Monday, December 31, 2012

ALMOST HOME by Joan Bauer

Joan Bauer has created another one of her powerful female main characters.  But then, her fans already know, *it's a natural gift that she has.*

Sugar Mae Cole is in the sixth grade.  She lives with her mother and infrequently sees her good-for-nothing father.  That's OK with Sugar.  She puts all her energy into being sweet like her mother tells her and writing poems and thank yous that please her favorite English teacher.

Sugar doesn't know about her mother's financial problems until the day that the police arrive to evict them from their home.  Now Sugar and her mother are among the homeless in Round Lake, Missouri.  For a short time they live in their car, and finally, they move to a shelter.  In the midst of finding a temporary home, Sugar inherits a stray dog named Shush.  The little puppy is well-behaved and charms everyone around them.  Sugar finds trust and security in the presence of the loyal dog.

With the promise of a decent job, Sugar and her mother move to Chicago.  When it turns out the job doesn't exist, Sugar's mother ends up in the hospital being treated for depression and Sugar ends up in a foster home.  Although, it isn't the home she hoped for, Sugar is comfortable with Lexie and Mac, and her natural optimism and determination allow her to carry on as she waits for her life to return to normal.

ALMOST HOME is an inspirational book about a young girl's struggle to deal with what life has dealt her.  Author Joan Bauer focuses on appreciating the good in life and showing that appreciation by thanking those responsible.  Sugar's ability to take the good with the bad and carry on, makes this a "sweet" read.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

CHASING THE SKIP by Janci Patterson

Ricki is used to her mother taking off.  Usually it's after she meets a new boyfriend, and she's back before long.  This time it has been weeks since Ricki has seen her mom.  Staying with her grandmother isn't too bad, but this time her grandmother calls for reinforcements.  Ricki's dad shows up to pick her up.

The story Ricki's been told is that her dad left before Ricki's mom even knew she was pregnant.  Since then he has sent regular child support payments and stopped by a few times, but he certainly hasn't made an effort to develop a relationship with his only daughter.  Now he's taking Ricki to live with him wherever that is.

Ricki soon discovers that life with her father might provide some excitement.  He is a bounty hunter, and she's about to ride along as he chases another skip.  It might not be so bad hanging out with him while she waits for her mother to return.  With his attention focused on finding the bail skipper, Ricki plans to practice her journalism skills writing entries on her blog describing every minute of the adventure.

Debut author Janci Patterson has created a fast-paced, wild ride through Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wyoming.  Ricki and her father get to know one another as they track down criminals who haven't made their court appearances.  Ricki's often impetuous, immature behavior complicates the chase and even puts her life in danger.  The turn of each page promises some new twist or turn.  I can't wait to see what Patterson writes next.

Friday, December 28, 2012

PINNED by Sharon G. Flake

In PINNED two incredibly competitive people headed in totally different directions find themselves meeting in the middle. 

Autumn is the lone girl on her high school wrestling team.  She is very good and has a chance to go all the way to the state competition.  Autumn's strength may be wrestling, but her weakness is school.  Her parents are suddenly concerned about her dropping grades in math and her below average reading level.  They have pulled her from the team until she brings up her grades.

Adonis excels as a student and fulfills a leadership role in the school and community.  Confined to a wheelchair because a birth defect left him with no legs, he is driven by personal pride and a determination to succeed despite his disability.  Adonis is annoyed by people like Autumn who are loud and draw attention to themselves.  He is extremely irritated when Autumn professes her love and vows to make him her boyfriend.

The two teens live their lives moving in two totally different circles at school, but it seems that their lives are destined to intertwine.  The more they find themselves thrown together, the more they begin to change.  Will Autumn be able to develop the relationship with Adonis as she hopes?  Will Adonis begin to understand and appreciate what motivates someone like Autumn?

