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


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!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE by Heather Gudenkauf

This is one of those books I really loved so I know writing the review will be challenging.  It seems the better the book; the harder I find it is to review.  Perhaps because I want to share so much, I'm afraid I'll share too much.  Here goes...

Two seven year old girls have disappeared.  The two are neighbors and best friends.  Each girl was tucked into bed by parents who awakened early the next morning to discover their little girls were missing.

Calli was last seen wearing a pink nightgown and no shoes.  Since the age of four, Calli has not spoken a word.  No one is sure what caused her selective mutism, however, witnessing an incident of domestic violence which ended in her pregnant mother tumbling down a flight of stairs and losing the baby as a result most likely provides the answer.

Petra is not only Calli's best friend but also her voice.  Her parents are frantic when they discover their only child has disappeared.  She is described as wearing blue pajamas, tennis shoes, and a musical note necklace.

Many twisted secrets complicate the search for the two little girls.  Calli's older brother Ben strikes off into the woods on his own believing that he knows exactly what has happened.  Calli's mother Antonia desperately wants to join the search, but the authorities want her available for questioning.  Petra's parents are fighting the urge to immediately place blame on Calli's brother Ben or their alcoholic father Griff Clark.

Author Heather Gudenkauf presents the story through multiple viewpoints.  THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE was a gripping tale from page one to the very end.  Although published as an adult novel, it would work as an excellent crossover book for many YA readers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

HAPPYFACE by Stephen Emond

HAPPYFACE is perfect for the readers who love the idea of DIARY OF A WIMPY KID books, but are ready to step-up the content a bit.  Stephen Emond understands the teen that doesn't fit the normal mold but still wants to fit in somewhere.

Happyface is the victim of his parents' trial separation.  Things were tough enough at his old school, and now he's starting from scratch in a new school.  Surprised when a girl named Gretchen reacts in a positive way when he meets her, he is determined to shine in hopes of developing a relationship beyond friendship.

Readers follow his experiences as he "fights" Trevor for Gretchen's affection.  At the same time he attempts to get along with his emotional mother and stay connected to his now absent father.  Emond's artwork and genre variety help made Happyface's story come to life.

I know students who will be attracted by the simple, bright cover, and I don't think they'll be disappointed once they meet Happyface.

Friday, August 19, 2011

FREEZE FRAME by Heidi Ayarbe

Jason and Kyle have been best friends for years.  Neither of them would be described as popular, but that's never seemed to matter.  Their offbeat common interests cemented their friendship.

To avoid a confrontation with Kyle's sister, the boys head out to the shed in Kyle's backyard.  It's a place they've used as a sort of hideaway, and it contains some occasionally entertaining junk.  When Kyle reached up to grab the key from its hiding place, neither of the boys realized this particular shed encounter would change things forever.

Shortly after they enter the shed, Jason makes a surprise discovery - a gun.  All Kyle remembers is Jason holding up the gun and asking what they should do with it.  Then he remembers a loud sound and watches his friend double over and slouch to the ground.

What follows is the 911 call and the flashing lights of the ambulance headed to the hospital followed by Kyle and two sets of frantic parents.  What Kyle can't believe is the fact that he killed his friend with a gunshot wound to the chest.  How did it happen?  Was it an accident or did he do it on purpose?

Author Heidi Ayarbe takes readers on a journey as Kyle, his family, and Jason's family deal with the loss of a happy fifteen year old.  Kyle must come to terms with exactly what happened in the shed and try to adjust to life without Jason.  The connections he makes with another misfit boy at school, with the librarian both he and Jason always imagined was a mob killer, and Jason's precocious little brother turn out to be connections that probably save Kyle's life.  The psychological battle raging within Kyle will draw readers in and carry them through to the emotional conclusion.


I'd like to thank The Grammar Doctor Is In at for giving me the Liebster Blog Award.  What an honor to receive the award from someone who gives grammar advice.  Since I'm a teacher as well as a blogger, I try hard to set an example with my grammar, but despite dedicated proofing I always worry about mistakes.  Receiving this award means a lot.

Now my duty is to pass it along.  Here are the rules.
The Liebster is awarded to blogs with less than 200 followers. It's an opportunity to shine the light on fantastic blogs and their authors in an effort to build readership. Each blog I've listed here are ones you'll love to read.

1. Thank the giver of the award and link back to them.

2. Give the Liebster to five bloggers and let them know with a comment to their blog.

3. Copy and paste the award onto your blog.

4. Have faith your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.

5. Have blogging fun!
I would like to pass the award on to the following bloggers:

Monday, August 15, 2011

GIRL PARTS by John M. Cusick

A company called Sakora has created a unique product.  They have a line of "companions" designed to provide healthy relationship training for teenage males. 

Rose is one of the latest models available, and she has been prescribed for a young man named David Sun.  David's school counselor has indicated that he suffers from a condition known as "dissociative disorder."  Rose is the answer to treating this condition.

David is captivated by her perfect body and her flowing red hair.  She is polite and soft spoken and gently reminds him that they will need to develop a trusting relationship before any intimacy can be expected.  The time they spend together is so different than what David is used to, that he willingly takes things one step at a time.  She is all he can think about while he is at school, and his friends are surprised when he spends most of his free time in her company instead of carousing with them.

