayed through supper.  He loved the kids in Robbie's mother's daycare and entertained them like no one else could.  He even began to spend the night.

But Ryan was weird, and Robbie didn't always like sharing his mom and dad and his Uncle Grant.  As time passed, the boys often argued.  Robbie learned more about Ryan, including that his mother was in a hospital somewhere, that his father had been shot, and that he lived with his grandparents in what he had always considered to be the haunted house a few streets over.  When Ryan started asking Robbie to sneak out at night and visit the nearby construction site, Robbie wasn't sure he wanted to get involved.

Author Angela Cerrito presents her story about Robbie and Ryan in a unique style.  Readers learn about the boys through alternating chapters.  In chapters titled "River Falls" readers hear about the day to day activities of the boys and their families.  In chapters titled "Great Oaks School Prison" Robbie slowly reveals his own story and why he murdered Ryan.  Cerrito cleverly unveils the real story in tempting bits and pieces that keep the reader hooked from page one until the very end.  

BLOOD IS THICKER by Paul Langan & D.M. Blackwell


Learning that his father has cancer is bad enough, but when Hakeem is told that the family is leaving California and moving to Detroit, he can't believe it. The financial hardship of dealing with cancer treatments means that Hakeem's parents can't afford their home anymore so the decision has been made to relocate to Michigan where they can live with Hakeem's uncle until they can get back on their feet.

Their possessions are packed and Hakeem, his parents, and his twin sisters are on the plane headed for Detroit almost before Hakeem has a chance to say goodbye to his friends at Bluford High. Even though he knows his father can't help what happened, Hakeem is beyond angry about the changes he faces. He'll be starting at a strange, new school in the fall, and in the meantime, he'll be sharing a room with a cousin he hasn't seen since grade school.

Although, his aunt and uncle make them feel welcome, Savon is moody and barely civil. It is obvious that his cousin is not happy with the arrangements and doesn't waste any time trying to renew their childhood friendship. Hakeem had hoped to get to know him again and maybe meet some of his cousin's friends, but instead he finds himself being drafted to work in his uncle's furniture store. Afraid to disappoint his own father, Hakeem goes to work every day and does whatever his uncle asks of him. At night he watches as his cousin sneaks out after dark, probably up to no good.

Added pressure is heaped on Hakeem when his uncle asks him to talk with Savon and act as a role-model in an effort to straighten him out. As information of robberies in the neighbor around the furniture store surfaces, Hakeem is increasingly concerned that his cousin might have something to do with the crimes. How can he be expected to keep the peace between his uncle and cousin and also deal with his own father's illness?

BLOOD IS THICKER is another book from the Bluford High series. The focus is on changing family structures and the conflicting dreams and goals of fathers and sons. Once again the fast pace and less than 200 page length will attract many teen readers who might not otherwise be readers.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

THE LOST SONGS by Caroline B. Cooney


Lutie Painter and Doria Bell come from two different worlds, but their lives are connected by music. 

Lutie's great-great-grandmother worked every day doing laundry for white people.  While she worked, she sang.  Her songs became known as The Laundry List, and she passed them down to Lutie.  Lutie loves the songs, and the people of Chalk love to listen to her sing them. 

Miss Veola, the minister of Lutie's church, believes that Lutie should share the songs with the world.  If the songs were recorded and sold, the money could be used for great benefit.  Lutie just doesn't see how she can give up the precious gift she inherited.

To Doria music is playing the church organ.  She loves the act of playing and the response of an appreciative audience.  Hours of practice make her indispensable to many area churches.  Those who want the Laundry List songs think Doria may be to one to convince Lutie to share her knowledge.

If life was just about music, both girls would be happy, but living in or near Chalk puts them in danger.  The neighborhood might be friendly and safe during the day, but by night the safety of trusting girls is in question.

Author Caroline B. Cooney reveals the deep heritage of Southern traditions and combines it with the love of family and music.  Readers will quickly connect to her richly developed characters and carefully crafted prose.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

WOLVES, BOYS, & OTHER THINGS THAT MIGHT KILL ME by Kristen Chandler


The residents of West End, Montana, live in the midst of Yellowstone National Park.  They are surrounded by tourists every summer and live a solitary existence all winter.  Some of the residents make their living as cattle ranchers, and a federal program reintroducing wolves into the park system has them fighting mad.

KJ Carson lives with her father and works with him in his sporting goods and supply store and sometimes helps in the fishing/hunting guide business he also runs.  Her fascination with the wolves is not really shared by her father considering that hunting is a major source of their family income.

Watching the wolves and following their movements tracked on several internet sites had always been enough for KJ, but her involvement changes when she begins writing for the school newspaper.  The journalism teacher even makes KJ the editor and encourages her interests in the wolves.