Veteran author Sharon G. Flake once again hits it out of the park with her latest middle grade selection.  Flake's characters ring true and offer personalities and situations that speak to many young teens.  It is also refreshing to read a book with a wrestling backdrop instead of the usual football/basketball fare.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE by Mitch Albom

There are so many life lessons packed into this fabulous book.  I had forgotten just how wonderful it is.  As I started rereading it, my main purpose was to review it before beginning to teach it to my 10th graders in January, but it touched me on a personal level once again.

For those of you who haven't read TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, Mitch Albom writes about his visits with an old college professor stricken with ALS.  Morrie Schwartz was a sociology professor at Brandeis University where Albom studied.  After taking one of Schwartz's classes, Albom says he ended up enrolling in all the classes the man taught.  They spent hours together in class and racked up even more time together outside of class as they became friends in addition to teacher and student. 

After years with no contact, Albom stumbled across a mention of Schwartz and learned of his illness.  He renewed contact with his teacher and old friend and, through once a week meetings, took what he describes as Schwartz's last class.  During their final days together, Morrie Schwartz talked about his life and shared incredible little gems of wisdom that forever changed Mitch Albom's life. 

Beginning in January, I will be using this book with my sophomore students.  They are an impressively insightful bunch which should make it pure pleasure to share this wonderful story.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

CONFESSIONS OF A MURDER SUSPECT by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Normally, I'm not a big fan of the series, but this is one that has me eagerly awaiting the next installment.  CONFESSIONS OF A MURDER SUSPECT grabbed me in the first brief chapter and didn't let go.

Malcolm and Maud Angel are found dead in the bedroom of their penthouse apartment leaving behind four children.  Matthew, already an NFL star, Tandy and Harry, sixteen year old twins, and Hugo, an amazingly intelligent and exceptionally strong fourth grader are the Angel children.  They are now orphans and also suspects in the possible murder of their parents.

Tandy is determined to prove she and her siblings are not guilty.  The police are determined to pin the murder on at least one of them and proving it was a combined plot would make an even sweeter case.  The deeper Tandy ventures into her investigation, the more secrets she uncovers.  She has always known that the Angels were not like everyone else, but what she unearths in a hidden room under the stairs could spell disaster.

The characters in this fast-paced series opener are often unemotional and sometimes very easy to dislike, but yet I found them irresistible.  As narrator, Tandy reluctantly trusts the reader with her innermost thoughts and confessions that highlight the odd nature of her family.  Her quick wit and intelligence are no match for police detectives so it comes as no surprise that she is the one to solve the mystery. 

Patterson and his writing partner Maxine Paetro have hit on a storyline that is sure to be a success with teen readers, especially those looking for a good mystery.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

PLAYGROUND: THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF A FORMER BULLY by 50 Cent

Thirteen year old Butterball filled a sock full of batteries and beat up Maurice, and he the school is forcing him to see a therapist so they can get to the bottom of the attack. 

When Butterball's mother decided to make a change in her life, she moved Butterball out of the city and away from his father.  Now they are living in the suburbs, he's going to a crappy junior high school, and working at a hospital and going to nursing school.

Butterball is not fitting in well.  Besides being the new kid, he is overweight and the target for teasing and taunting.  The only one he sort of counts as a friend is Maurice, but when Maurice makes a comment that takes Butterball completely by surprise, Butterball plots an attack on Maurice.  The violence of the beating puts Butterball on the radar of the school administration, and part of his punishment is regular visits with a social worker/therapist. 

Liz attempts to get Butterball to open up, but his anger about moving, being grounded, and not being able to visit his dad as much as he'd like make him a tough nut to crack.  Whenever Butterball seems to get a chance to get ahead, something always gets in the way.  Maybe being a tough guy is the only way he can make something of himself.

Rapper 50 Cent uses his own troubled adolescence as inspiration for this story about a would be bully.  Appropriate for both middle grades and teens, PLAYGROUND hits on a current topic and handles it well.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

SUCCESSFUL AUTHOR CHAT

My students had the opportunity to chat with author Emmy Laybourne after we finished reading her book MONUMENT 14. 

Click here to read about it!

