Monday, May 30, 2011

SECRET SATURDAYS by Torrey Maldonado


Friendship can be tricky.  BFF has certain conditions that it sometimes takes a lifetime to understand.  Being there for a friend seems simple - until it's not.

Justin and Sean have a lot in common.  Both are half Black and half Puerto Rican.  Both are being raised by single mothers intent on raising good, upstanding sons.  Both are good students and behave in school.  However, all that is beginning to change.

Justin knows that Sean is an expert at dissing.  Sean's mother has always said disputes should be handled with words not fists.  Recently, Sean's words have become vicious and are handing out hurts that sting as much as punches.  Sean's taunts are aimed at kids without fathers or at those with deadbeat dads.  This gives him plenty of targets, but Justin wonders about the fact that Sean's own dad is absent from his life. 

When Justin and another buddy Kyle witness Sean and his mother leaving the housing project in the wee hours of the morning, they feel a bit betrayed since Sean was supposed to have been with them for the evening.  When the two friends confront Sean, he boldly lies. 

That lie is just the beginning.  What follows is even more shocking for those who care about Sean.  His behavior is changing dramatically.  His taunts have turned to fist fights resulting in detentions and even a suspension from school.  His grades tank as the mysterious trips with his mother continue.  Justin doesn't understand how best friends who previously trusted each other with everything can have secrets like the ones Sean is keeping.

Debut author Torrey Maldonado takes on teens and teen relationships in the inner city.  He has firsthand knowledge of just how tough it is to grow up surrounded by negative influences and how hard it is to resist temptation when there is no male role model to look up to.  Justin and Sean and their other friends realistically depict the difficult times friends can face when it comes to family and secrets meant to save face or protect.  Maldonado presents his story so readers can feel both sides of the situation as they listen to Justin's narration and as they try to puzzle out Sean's secret life.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

FIX ME by Rune Michaels


Leia doesn't remember what it's like to feel safe.  Maybe back before the accident and the death of her parents, but even those memories are scarred by a secret too awful for words.  Even though her aunt tries to provide a safe home, Leia's brother Brian's anger always seems to find her.  Yes, maybe she invites it sometimes, but it seems that she is broken and can't control the impulse to add to her pain.

When Leia accidentally discovers that Brian is a cutter, too, she thinks perhaps this common bond will change his feelings toward her.  However, her heart she knows nothing is likely to change, and when she is confronted by the stranger who claims to know her and her story, she makes a sudden decision to run.

Leia ends up in the only place that offers her peace - the zoo.  Her fascination with elephants leads her there.  Her dreams of the gentle power of the huge animals and their ability to protect as well as destroy, draw her to the elephant enclosure.  After a day spent watching these amazing creatures, Leia is determined to find a way to stay at the zoo indefinitely. 

It takes two days for someone to discover her illegal living arrangements.  Kyle is the son of the zoo director.  He confronts Leia but doesn't learn much about her or the reason for her presence.  He does see her as an answer to his problem - endless chores assigned by his mother as punishment for his habit of hanging with the wrong crowd.  Together, Kyle and Leia form a team.  She helps him with his chores and covers for him so he can escape his mother's supervision, and he keeps quiet about her living in the zoo.

The arrangement is nearly perfect.  Leia is able to spend time up close and personal with the animals she loves in return for food, clothing, and a place where she finally feels safe.  However, like anything too good to be true, she eventually must face her brother and the reality that she doesn't really belong.  When her situation begins to crumble and she must face the memories of her past, she finds she has a tougher skin than she imagined, both literally and figuratively.

Author Rune Michaels paints a stark picture of an abusive family and the devastating toll on its victims.  Readers are sure to sympathize with Leia as they observe her gentle care and appreciation of the animals at the same time as they witness her fear of returning to her broken life.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

HUMAN.4


We are always waiting breathlessly for the latest and greatest technology.  It seems like computers, communication devices, and software programs are updated almost daily.  Having the most up-to-date version often has us standing in line. 

What if humans could be updated?  Would we be as excited if there were new versions of humans?  And what about humans who for some reason missed the latest update?

Kyle and four others at the Millgrove annual talent show volunteered to be hypnotized.  Kyle isn't really worried since the star of the act is a fellow teen named Danny who usually performs a fairly unsuccessful magic act each year.  The four volunteers take the stage and Danny begins his act. 