When an environmental scientist and her teenage son arrive in West End to study the wolves, KJ learns even more about the mysterious animals.  Their arrival creates a bit of a distraction though when KJ falls for the scientist's son Virgil.  As the friction between the ranchers and the wolf supporters increases, KJ isn't sure whether her budding relationship with Virgil will be helped or destroyed.

WOLVES, BOYS, & OTHER THINGS THAT MIGHT KILL ME is the debut work of author Kristen Chandler.  It features small town living, a clash between nature and perceived government interference, and a touch of romance.  Chandler's strong female character reminds me of veteran YA authors like Joan Bauer and Ellen Wittlinger.

Monday, October 31, 2011

YOU'LL LIKE IT HERE by Ruth White


Any fond memories Meggie had about life in California were erased the day a crazy man came into her elementary classroom.  He was ranting and raving about the aliens coming to take over, and he zeroed in on Meggie with an accusing glare.  The next thing she remembered was Gramps coming to take her home.

In the days that followed, Meggie and her family left California and moved to North Carolina.  It didn't take long to adjust to life in the small town.  Meggie and her brother David enjoyed their new friends.  Their mother found a job teaching, and Gramps spent time pursuing his artistic endeavors.  All was well until the day the same crazy man appeared muttering once again about aliens.  This time people took him seriously and Meggie's family was forced to flee an angry mob. 

They escape in what is described as a glasslike container called the Carriage.  You see they are aliens from a planet known as Chroma.  They are simply searching for a place to live to escape the environmental destruction of their planet. 

After leaving North Carolina, the family lands at night in a public park in a place called Fashion City.  It is assumed that they are refugees from the wild Western Province.  They are given a place to live, clothes and food, and jobs for mother and Gramps.  What starts as a warm welcome soon turns weird.  It quickly becomes clear that the citizens of Fashion City are being brainwashed and even drugged to be passive and compliant. 

They discover that Fashion City is part of a parallel world.  It resembles the United States, but people don't enjoy the same freedoms and choices.  When Meggie's mother learns that David will be required to serve in the army and that Gramps will be sent on "vacation" when he turns 65, she sets about finding a better place for them to live.  But leaving Fashion City might not be as easy as it first seems.

YOU'LL LIKE IT HERE (EVERYBODY DOES) will captivate middle grade readers.  Author Ruth White draws readers into the lives of the alien family so completely that they will soon forget the fact that they are aliens.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

SECRETS IN THE SHADOWS by Anne Schraff


Meeting the beautiful Korie Archer was just the thing Roylin Bailey needed.  Tired of the noisy confusion of his crowded apartment and memories of his abusive father, Roylin was thrilled when the new girl showed an interest in him.  Korie was the kind of girl he had only dreamed of having by his side.

In an early conversation with Korie, Roylin learns that she has a wish for her approaching birthday - a gorgeous, gold necklace she saw at the mall.  Korie mentions that there is no way anyone in her family would ever consider buying it for her since their idea of a birthday gift would be pajamas or a bathrobe.  Roylin immediately begins planning how to make her birthday wish come true.

Sure that giving Korie the necklace will make her his girlfriend forever, Roylin thinks of everything to come up with the $300 he needs to purchase the piece of jewelry.  When all his ideas fall short of the goal, he thinks of old Mr. Miller in the neighboring apartment.  Ever since Roylin was a little boy, he and Mr. Miller have had a close relationship.  Although he hasn't visited much recently, Roylin is sure that the old man will help him out.

On the day Roylin stops by to ask Mr. Miller for a loan, he finds the elderly man sound asleep in his chair.  When he notices Mr. Miller's bulging wallet close by, Roylin helps himself to the needed money promising himself that he will pay it back as soon as possible.

All goes well as he purchases the necklace and anticipates how excited Korie will be when she gets it.  The excitement quickly vanishes when Tuttle, the apartment handyman, reveals that he saw Roylin steal the money from Mr. Miller.  And worse yet, Tuttle tells Roylin that the old man is dead.

SECRETS IN THE SHADOWS by Anne Schraff follows Roylin as he struggles to justify the importance of his relationship with Korie and the news that he may have caused the old man's death.  He has gotten himself into a real mess and getting himself out of it may prove to more than Roylin can handle.  This book is another in the Bluford High series by Townsend Press.

THE TEST by Peggy Kern


THE TEST by Peggy Kern is part of the Bluford Series published by Townsend Press.  After a quick booktalk about the book today, there are already 4 of my students interested in reading it NOW!

A group of girls at Bluford High have been assembled by the principal Ms. Spencer.  She has a surprise speaker all set to address the group.  After some heckling from the audience, Liselle Mason begins telling her story.

Liselle, now 20 years old, explains how she became pregnant while attending Bluford High.  At the tender age of 16, she made a decision that changed her life forever.  For four months Liselle denied what she knew was the truth.  When the pregnancy test registered as positive, she knew she needed to face her mother and the father of her child.