The more they get to know one another, the more natural Rose becomes.  As far as David is concerned, she is the perfect girlfriend.  However, as their relationship advances to touching and kissing, David discovers Rose is hiding a secret.  When the secret is reveal, David sees it as a cruel joke and he dumps Rose.  The sudden loss of connection with David is more than Rose's circuits can handle, and her reaction nearly causes her destruction.

As the story continues, another confused young man named Charlie becomes involved with Rose.  Readers are then in for one complication after another.  This page-turner by John M. Cusick explores relationships and sexuality and how far our society might go in an attempt to create perfection.  This one will leave readers with a lot to think about.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Adonis is a popular football player with an attractive girlfriend.  That's what he considers normal until he meets Alan.  Alan is the new kid, and it is obvious from the start that he is different.

It turns out that Alan is popular with the girls but in a different way.  He has a keen interest in fashion and all things feminine.  When Adonis's sister and all her friends create an official high school Fashion Club, Alan becomes a loyal member.  The girls accept him with open arms, and with their encouragement, Alan feels comfort enough to reveal his true self. 

Alan has been the victim of taunts and teasing since the day he arrived, but the harassment escalates when he shows up one morning wearing bright, red lipstick.  Adonis is shocked and confused that Alan would be so bold.  He observes from a distance as his fellow football players make life miserable for Alan.  Life becomes a delicate balancing act for Adonis as he tries to let his guy friends think he despises Alan as much as they do, while at the same time attempting to please his girlfriend and his sister who are staunch defenders of Alan right to display his transgender lifestyle.

The day Alan appears at school wearing a dress, the administration makes contact with his father.  Finding no support at home, Alan moves out and the girls step up to offer him a place to stay and along with their continued support.  Although, Adonis tries to remain on neutral ground about the whole situation, he finds his feelings changing.  When he learns about a plan to humiliate Alan, Adonis fears he will need to take a stand on one side or the other.

Paul Volponi's novels are always a success with my students and CROSSINGLINES is sure to be popular, too.  Bullying, especially when it involves gay and transgender topics, is an increasing problem with teens today.  CROSSINGLINES will help teens struggling with their own sexual identity and how it frequently changes relationships.  The story will also help teens struggling with how to interact with fellow students whose lifestyles differ from their own.  I'm excited have this one in my classroom collection.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


THE THINGS A BROTHER KNOWS explores the psychological and physical consequences of the war in Iraq.  Author Dana Reinhardt captures the emotions in a family who experience the return of a soldier discharged from the Marines.

Levi, his parents, and his grandfather have patiently awaited Boaz's return.  They know his time in Iraq was dangerous and frightening, but now that he is safe at home things are not going as they expected.

Boaz spends all his time shut up in his room.  From brief glimpses Levi knows Boaz is constantly on the internet, scribbling notes on maps, or screaming out in his sleep.  He wants his old brother back even if it means being the picked on younger brother he used to be.  Why doesn't Boaz understand how happy everyone is to have him home?  It should be a time for celebration not this weird isolation.

Levi finds some support from his grandfather and his two closest friends, Pearl and Zim.  When he gets a closer look at the maps in his brother's room and the internet history on his computer, Levi uses their help to try to figure out what his brother is up to.  Boaz is telling people some story about hiking the Appalachian Trail, but Levi knows his brother's destination is Washington, D.C., but he doesn't understand why.

In THE THINGS A BROTHER KNOWS readers will be drawn into the relationships within a family much like many families today.  The stress of battle takes its toll in many ways and involves not just the soldiers but also those left behind.  Levi is learning that the simple passage of time may not be the solution to Boaz's problems as he watches his brother deal with the trauma of war.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


After an amazing summer traveling around Europe, Ginny returned home to finish high school.  Now she's working on the dreaded college essay and wondering if it is truly worth the trouble.  She is taken totally by surprise when a letter written by her Aunt Peg once again takes center stage in her life.

When Aunt Peg discovered she had incurable cancer, she wrote a series of letters that became a sort of scavenger hunt/vacation for Ginny.  Following the instructions in the letters, Ginny went from one European location to another learning more about herself through the words of her aunt.  The catch was that the final letter disappeared when Ginny's bag was stolen.  Now a stranger has contacted Ginny with news of the lost letter.

Once again Ginny heads to London hoping to retrieve the letter and read her aunt's final words.  The mysterious stranger has other ideas.  His name is Oliver, and he intends to use knowledge gained from the last letter to turn a profit.  The information contained in the letter instructs Ginny to travel to three places - France, Belgium, and Ireland.  At each stop she will find a portion of her aunt's last piece of artwork.  When all the pieces are assembled, she is to auction the art and receive whatever money it earns.  Oliver intends to force Ginny to share the money. 

What follows is a whirlwind journey taking Ginny, Oliver, and two others from one interesting place to another.  Inclement weather, a rattle-trap car, and some less than cooperative people combine to make the trip a somewhat difficult adventure.