A short time later the volunteers awake to a small town crowd filled with their friends and relatives, but something is different - very different.  Kyle, Lilly, Mrs. O'Donnell, and Mr. Peterson are facing an audience frozen in time.  Everyone watching the performance is sitting, unmoving on the village green.  Kyle and the others approach individuals but receive no response when they attempt to communicate.

Mr. Peterson seems to be in shock so Kyle, Lilly, and Mrs. O'Donnell go in search of answers.  Within an hour the town seems to be back to normal or at least the frozen residents have resumed activity and headed toward their homes.  However, what Kyle experiences at home is far from his normal family life.  His parents and brother are moving again, and they look normal, but there is something not right about the way they interact.  Whispered conversations and an unexpected visit from the family physician, cause Kyle to be even more suspicious.

The four volunteers all experience abnormal behavior by friends and family and decide they need to stick together.  They stumble across the truth at a local farm but can hardly believe what they are seeing.  It is clear that they are the only ones left of their kind.

Author Mike A. Lancaster takes readers into a frightening version of the future.  Humans have been upgraded to a newer version; however, four individuals have been left behind.  The upgraded humans seem happy enough, although they have some disturbing new characteristics.  Lancaster presents his story through cassette tapes recorded by Kyle.  The message disturbing left on the tapes will have readers looking at the technology around them very differently.  HUMAN.4 is perfect for dystopian and sci fi fans.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

JEREMY BENDER VS. THE CUPCAKE CADETS by Eric Luper



Author Eric Luper has made his first journey into the world of middle grade fiction.  JEREMY BENDER VS. THE CUPCAKE CADETS is perfect for this age group.  With a good mix of male and female characters, crazy antics, and life lessons Luper's new book should be a success.

Jeremy and his buddy Slater attend the Thomas Scolari Academy.  It is an all-boy school and prides itself on its strict rules.  According to school authorities there is a zero-tolerance policy for bullying.  Jeremy and Slater have yet to see this policy enforced.  They are constantly tormented by one particular bully named Paul Volger.  His most recent attack was aimed at Jeremy and resulted in a painful megawedgie. 

The boys are contemplating this vicious attack as they lounge around after school.  Jeremy is tinkering with his father refurbished antique speedboat as he daydreams about the day he and Slater might be allowed to take it for a spin.  Momentarily distracted, Jeremy spills grape soda into the newly rebuilt engine and then thinking he is using degreaser to clean up the mess, ends up spraying the entire engine with green spray paint.  When his father discovers the disaster, Jeremy knows he'll be grounded for life.

As the boys plot to find a way to repair the damage, they come up with what they are sure is a fool-proof plan.  There is a contest called the Windjammer Whirl sponsored by the Cupcake Cadets, a Girl Scout-like group.  The winner of the model sailboat race gets $500 in prize money.  That happens to be the amount necessary to replace all the damaged parts in Jeremy's father's boat. 

The tricky part of the plan involves the fact that only girls can be members of the Cupcake Cadets, but it doesn't take long for the boys to realize a couple of uniforms and a wig would transform them into potential members.  The whole thing should be a breeze.  Sell a few cupcakes, earn a few badges, and win the Windjammer Whirl, and Jeremy can fix the boat before his father even knows about the damage.

What follows is a fast-paced, crazy string of adventures.  Jeremy and Slater may pass as girls in their disguises, but their lack of ability when it comes to pie baking, camping, and cupcake sales may result in the end of their wacky scheme to make some quick cash.  Whether or not they end up with the money, they will definitely learn a lot along the way.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

GIVEAWAY CONTEST - ONE COPY OF WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER by Sally Nicholls


I find myself with an extra copy of WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER by Sally Nicholls so I'd like to pass one on to some lucky reader.

Click here to read a review.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt


It's 1968 and Doug has just moved.  He's not exactly crazy about making new friends and starting school somewhere new in the fall, but of course, he doesn't have any choice.

As usual Doug's brother gets out of all the unpacking and settling in chores.  Their rental house has much to be desired, and Doug quickly nicknames it THE DUMP.  His mother tries her best to make it comfortable as everyone listens to his father complain about his new job and how no one appreciates his hard work.