Even though Liselle knew what she needed to do, none of it was easy.  She tells her audience about her continued denial followed by an angry scene with her mother.  Frustrated, she ran away from home to seek help from her own absentee father and even appealed to a young cousin who was raising her own child. 

What Liselle learned was that she had to come to terms with her situation and decide if she would keep the baby or give it up for adoption.  In the end she realizes her mother is the only one she can rely on for the knowledge and support she will need no matter what decision she makes.

THE TEST is a straightforward depiction of teen motherhood and all its ups and downs.  Liselle's story rings true and doesn't glorify girls who follow this difficult path into adulthood.  The girls in the audience come to the realization that the decisions they make in this area will, indeed, change their lives and the lives of all those involved.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

THE GUN by Paul Langan


Tyray is proud to be one of the toughest guys at Bluford High.  He has spent years tormenting kids for lunch money to earn his reputation as the school bully.  However, the tables are turned when one of Tyray's victims strikes back.  That day in the cafeteria changes life for Tyray.

As he cradles his broken wrist, Tyray immediately begins thinking of ways to get even.  The desire for revenge strengthens as he faces the principal and learns of his three day suspension.  He knows his father will have plenty to say about it when he gets home. 

When Tyray returns to school, everyone is treating him as a loser.  The constant taunting pushes him to make a decision that he knows is risky, but he doesn't believe he has a choice if he wants to return to a position of power.

Tyray's struggle to get even turns him into a liar and a thief.  He knows his older brother would be disappointed and fears his parents will never forgive him.  Perhaps revenge isn't worth it.  Maybe his actions mean he doesn't even deserve to live.

THE GUN by Paul Langan is the first Townsend Press book I've had the pleasure to read.  It is one of a series featuring students in an inner city high school, Bluford High, and it promises to be a great series for middle grade reluctant readers.  I look forward to reading more and sharing them with my students.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr


Jill describes losing her father as losing the mirror that reflects who she is.  He was the only person who truly understood her and could help her see how she influenced others.  Since his death she has isolated herself from all of her friends except Dylan, and even their relationship is rocky at best.  Now her mother has come up with a totally crazy idea that just might be more than Jill can take.

Jill's mother has decided to adopt.  Using an open adoption website, she found an eighteen year old interested in giving the baby she is carrying up for adoption.  The two have communicated through emails and the time has come for the young woman to travel to Denver where she will live until she delivers the baby.  Jill does not approve of what she considers to be a rash decision, but her mother insists on moving on with or without her daughter's blessings.

Mandy, the mother-to-be, arrives and moves in with Jill and her mother.  The tension threatens to smother Jill.  She turns to her boyfriend Dylan for support, but he isn't as understanding as she would like.  Convinced that Mandy is simply after her mother's money, she enlists the help of a new acquaintance at work and, in the process, begins to fall for him.

Author Sara Zarr uses alternating chapters to tell the story so readers are able to learn not only Jill's feelings about the potential adoption, but also the feelings of Mandy and the complicated events that have led her to the decision to give up her unborn child.  HOW TO SAVE A LIFE illustrates that love comes in all shapes and sizes and affects everyone differently.  Zarr deftly manipulates her characters through intense emotions as they work to deal with grief, fear, and the uncertainty of life.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

AND THE WINNER IS.......


The winner of LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer is

                                 **** ABBY ****

I'll get your prize to you soon!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

SHOOTING THE MOON by Frances O'Roark Dowell


I'm not sure how I missed this one.  Frances O'Roark Dowell's CHICKEN BOY is one of my favorite middle grade books.  Her more recent books include THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLS and THE KIND OF FRIENDS WE USED TO BE.  When one of my students asked if Dowell had written anything else, I discovered SHOOTING THE MOON.

Twelve year old Jamie is missing her brother.  Raised in a military family, the two grew up admiring their father the Colonel and playing war games.  When TJ enlisted, Jamie dreamed of going with him to Vietnam.  In fact, she was a bit jealous that he would be in the middle of all the action they used to imagine in their childish games.

When TJ's first letter from the combat zone arrived, it came with a package addressed to Jamie.  The Colonel opened the padded envelope and out tumbled a roll of film.  TJ's instructions to Jamie are to develop the film for him. 

With the help of another soldier at the base rec center, Jamie learns how to mix the chemicals, develop the negatives, and create prints of her brother's black and white images of the war in Vietnam.  The stark photos combine with the letters TJ writes to give Jamie an idea of what war really means. 

As Jamie waits for her brother's return, she spends countless hours in the darkroom, plays competitive games of gin rummy with a soldier at the rec center, and confides in a neighborhood friend whose brother is also in Vietnam. 