DRAGONBREATH: CURSE OF THE WERE-WIENER by Ursula Vernon

One of my students surprised me with this book as a Christmas present.  He said he knew I liked books so he got me this one.

It's a cute story that reminds me of recent offerings like the Wimpy Kid series and the Origami Yoda series.  DRAGONBREATH  has actually been around for some time, but thanks to my student, I'm just discovering it.

Danny Dragonbreath and his friend Wendell go on quite an adventure.  During lunchtime in the school cafeteria, Wendell is bitten by a were-wiener.  Wendell is an iguana, and when he suddenly begins to grow hair and develop an incredibly annoying itch, Danny knows something is wrong.  What follows is completely crazy but full of fun. 

Danny and Wendell investigate the walk-in freezer in the school kitchen and discover the were-wieners are from Transylvania.  It soon becomes clear that Wendell is not the only student affected by the were-hot dog curse.  Danny knows he will need help in battling the curse so he turns to the arch enemy of the hot dog -- the villainous potato salad, previously condemned to live in the sewer tunnels below the city.

CURSE OF THE WERE-WIENER is the third book in the Dragonbreath series by author Ursula Vernon.  Tongue-in-cheek humor and quirky drawings combine to make it a fun read.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

GIRL MEETS BOY edited by Kelly Milner Halls

There are two sides to every story.  The stories in GIRL MEETS BOY show readers both sides in six very different relationships. 

Kelly Milner Halls is both the editor of this thought-provoking collection and also a story contributor.  Halls assembled a star-studded cast of YA authors for this group of stories.  The list includes Chris Crutcher, Terry Trueman, James Howe, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ellen Wittlinger, and Joseph Bruchac to name a few.

Each pair of stories includes the girl's point of view and the boy's.  Once both sides of the story are revealed, readers will realize everything isn't always what it seems.  Unlikely couples, two boys exploring the idea that they both like boys, combinations that work, and some that don't combine to mirror real-world relationships.  Life is complicated and these authors offer a peek into just how complicated it can be.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SEND ME A SIGN by Tiffany Schmidt

With a great summer ahead of her and hopes for a fantastic senior year, Mia is hit by tragedy.  A nagging fever and constant bruising have Mia seeing the doctor and being scheduled for a bunch of tests.  The tests reveal Mia has leukemia, and she suddenly finds herself in the hospital fighting for her life.

Mia's parents attack the situation from different directions.  Her dad immediately begins researching the disease looking for the latest successful treatment options.  Her mother insists on keeping up appearances as she scours the Internet for organic foods, beauty products, and clothing.  Mia's main source of comfort is her childhood friend and neighbor, Gyver.  He drops everything to stay by her side.

When Mia chooses to keep her illness a secret from the rest of her friends, she finds herself deep in a string of lies, but she just isn't sure how each of her friends will react.  Although keeping everything a secret seemed like a good idea at first, after a month in the hospital Mia finds it challenging to keep up with her lies as she returns to the last days of summer and the start of the school year.

As much as Mia wants to handle her illness quietly, her new boyfriend and her other close friends are sure something is up and pressure her to tell them what is going on.  Her mother's continued worry about the superficial details forces Mia to bury her pain and hide important symptoms.  All the secrecy begins to take it's toll leaving Mia exhausted and confused.

SEND ME A SIGN by Tiffany Schmidt deals with the difficulties of a cancer diagnosis and the painful, debilitating treatment that follows as well as the stress it creates in relationships between family and friends.  Not only is Mia dealing with her illness but also with the stress and pressure of being a teen.  This debut author is one to watch. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I SWEAR by Lane Davis

Leslie has been dealing with vicious text messages, emails, and direct taunts and threats for longer than anyone really knows.  Her former best friend Jillian has even joined Macie, Katherine, and Beth in making her life miserable.

At first Leslie thought Jillian's twin brother Jake might be her savior, but he is often more concerned about appearances than standing by his childhood friend, and going to her parents for help is completely out of the question.  Her mother is more interested in what she's pouring in her wine glass, and her dad is too busy flipping every house Leslie has ever tried to call home.  Leslie finally makes the decision to leave, but once she is in the garage and in the car, she decides to take a different path.  She starts the car in the closed garage and never leaves.