Doug discovers the local library.  Rather than the books, he is attracted to a collection of valuable Audubon prints.  The birds amaze him.  When one librarian sees his fascination, he challenges Doug to attempt his own drawings.  Doug is surprised to find a hidden artistic talent. 

In addition to his weekly trips to the library, Doug passes time during his first summer in town delivering groceries for the little neighborhood store.  He learns his way around town and meets many of the locals as he pulls his deliver wagon from one street to the next.  All his customers seem welcoming until his brother is suspected in several recent criminal activities.  His brother usually manages to mess things up where Doug is concerned.

Author Gary D. Schmidt continues the story he started in THE WEDNESDAY WARS.  Multiple plot lines will keep readers interested.  Doug struggles to steer clear of his abusive father, avoid his brother, stay out of trouble in school, and keep the secret of why he isn't successful in his classes.  When Doug finds there are people who care and are willing to help him discover his potential, he begins to lose his cocky attitude and blossom.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SPINNING OUT by David Stahler Jr.


Don Quixote and modern-day wind turbines combine as author David Stahler Jr. spins his latest tale.  Two friends, usually wandering on the fringes of high school society, are suddenly thrust into the limelight. 

Frenchy and his quirky friend Stewart spend most of their time figuring out how to get high.  Fortunately, Frenchy's mother's loser boyfriend is a reliable source of some decent pot and is cool about not letting Frenchy's mother know.  A typical day in the lives of Frenchy and Stewart involves heading out to the woods to smoke some weed and then heading off to school where they are known as class clowns.

When Stewart proposes the idea of trying out for the school musical, Man of La Mancha, Frenchy is sure he's kidding.  Their high school is known for amazing musical productions, and Frenchy can't believe Stewart has serious intentions of really becoming involved.  It takes a while, but Stewart finally convinces Frenchy he isn't trying out because he wants to sabotage the play.  He actually wants to try out for the lead role, Don Quixote.

In some odd twist of fate, the two friends display some awesome talent and score the two leads in the play.  Frenchy plays Sancho, Don Quixote's sidekick, and he discovers that acting can be an incredible "high."  However, as rehearsals get underway, Frenchy notices that Stewart is taking his part way too seriously.  He begins showing up in full costume long before dress rehearsal, and he even begins wearing it to school and insisting that Frenchy refer to him as Don.

In a strange Quixote-like coincidence Stewart is angry about a group of controversial wind turbines perched on a ridge above town.  As his character begins to take over, his desire to see that the turbines are destroyed intensifies to the point that Frenchy realizes his friend is spinning out of control.

SPINNING OUT shows friendship at its best and at its worst.  The desire to be there for his friend nearly ends Frenchy's relationship with Stewart.  He learns that wanting to help doesn't always end with the best results.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

ANNOUNCING THE WINNER OF IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY!


Lots of wonderful readers entered my contest for a copy of IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY.

I'd like to announce the lucky winner........ ALYSSA!

You will be contacted by email, and as soon as I have your mailing address, I'll get your prize in the mail.

Stay tuned for the next giveaway contest.

SEA CHANGE by Diane Tullson


Lucas is looking forward to spending some time with his father.  His parents have been divorced for years, but even before that, time with his dad was scarce.  The excuse was always that his dad was busy running the fishing lodge where he entertained guests interested in fishing for salmon and halibut.  Now Lucas finally has the chance to travel to the lodge and see things for himself.

The helicopter ride that delivers Lucas deep into the wilderness is thrilling, and when he sees the place where he will get to fish for coho salmon, he can't wait to get started.  The landing is made even more interesting as Lucas witnesses a small cluster of deer seemingly oblivious to the noise and commotion of the helicopter.  As he watches, one of the deer topples to the ground.  It has been shot. 

After landing, Lucas continues to observe as he father lights into the lodge worker holding the smoking gun.  It's a girl about his age and his father calls her Sumi.  He rages at her telling her if she ever does it again she'll be fired.  Lucas barely has time to recover from the sight of the dead deer and witnessing his father's anger before he is in for another shock.  His father announces that he has to leave.  Lucas can't believe it.  He thought they would be spending quality time together fishing, and now his father says it's too late and that he'll be back tomorrow.

Left alone at the cabin with Sumi, the deer slayer, Lucas fumes silently.  He knows his father has left to be with his girlfriend, the woman that caused the split between his parents.  When Sumi confirms what Lucas is thinking, he immediately wishes he had never made the trip.  He decides he will have to make the best of things for the night and hope that tomorrow will be better.