Although set in a time of history today's youngsters know little about, the feelings and emotions in SHOOTING THE MOON will touch a familiar cord as today's families suffer similar situations with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Friday, October 14, 2011

DRINK, SLAY, LOVE by Sarah Beth Durst


All you vampire fans need to check out this one!  Sarah Beth Durst has added an unexpected twist that is sure to satisfy her readers and earn her some new fans.

Pearl is a typical sixteen year old in many ways.  She struggles with guy issues, nagging parents, and an annoying curfew. 

She is also a typical vampire struggling to find a convenient "meal" and still make it home before dawn.  At least she was a normal vampire until she was staked by a unicorn.

All Pearl remembers is having a pleasant visit with Brad behind the Dairy Hut.  First she is using her seductive powers to drain a bit of his tasty blood, and next she wakes up after dawn on her porch.  Her family hauls her inside and after giving thanks that she wasn't left in direct sunlight, they start with the questions and recriminations.  What was she thinking?  She put herself and all of them in terrible danger.

The big surprise comes when Pearl discovers the incident with the sparkly unicorn has given her special power.  She is able to tolerate sunlight, and she is now a vampire with a reflection.  To her it is time for some fun and games, but she soon learns her family has other plans.

The King of the vampires is scheduled to attend a special ceremony to be held in the family residence.  All the vampires of the region will be present, and feeding the visitors will be a challenge.  Pearl's parents realize that her new ability will come in handy.  They decide she is to begin attending the local high school where she can befriend humans with the hope that these humans will provide the necessary sustenance for the upcoming ceremony.

What follows is Pearl's entry into the world of public school and the human teen experience.  As the new girl, she attracts both positive and negative attention as she attempts to adjust to living both day and night.  It is an interesting yet exhausting proposition with many unique challenges.  Will she be successful in providing everything needed for the upcoming ceremony?  Will she make her family proud?  Can she figure out a way to make friends and enjoy her new world?

DRINK, SLAY, LOVE is a fun read with the potential for future adventures with Pearl and her friends.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

FLAT BROKE by Gary Paulsen


Kevin has a habit of getting himself into trouble.  Gary Paulsen tells Kevin's first story in LIAR, LIAR.  After living a life filled with lies he thinks will never catch up with him, Kevin learns a painful lesson.  Part of his punishment is to apologize to all those who suffered as a result of his lies.  The other part of the punishment is the loss of his allowance.  That lack of money leads to Paulsen's second story about FLAT BROKE.

Kevin uses his creativity to create a series of business ventures he hopes will make him wealthy.  His first scheme involves poker.  In the past Kevin would have used his allowance to finance his own interest in poker.  Instead, he decides to act as organizer by setting up games including convenient locations, cards, chips, and snacks for the guys on the hockey team as well as a group of guys from the college.  His cut for organizing the games earns him the start of his future fortune.

Next Kevin acts as business manager for his sister.  He has noticed that she spends countless hours in their shared bathroom doing the hair and make-up of all her friends.  With the help of some carefully selected supplies, he convinces her to start charging her clients, and of course, he gets a cut.

Kevin doesn't stop there.  He gets involved in the tutoring business, garage cleaning and trash removal, and selling midnight munchies to the local college kids.  Sure that he is on his way to financial fame, he isn't expecting the sudden crash of his business empire.  Will he lose everything and find himself apologizing once again?

Gary Paulsen continues to add to his ever growing list of published works.  FLAT BROKE is an excellent sequel to LIAR, LIAR and will be sure to gain Paulsen many new fans.  His signature humor and fun references to his young business mogul in LAWN BOY and LAWN BOY RETURNS make this latest book a winner.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

WIN A COPY OF LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer


A copy of LIFE AS WE KNEW IT landed in my hands the other day, and I'd like to pass it on to the hands of a lucky reader.

All you have to do is fill out the form below and you could have this copy for your very own.

Deadline for entries is October 20 at midnight.

TEN MILES PAST NORMAL by Frances O'Roark Dowell


Janie absolutely hates high school, but she knows she is partly to blame.  If she hadn't made that crazy suggestion to her parents back when she was nine years old, maybe they wouldn't be living on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Back in good old elementary school, Janie had gone on a field trip to a quaint little organic farm.  That night at dinner she had gushed about a wonderful life on the farm and suggested that they should leave the suburbs and live on a farm of their own.  Who knew that her parents would actually like the idea?  Now Janie is starting high school and the novelty of living on a mini-farm has definitely worn off.

In just a few short weeks of high school, Janie has spent one day walking around with a chunk of hay in her hair, been stared at in gym class because of a rash on her legs caused by an allergic reaction to some kind of organic worm-based fertilizer, and most recently been heckled on the bus because of the stinky goat poo attached to her shoe.  She had always dreamed of being part of the popular crowd, going to school dances, and joining clubs.  Now all she does is stumble from one class to the next and hide out in the library during lunch.

