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.