Leslie's death sparks an investigation that has all her former tormentors scrambling to cover their tracks.  Leader of the gang, Macie, struggles to keep control and come out smelling like a rose as she offers up her fellow conspirators as bait.  Guilty feelings may prompt Jake and Jillian to come clean, but it's too late for Leslie and they know it.

I SWEAR by debut author Lane Davis is a strong commentary on high school bullying.  Much like THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher, I SWEAR will hit home to many teens whether they are being bullied or doing the bullying themselves.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

STRUCK BY LIGHTNING: THE CARSON PHILLIPS JOURNAL by Chris Colfer

Carson's dream is to attend Northwestern University, major in journalism, and then get a job working for the New Yorker.  He is fairly certain he has an early acceptance all buttoned up.  His application should wow the admissions board since he single-handedly edits the Clover High Chronicle, and he is the creator of the Clover High School Writers' Club.

Imagine Carson's surprise when the counselor informs him being editor of the school newspaper and a member of the writers' club is not going to be enough to impress Northwestern.  She suggests maybe publication in a literary magazine would do the trick so Carson embarks on a new project.

With only a month to submit this new material and earn a coveted early acceptance, the pressure is on.  A chance visit to the school restroom gives Carson an idea.  He stumbles across two guys from the popular crowd getting it on in one of the stalls.  After his initial shock, he realizes that blackmail might be the solution to his problem.  Threatening his fellow classmates might generate the writing submissions he needs to create the literary magazine that will be the envy of Northwestern University.

Author Chris Colfer makes his YA debut with STRUCK BY LIGHTNING.  Many teen readers will recognize him as the Kurt Hummel character on Glee.  Colfer's stereotypical high school characters, off-color humor, and high stakes pressure to earn college acceptance will also connect with teen readers experiencing these things in their own lives.  The book is based on Colfer's original screenplay by the same name.

Monday, November 26, 2012

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE THIRD WHEEL by Jeff Kinney

There's nothing quite like curling up with a new Wimpy Kid book on a chilly November evening.  I've gotten a kick out of this series ever since the first book.  Jeff Kinney is the creator of something even adults can appreciate. 

THE THIRD WHEEL centers on Greg's attempts to score a date for the upcoming Valentine's Day Dance.  Of course, things don't go as planned; they never do for poor Greg.  He is about to give up when his friend Rowley tells him about Abigail and the fact that her date backed out at the last minute.  This may be just the chance Greg has been waiting for.

It's not all about the dance preparations.  Greg also shares stories about his mooching Uncle Gary, his memories from early childhood, a chicken pox outbreak, and his campaign to get Rowley elected to student council.  There is typical Jeff Kinney humor along with his hilarious drawings.

These books never get old.  I can't wait to discover Greg's next big adventure.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

THE BEST NIGHT OF YOUR (PATHETIC) LIFE by Tara Altebrando

The school year is almost over and it's time for the annual senior scavenger hunt.  Although the students always have a terrific time, the hunt isn't exactly sanctioned by all adults.  Mary knows it's risky to trust her younger sister to cover for her, but there is no way she's missing a chance to participate.

Ever since Barbone snagged her dream spot at Georgetown University, Mary has wanted revenge.  If she can assemble a team and beat Barbone in the scavenger hunt, she is sure she can put her feelings behind and move on with her life in the fall.  The unlikely team she has in mind includes her best friends Winter and Patrick, and another friend, Dez, whose presence on the winning team would really put Barbone in his place.  Barbone will never be able to live it down if he is beaten by a team of misfits nerds.

The hunt is organized by the winners of the previous year's hunt.  Set up in two rounds, the object is to score a minimum of 1250 by the evening deadline in order to advance to round two which concludes after midnight.  Since some of the items and tasks can bend the lines between legal and illegal, many parents and members of the school administration don't condone the activity, but Mary and her friends are determined to beat the odds and succeed.