Janie's friend Sarah is also looking to make her mark in high school.  After hearing the Jam Band perform at an assembly, the two girls are smitten with the lead guitarist Jeremy Fitch.  They worship him from afar until one day he actually speaks to them and invites them to a Jam Band rehearsal.  Sarah claims she plays bass guitar and tells him Janie sings.  Neither claim is true, but once they have their foot in the door, they hope that won't matter.

It turns out Sarah is too small to play bass, but a band member named Monster thinks Janie might have real potential.  Her sudden association with Monster seems to bring positive attention to Janie and her high school future just might be about to turn around.  Now if she could just do something about the embarrassing farm-life blog her mother posts three times a week.

Author Frances O'Roark Dowell came to my attention when I ran across her novel CHICKEN BOY.  I have read it to my seventh graders for several years.  Thanks to a curious student wanting to see if Dowell had written any other books, I found TEN MILES PAST NORMAL.  I now have to say it is on my list of all time favorites. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

BUTTERFLY by Jodi Bullock


With ballet no longer a part of her life, Brooke is lost, and having just moved into a new house doesn't help.  Her mother thinks she should get involved with something and not just sit around the house so why not find out more about the crazy, old lady who lives next door.

Brooke had heard the rumors and knew the nickname Crazy Carter before they even moved into the house next door to the old lady.  The girl across the street pointed out that the woman wore the exact same outfit every day -- purple shirt and black pants.  Brooke agreed that that was weird, but something about the woman still drew her.

The first time Crazy Carter struck up a conversation, Brooke found herself fascinated.  She learned about her apricot tree and that the woman had a dog named Rick.  The friendship started with chats in the garden and then one day Brooke was invited in for tea.  She was also invited to call the old woman Miss Cee Cee.

Brooke shared her disappointment in not being able to dance anymore.  A foot injury made it impossible to wear her toe shoes and truly be a ballerina.  Miss Cee Cee sympathized but also predicted that Brooke would live to dance again.  Even though she said she doubted that, Brooke wondered if she dared to dream of the possibility.

While others questioned the friendship between Brooke and Miss Cee Cee, it became evident the two shared a special bond, and one day Miss Cee Cee revealed their special connection.  Brooke was to become an apprentice to study and learn about Miss Cee Cee's unique ability.  She was a seer and Brooke was destined to be one as well.

Author Jodi Bullock takes readers into a strange, new world.  Brooke and her attractive new classmate, Blaze, are learning about their future as seers.  It is predicted that they will live three lifetimes and help countless individuals recognize their true potential through their dreams, but there is great risk involved if the Bad Ones have their way.  BUTTERFLY is a paranormal adventure filled with intrigue, romance, and frightening dreams. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

STORM RUNNERS: THE SURGE by Roland Smith


STORM RUNNERS by Roland Smith ends with Chase and his new friends trying to stay alive during one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history.  Book #2 - THE SURGE picks up just as Chase, Nicole, and Rashawn arrive back at the Rossi farm.  The Rossi's house has been destroyed, an escaped leopard has been seen running by with a little monkey dangling from its jaws, and Nicole's grandmother Momma Rossi is standing by ready to help a pregnant elephant deliver her calf.

While Chase and Nicole try to battle the storm to get gas for the generator, Rashawn gets to know Momma Rossi.  Having lights in the big barn will be necessary when the elephant is ready to give birth.  Rashawn just hopes that Chase and Nicole survive the attempt to locate the gas cans and return safely to the barn.

At the same time Chase's dad is working with several news crew members to find a way to get from town out to the farm.  Their vehicle flips over in the storm, but they are able to right it and keep it running until they arrive at the local hurricane shelter.  After convincing news anchor Richard Krupp that they have every intention of getting to the farm no matter what, he agrees to let them take the station's news van as long as he gets to go along.  With camera in hand, they set off toward the farm hoping to arrive before the storm causes anymore damage and before any of the captive wild animals escape and attack.

Author Roland Smith keeps readers on the edge of their seats as he relates the non-stop action facing his characters and threatening their very survival.  Between Books #1 and #2 barely twenty-four hours passes leaving the area devastated and people fighting for their lives.  Watch for STORM RUNNERS: ERUPTION, the conclusion of the series, coming in March.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

ARE YOU GOING TO KISS ME NOW? by Sloane Tanen


Imagine LOST or SURVIVOR with a cast of self-centered, ill-equipped celebrities and you have ARE YOU GOING TO KISS ME NOW?   This book is filled with page after page of mishaps and craziness.

Francesca is tired of dealing with her parents' breakup, and when she hears that her father is about to be a father again with his twenty-something new love interest, she takes action.  She uses her writing talent to enter a nonfiction writing contest.  In the entry she details the tragic (though fictitious) death of her father, and low and behold, her entry wins.