Tomorrow doesn't bring any improvement.  The weather turns bad, and Lucas finds himself being bossed around by Sumi.  She means well, but it's clear she is not good with people and isn't really enjoying her assignment as "babysitter."  Despite their rocky relationship, what follows is some amazing fishing and a careless disaster that threatens both their lives.

Diane Tullson takes readers into the Canadian wilderness complete with beautiful salmon, giant halibut, deer, and clever black bears.  Readers will be entertained by the wildlife adventures and by Lucas's struggle to come to terms with the father he loves but doesn't understand.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

SECOND FIDDLE by Rosanne Parry


Jody, Giselle, and Vivian live on a military base in German.  The three girls have one thing in common - music.  They have been taking lessons from Herr Muller for years and are about to attend another competition.  Their string trio has played well in the past, but this year they've practiced hard and are hoping to win, however, they will soon learn about much more than their music.

While the girls have been busy practicing, history has been changing around them.  It's 1990 and the Berlin Wall between East and West Germany has crumbled.  The changes in Germany mean that Jody's father will be retiring and moving them back to the United States.  Because of this, she is especially excited about playing with her friends for perhaps the last time. 

One thing Jody is not expecting is to see a young soldier thrown off a bridge.  As her friends watch, she rescues the soldier, and they drag him to safety.  Once he is out of danger, the girls learn his name is Arvo Kross.  He explains that he is an Estonian and that he was attempting to leave his regiment because he was being ordered to complete a dangerous mission he believed was wrong. 

Arvo convinces the girls that his life is in danger if he remains in Berlin, and he insists that even the Americans at the German base will not be able to help him.  Jody is determined to help Arvo find a safe haven.

When the girls find out their music teacher won't be able to take them to their competition as scheduled in Paris, Jody sees a chance to help Arvo.  Since their parents don't know about the cancelled performance, Jody explains how they can pool their resources and help Arvo leave Berlin to seek help in Paris.  Besides saving their new friend, the three girls think he will be able to act as the adult necessary to get them registered for the music competition.

What follows is an exciting journey to the city of Paris.  The girls do make an appearance at the competition, but that's just the beginning of their musical adventure.. 

Author Rosanne Parry is the author of SECOND FIDDLE as well as an earlier novel titled HEART OF A SHEPHERD.  In her author's note she explains that her own experiences in German from 1990-1992 inspired her story.  SECOND FIDDLE features three strong characters who take matters into their own hands and through creative problem solving manage to take care of themselves and at the same time uncover a bit of espionage.










Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A PICTURE OF FREEDOM: THE DIARY OF CLOTEE, A SLAVE GIRL by Patricia C. McKissack


It is 1859 in Virginia.  Clotee lives on Belmont Plantation and serves Mas' Henley.  She feels lucky because she doesn't have to work in the fields like many of the slaves on the plantation.  Her job is to attend the lessons Mas' Henley's wife teaches to their two children.

When the weather is warm, Clotee's job is to fan the children as they work on their studies.  The thing is Clotee doesn't simply keep the children cool; she also watches over their shoulders and learns right along with them.  She is learning to read and write, and she uses her knowledge to record events in this diary.

There is one very serious problem.  If Mas' Henley finds out Clotee can read and write, her life could be in danger.  Slaves are not allowed to read and write, and if she is discovered she is sure to suffer a severe beating and possibly worse.  She has heard of slaves caught reading who have been sold into the deep south where life is even more terrible for them.

A new tutor is hired to teach the children, and Clotee begins to suspect that he might not be exactly who he says he is.  When she realizes he knows her secret, she is terrified, but she discovers he isn't going to reveal what he knows.  As her knowledge and vocabulary expand, she learns the mysterious tutor is one of the abolitionists she has heard about, and he might even be involved in something she has heard about called the Underground Railroad.

Part of the Dear America series, A PICTURE OF FREEDOM by Patricia C. McKissack is about one young slave girl's experience as she lives as an orphan on a Virginia plantation at the mercy of an intolerant master.  This work of historical fiction depicts life on the plantation and how the slaves struggled to retain their identity as they battled for simple survival.  McKissack brings this challenging time to life for readers interested in learning more about a piece of our past.