Readers of THE BEST NIGHT OF YOUR (PATHETIC) LIFE become another member of Mary's team as the action takes them along for the ride.  The creativity of the group is evident as they unravel clues and seek out the necessary items to increase their point totals.  Author Tara Altebrando builds her story into much more than just a scavenger hunt as she reveals Mary's inner thoughts as she comes to terms with decisions she has made and what it will mean to move on to the next step in her life.  Friendships are tested and renewed as Mary reviews her high school years complete with fond memories and unfortunate regrets. 

This is the first book I've read by Altebrando, and I'm headed off to find the other two she's written, DREAMLAND SOCIAL CLUB and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.

Friday, November 23, 2012

THE SECOND LIFE OF ABIGAIL WALKER by Frances O'Roark Dowell

A group of mean girls at school have made it their goal to make Abby miserable, and it doesn't help when all Abby has to come home to are parents who constantly nag her about her lack of friends and her weight. Fortunately, an empty lot, the mysterious appearance of a fox, and several unlikely new friends give Abby's life a needed boost.

Abby's mother thinks Abby should be hanging out with her friends, but Abby can't figure out a way to tell her mother that the girls she once called friends have turned into something unpleasant.  Kristen and Georgia and their followers don't think Abby fits into their group any more.  Abby's love of candy and all things yummy mean that she is no longer what she herself describes as a "medium" girl.  Her mother seems to blame Abby for the defection of her friends, and her father only criticizes her about her weight and her need for exercise.

The only place Abby feels free to be herself is in the empty lot across the street.  She disappears there as often as possible to sit among the weeds and wildflowers with her book and her red cooler filled with frozen grapes.  It is here in the empty lot that her life changes.

One afternoon Abby is surprised by the appearance of a small fox.  She didn't even know there were foxes in the area.  The beautiful animal doesn't seem frightened by her and approaches close enough to nip Abby's finger.  That gentle nip works some sort of mysterious magic, and soon after Abby finds herself with several new friends and a real reason for living.

Author Frances O'Roark Dowell has created a refreshing tale about just how much can be overcome with companionship and the right outlook on life.  She combines unique characters, unusual friendships, and a touch of magic to lift the spirit and inspire readers with a positive message about the importance of kindness and compassion.

Monday, November 19, 2012

PERIOD 8 by Chris Crutcher

I'm still pinching myself unable to believe I scored an ARC of PERIOD 8 by Chris Crutcher.  Scheduled for release in April of 2013, PERIOD 8 is an example of vintage Crutcher combined with a dash of mystery.  I was almost breathless in the final 30-40 pages as the action rushed to a riveting conclusion.

Teacher Bruce Logsdon is about to complete his last year of teaching.  He's one of those special teachers who just seem to connect with kids in a way that goes beyond the classroom.  Logs, as he is known to his students, welcomes kids to join him in his classroom for Period 8.  Having lunch in Logs room means not just eating but also opening up in discussions about whatever is on anyone's mind.

Paulie Baum has another connection with Logs besides P-8.  Both are dedicated swimmers and workout year round.  Some say their dedication borders on insanity when the two are seen swimming in the local lake on days when the temperature barely hits forty degrees. 

Paulie respects Logs and brings his problems to this trusted teacher.  His recent breakup with Hannah has been a current topic of discussion.  It involves another girl who is mysteriously absent from Period 8 causing both Logs and the other students to suspect something strange.  It is common knowledge that the girl's father is famous for his strict rules and often unreasonable behavior where his daughter is concerned.  Paulie is hoping Logs can help them shred some light on her unexplained disappearance.

Although the students have known each other and shared Period 8 for all their years in high school, they are discovering they don't know each other as well as they thought. 