When the representative from Seventeen magazine calls to congratulate Francesca, she thinks it must be a joke; but she is soon packing for a celebrity tour of Madagascar and eastern Africa.  She will be reporting on the celebrities' involvement in a GLEA - Girls' Literacy East Africa an organization that promotes educating underprivileged African girls.

Flying the plane is an elderly actor/amateur pilot, and her fellow travelers include the pilot's illegitimate, young son, a teen heart-throb, a couple of young actresses worried more about their hair and makeup than poor, illiterate African girls, and a celebrity blogger.  As Francesca quietly observes her self-absorbed travel mates, she can hardly believe she is part of this amazing trip.  She is furiously texting her best friend Jordan about everyone and everything.

The great humanitarian journey is cut short when the plane crashes on a deserted island, and that's when the real action begins.  The pilot is stricken with grief for causing the disaster and retreats into his own private place of misery.  Jonah turns to his faith in God and his overconfident survival skills.  Milan and Eve mourn the loss of all their beauty products and life essentials while Cisco and Chaz argue about the best way to handle their situation.

In an attempt to keep her sanity, Francesca continues texting her friend even though all communication with the outside world has ceased.  Even the imaginary conversation is better than dealing with the craziness that surrounds her.  Each of the celebrity characters has a truckload of issues that test any possible survival skills any of them might possess.  But as the days pass, Francesca finds little positive tidbits that have her thinking of them as potential friends.

Readers will be entertained by the antics of these castaways, and just when things seem to be looking up, there is a twist that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.  Author Sloane Tanen hits just the right note with her stereotypical celebrities and slips in well-timed surprises that keep ARE YOU GOING TO KISS ME NOW? fresh from start to finish.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

DEPARTURES: TWO REDISCOVERED STORIES by Robin Jones Gunn


Author Robin Jones Gunn has made her mark in contemporary, Christian teen fiction.  Her Christy Miller series offers a fresh approach to YA fiction featuring a popular teen facing the challenges of the teenage world as a practicing Christian.  A second series focuses on Sierra Jensen who experiences some of the same challenges.  DEPARTURES combines two re-released stories from these series.

In NOW BOARDING AT GATE 10, Christy travels with her family back to the town where she grew up.  Her grandparents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and a party is being planned by the local church ladies.

Several years earlier Christy's father moved the family from the small Wisconsin town to California in search of a more stable financial situation.  The move worried Christy, but she managed to adjust and make some great friends.  Now she is actually nervous about returning to her hometown.  Will she still fit in?  Will her childhood friends remember her and welcome her for the brief visit?

Christy has barely arrived when she comes face to face with her old crush Matthew.  Maybe it's because of her recent breakup with Todd, but she finds her old feelings for Matthew resurfacing.  He seems to remember her fondly and immediately pulls her away from boring family duties for a whirlwind tour of her old stomping grounds. 

Matthew seems very interested in not only showing Christy a good time, but also rekindling their past relationship.  Christy is totally taken by surprise that Matthew isn't actively dating anyone and appears to be eager to make a connection.  Although, her instincts urge her to be cautious about diving into a new romance that might only disappoint in the end.

Sierra Jensen's story is titled IN THE EVENT OF A WATER LANDING.  She is traveling with her friend Jana, Jana's brother Gregg, and his friend Tim.  They are headed off to join their families on vacation.  Their late arrival means flying by themselves which has the adults worried. 

Perhaps they have cause to worry since the teens end up missing one flight and then a second before they actually arrive at their destination.  Once safely at the Montana lake, they join in the vacation activities.  Sierra plans to have a great time, but her friend Jana seems fixated on a romantic interlude with whatever cute guy is available. 

Sierra watches with disapproving eyes as Jana flirts with first one guy and then another.  It's not like Sierra is jealous; she is getting plenty of attention from the boys herself.  She just isn't sure she is comfortable with the kind of attention they are directing her way.  She wants to be friendly, but she also wants to be true to her beliefs and her promise to let God lead the way.

Fans of Robin Jones Gunn will be thrilled to see these two "lost" novellas and will have a good time reacquainting themselves with Christy and Sierra.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

PERFECT by Ellen Hopkins


She has done it again!  Ellen Hopkins new book PERFECT is described as a companion to her previous book IMPULSE.  Hopkins has a gift for following her characters through life, and as a reader, I appreciate this skill and her willingness to dedicate writing time to keeping her characters growing and changing from one book to the next.

PERFECT follows the lives of those changed by Conner's suicide attempt in IMPULSE.  The family has kept the details of Conner's "accident" hidden from most, but this has left his twin sister Cara struggling with problems of her own.  Cara is dealing with a mother worried more about what her bridge club will think than what is happening in her family.  Her father spends as much time as possible away from home. 

At first Cara hopes Sean will help her deal with her confusion about Conner's absence, but she soon realizes he will not be providing the answers she needs.  He is having his own issues as he deals with the pressure of excelling in academics and sports, his ticket to the college of his dreams.  In his drive for perfection, he turns to steroids which turn him into a raging menace bent of having Cara no matter the cost.