Author Maureen Johnson shows her true talent as she brings Ginny to life once again.  Quirky characters and sassy dialogue make this a great summer read, however, be sure to read 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES first so you appreciate the depth of Ginny's adventure.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

DEAD TO YOU by Lisa McMann

Be sure to be first in line when this one comes out in early February.  You won't be disappointed.  Lisa McMann's first realistic fiction offering has me hoping she is already busy on her next one.

He was seven years old when he was abducted from right in front of his house.  Now Ethan is sixteen years old, and he has finally returned to his family.  The memories of exactly what happened seem hazy to Ethan.  After living with a woman he calls Ellen, he was abandoned and lived in a group home before running away and living on the streets.  Always convinced that he had a loving family out there somewhere, Ethan scoured missing children websites at the library and miraculously found his long lost loved ones.

Now Ethan is home.  Of course, time has changed some things.  His mother welcomes him with open arms, although his father seems a bit less comfortable with his now almost grown son.  Ethan learns that he now has a little sister.  At first, he refers to her as "the replacement child," but that soon changes as she clearly worships the ground he walks on.  And then there's his brother Blake.  Blake was only four years old when Ethan was abducted.  In fact, they were playing together when the black car pulled up and whisked Ethan away.  Blake is having the most difficult time adjusting to Ethan's reappearance.

Everyone seems to expect Ethan to have memories of his life with them, but he finds that although things feel comfortable now that he is back at home, very few details of the past remain in his memory.  Even with the help of family therapy, Ethan finds it hard to reveal many details about his life with Ellen.  This makes it difficult to connect and triggers some fairly strong emotions, especially when Blake begins to question Ethan's true identity.

Fans of author Lisa McMann will surely appreciate this psychological thriller.  Ethan's struggle to reenter his former life grabbed me and made this book one I didn't want to put down.  It is definitely a story that will force you to put the rest of your life on hold so you can keep those pages turning.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

THE ODD JOB SQUAD by Karl Fields

Life in middle school is fraught with stress and emotion, especially for those who become the target for taunts and practical jokes. That's where Ander and his friends Joe, Shooter, and Christian come in. They are not the ones responsible for the harassment; instead they vow to provide vengeance for those in need.

Shortly after Shooter became the victim of a vicious attack, Ander came up with the idea for a unique business opportunity. Anyone feeling the sting of bullying, teasing, or embarrassment at the hands of a nasty classmate could request help. If Ander and his friends deemed the situation a worthy cause, they would spring into action.

For example, when the Hennessey twins ruined Mitch and Chad's biology presentation by flushing the majority of their dragonfly specimens, Ander and the team retaliated. When it was the Hennessey's turn to present, their slide show had been mysteriously sabotaged.

THE ODD JOB SQUAD is filled with crazy schemes intended to bring justice for those less able to defend themselves. Three hard and fast rules prevent Ander and his friends from earning detentions, suspensions, or other punishments as they work to get even for their clients. They combine their talents for deception, computer hacking, and general creativeness as they plan their attacks. However, no scheme is perfect, and the opposition is not always predictable. The excitement in this fast-paced novel comes when the group's well-laid plans run into a snag or two.

Author Karl Fields has the middle school experience down pat, and by taking the side of the victim, he will have middle grade readers cheering. THE ODD JOB SQUAD is filled with useful lessons about dealing with the less fortunate moments in life, and it's humorous and entertaining as well.

Monday, August 1, 2011

BEYOND LUCKY by Sarah Aronson

Somerset Valley soccer has a great history, and this year's team looks promising.  What Ari Fish wants most is to be the starting keeper for the team.

Ari's friend Mac is one of the best players on the team, and after tryouts, he tells Ari there's nothing to worry about.  Ari is not so sure.  He has a lot of superstitious rituals that involve reciting the presidents, reading his horoscope, and eating just the right combination of breakfast cereals.  On the morning of tryouts, things don't go exactly as planned so Ari is worried about his ability to impress the coach.  Complicating the matter is the fact that, for the first time ever, a girl is trying out for the team, and she has her sights set on the same position as Ari.

Amazingly, luck is on Ari's side.  Coach calls with the good news, and at the same time, Ari's other dream also comes true.  He finds a Wayne Timcoe soccer trading card.  Timcoe began his career with the Somerset Valley team making him a hometown hero.  Having found this hard-to-find card practically guarantees Ari's success.  He can hardly wait for the weekly call from his brother Sam who is fighting forest fires out West.  Hopefully, the trading card will bring Sam luck, too, and keep him safe in his new career as a smokejumper.

Life is terrific!  That is until the Wayne Timcoe card disappears.  Just when Ari needs it the most, the card is stolen, and possibly by someone on his own team.  His life is turned upside down as longtime friendships sour, new friendships crumble, and family stress increases.  And if that's not bad enough, his performance in the net tanks.

BEYOND LUCKY is a fast-paced sports adventure and much more.  Author Sarah Aronson combines soccer, friends, family, and a little bit of information about the Jewish faith to create a sure winner.  Ari is a likable main character with just the right amount of determination and courage to inspire middle grade readers whether they are sports fans or not.


The winner of PAYBACK TIME by Carl Deuker is


She'll have her new book soon!