An afternoon of snowboarding ends with Cara finding the perfect person destined to rescue her both literally and figuratively.  Unfortunately, Cara discovers that finding her perfect person could potentially reveal that Cara herself may not be the "perfect" person her parents envision.

Conner's actions have changed another life - Kendra's.  She was sure the love she shared with Conner would last forever.  When he didn't return to school and no one seemed to know the real reason why, she turned all her focus on the modeling career of her dreams. 

The pressure to fit the perfect ideal of a runway model has Kendra starving herself to the point of collapse.  Any chance of loving intervention is lost in her own dysfunctional family.

Finally, there's Andre.  Connected to the story through his plastic surgeon mother's relationship with Kendra and his chance meeting with Kendra's sister Jenna, Andre enters the story on his own search for perfection.  His ambitious parents have a definite plan for his future, but those plans are far different than Andre's own dreams.  He recognizes the warning signs of self-destruction in the risk-taking Jenna but seems to miss similar signs in his own life.

Ellen Hopkins masterfully intertwines the lives of her characters as she takes readers on a journey revealing the power and potential destruction in the search for perfection.  Hopkins uses her talent to present a no-nonsense, direct message that being perfect is about self-respect and not about the perfection imposed upon us by others.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth


Beatrice is about to make the biggest decision of her life.  She was born in the Chicago of the future.  Her childhood has been spent along the swampy shores of what was once said to be a great and magnificent lake.  Raised wearing nothing but gray and learning that self-sacrifice is the most important thing in life; Beatrice is now sixteen and is on her way to complete her aptitude test and then attend the Choosing Ceremony.

In the Choosing Ceremony she will decide which faction is to be her future home.  Raised in the Abgenation faction to believe in selflessness, she must choose whether to stay or switch to the Amity faction and its peaceful ways, the Dauntless faction and live a life of bravery, the Candor faction where honesty rules, or the Erudite faction which represents intelligence.  Whatever she chooses, it could mean leaving her parents and her brother and never seeing them again.

When Beatrice's aptitude test is complete, the results are inconclusive.  The test usually indicates the faction that will be the best future fit for each teen, but Beatrice's abnormal score must be manually recorded.  Her inconclusive score means she is classified as Divergent forcing the testing official to manually record Beatrice's native Abgenation is as her final result.  Now in the Choosing Ceremony she will have to decide if that is indeed the direction she will take.

When Beatrice chooses Dauntless, it comes as a surprise to her parents and even her brother Caleb whose own choice of Erudite causes shock waves of its own.  After the Ceremony Beatrice must hurry to pack and say her quick goodbyes before she is hustled off to begin her life in the Dauntless faction.

Bravery and courage above all else is now the future for Beatrice who selects the name of Tris.  She and her fellow initiates face one frightening test after another.  The first is leaping onto a moving train followed by later jumping off the speeding rail car onto the roof of a multi-story building.  To earn the right to become an official member of the Dauntless faction, Tris must pass tests of physical strength and endurance, and prove that she has the mental stamina to face her hidden fears.

The pressure is on for every sixteen year old to earn a spot in their chosen faction.  If they fail, it means living the rest of their lives in factionless poverty.  Tris has the added complication of being secretly labeled as Divergent, and her life is at stake if anyone finds out.

DIVERGENT is author Veronica Roth's first book.  Fans of dystopian fiction will be thrilled to learn that this exciting novel is just the first in a series.  Filled with danger, intrigue, and romance DIVERGENT is on track to be a huge success.

Monday, September 5, 2011

BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver


High school senior Samantha "Sam" Kingston is a lucky girl.  She's popular, has a supportive family and a hot boyfriend, and she knows where's she's headed after graduation.  But as the result of one day in February, her life may be over. 

Sam's alarm clock jolts her awake on February 12, followed by a wake-up call from her annoying younger sister.  The only thing worth getting up for is that today is one of her favorite days at school - Cupid's Day.  It's the day anyone who is popular lives for.  Sam knows she will be the recipient of a respectable number of roses today.  Each rose will have a note attached with a message from her friends, her boyfriend, or simply someone who admires her amazing life.

All goes as planned.  Roses are delivered, class work is completed, and Sam has some extra fun when she and a friend skip English class and head to TCBY for a snack.  Everyone is talking about a party at Kent's house, and even though she finds Kent weird and annoying, she knows she will go at least until she hooks up with Rob for a "special" night he's been looking forward to for a long time.

Things start to go wrong when Sam leaves the party with her girl friends.  They've all been drinking and an ice storm has hit the area.  Slippery conditions, speed, alcohol, and the sudden appearance of a white shape in the road combine to cause the crash.  Sam is about to learn whether or not her life will flash before her eyes as she dies.

What Sam doesn't expect is that she is once again awakened by her alarm and the prodding of her little sister.  It appears that she will be given a chance to relive the last day of her life.  There might be a few things she wants to change, especially when she discovers she will get the chance to relive the day seven times!

In her debut novel author Lauren Oliver takes readers on an incredible journey.  Oliver takes a close look at the life a privileged young girl who, when given the chance to make amends, makes some interesting life choices.  Sam Kingston's experiences will remind readers of the constant impact we have on the lives of others.  Perhaps we all have experiences we could improve on if we had the chance for a do-over. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

SCARS by Cheryl Rainfield

Kendra is in therapy trying to deal with issues from her past.  She has only recently been able to admit that she was sexually abuse from an early age.  Although, she now realizes the abuse did happen, she isn't able to remember the identity of her abuser.

Exploring these repressed memories has not been easy for Kendra.  She has the full support of her therapist, but feels her parents just don't understand.  Her mother is an artist more wrapped up in her art than in resolving her daughter's issues.  Kendra has always been close to her father, but the recent downsizing of his job has made it difficult for Kendra to feel able to share her pain with him.

Two things enable Kendra to cope - her new relationship with Meghan and cutting.  When the pressure builds, Kendra tries to seek release by confiding in Meghan, but when that isn't enough, she turns to her blade.  Hiding this addiction from those around her hasn't been a problem until now.  First Meghan discovers Kendra's dangerous obsession, and then her therapist Carolyn uncovers the truth.

As her therapy sessions advance and her relationship with Meghan deepens, Kendra realizes she is coming closer to recalling the identity of her abuser.  She wants to face the past, but remembered threats from her attacker and the presence of a mysterious stalker terrify Kendra.

Author Cheryl Rainfield takes readers into the mind of a teen coming to terms with a horrible past.  Rainfield is able to reveal the chilling memories of Kendra's early sexual abuse and allow the reader to imagine the horrors without using disturbing graphic detail.  Complications in Kendra's relationship with her mother, her desire to express herself through her art, and the acceptance of her own sexuality all combine to make this an emotion-packed read.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

FIREGIRL by Tony Abbott


Having a new kid in class is usually a reason for interest and excitement, but that's not the case for the students in Tom's class at St. Catherine's.  The day Jessica arrives the teacher makes an announcement before the students meet their new classmate.  Jessica will be a member of their class while she is receiving treatment at the local hospital.  Jessica has suffered disfiguring burns over much of her body.

Jessica's arrival in the classroom is quite a shock.  No one has ever seen anyone so hideously disfigured, and no one really knows how to react.  The easiest thing to do is avoid Jessica.  This seems to work for most students but not Tom.  He is especially upset by the way his friend Jeff treats Jessica.

Usually Tom goes to Jeff's house after school, but the fun they normally have is diminished by the hostile attitude Jeff has toward the unfortunate girl.  It's not like Tom wants to be her best friend, but he realizes how left out and disliked she must feel.  When the teacher asks Tom to deliver some math homework to Jessica after her recent absence, Jeff makes fun of Tom and begins leaving him out of their usual after school activities.

At just under 150 pages, FIREGIRL packs quite a punch when it comes to the true meaning of friendship.  Author Tony Abbott captures the uncomfortable feelings we often encounter when confronted by someone with an unfortunate disability.  It would be nice to think everyone would accept the person with unflinching enthusiasm; however, this is rarely the case.  Abbott presents Tom as a unique character willing to set aside his own discomfort to make Jessica feel better about her short stay in his classroom.  This is an excellent choice for middle grade students and would inspire thoughtful discussion if read aloud.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray



Fifty beautiful teens are headed to the Miss Teen Dream Pageant.  They have all entered the contest for various reasons.  Some of them are seasoned pageant veterans ready to strut their stuff on the runway.  Others are novices new to the sequin gowns, the cases of makeup, and the whole pageant routine.  However, when their plane crashes on a tropical island beauty doesn't really matter anymore.

Sadly, not everyone survives, and those who do are quickly at each other's throats.  There is a toughness among these girls that make them competitive even in the harshest of surroundings.  Armed with only what the Survivor reality series would identify as luxury items, the girls must make the best of their situation.

A story about survival on an uninhabited, tropical island has potential, but incorporate a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek beauty pageant humor as well as a bit of terrorist activity, and you have more than potential.  BEAUTY QUEENS is a hoot! 

All the things that make beauty pageants and reality TV entertaining is combined to create this wacky adventure.  It involves one chuckle after another as the contestants' personalities are revealed.  Each has some endearing quirk or irritating habit, and each has a back story author Libba Bray gradually reveals.  She includes countless irreverent references and often politically incorrect banter many readers will find hilarious, especially those who enjoy watching beauty pageants with the sole purpose of harmlessly heckling the contestants from the comfort of their living rooms.  This one is simply fun!