Crutcher grabs the attention of readers with intense character relationships and a quick moving plot.  The ever-changing social fabric of high school mixes with the mystery of a missing student to make this a real page turner.  I'm looking forward to spreading the news about this latest Crutcher offering.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

COLIN FISCHER by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz

Colin has Asperger's syndrome.  He has trouble understanding proper social behavior and has difficulty interpreting emotions in others' facial expressions.  To help him navigate and properly interact with others, Colin had an adult shadow with him every day in elementary school and middle school, but now he is about to start high school, and he will be on his own.

Armed with his facial expression recognition charts and his ever-present red notebook, Colin begins his freshman year.  Although he may have trouble understanding human behavior, it fascinates him.  He writes down most of what he observes in his notebook and often follows the observations with a note to "investigate."  He prides himself on his detective work and his ability to unravel even the most difficult puzzles.

The school cafeteria becomes the center of Colin's most challenging investigation.  A gun goes off in the middle of a lunch time birthday celebration.  The students scatter in terror leaving Colin in the middle of the cafeteria staring at a frosting coated handgun. 

A troublemaker named Wayne is blamed for the act of violence, but Colin knows it wasn't him.  Trying to prove Wayne's innocence is not as easy as Colin thinks, and it could end up in a lot of trouble for him.  It also might end up earning Colin his very first real friend.

Writing partners Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz break from their TV writing roots to create this latest YA offering.  COLIN FISCHER offers a look at Asperger's and bullying that not only educate but also entertain.  Teens will be able to relate to a varied cast of characters as well as the mystery of just who brought the gun to school.

Friday, November 9, 2012

DON'T TURN AROUND by Michelle Gagnon

DON'T TURN AROUND by Michelle Gagnon is being talked about as THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO for teens.  Gagnon, known for her adults novels, seems pretty comfortable writing for teens.  If you are a teen looking for adventure involving a couple of tech savvy teen computer hackers, then I definitely suggest getting your hands on this one. 

Peter is a rich kid who wants for nothing, except maybe the love of his mostly absent parents.  Busy with their own lives, their idea of parenting is to throw money in their son's direction rather than spending quality time with him.  Peter has learned to cope and entertain himself by becoming a expert computer hacker with a following he calls the ALLIANCE.  Along with the help of other talented hackers, he has been responsible for breaking into and even taking down quite a few corporations.

Noa is sixteen and has never known a normal life.  She has spent most of her life bouncing from one foster home to another.  Incredibly intelligent, Noa is a self-trained hacker who uses her talents to beat the system and gain her independence from the impersonal world of foster care. 

When the story begins, Noa wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse.  She has no idea how she got there or how much time has passed.  All she knows is that she has a small incision in her chest and no memory of what took place. 

Fellow hackers, Peter and Noa connect online when Peter asks Noa for help.  His life is being threatened by a corporation known as AMRF.  Can Noa use her skills to find the information that can protect him or will her experience in the warehouse mean she is already at risk from the corporation herself?

DON'T TURN AROUND is a high tech thriller with enough twists and turns to satisfy any adventure lover.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck

I've long been a Steinbeck fan.  It's not about his biggies like GRAPES OF WRATH and EAST OF EDEN, but more about CANNERY ROW and SWEET THURSDAY.  Last night I reread OF MICE AND MEN because I'll be teaching it to my 10th graders next trimester.  Having reread this one, I'm going to pledge to find the time to reread my other favorites.

George and Lennie move from farm to farm to eek out a living as hired hands.  George is the brains behind the pair because Lennie, although powerful individual capable of heaving sacks of barley like no other man, is mentally challenged. 

The two men arrive at the next farm ready to work.  George warns Lennie to let him do the talking or they might be sent packing.  He reminds Lennie they had to leave their last job because of Lennie's mistake. 

Steinbeck captures the time period as well as the life of the traveling hired hand in OF MICE AND MEN.  I'm looking forward to sharing it with my students.  Although they might see it as an "old time" story, I know the emotional aspects of the story will draw them in and perhaps create a few new Steinbeck fans.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

ENDANGERED by Eliot Schrefer

Author Eliot Schrefer uses his own experiences with the bonobo apes as a backdrop for ENDANGERED.  Fans of animal stories and survival tales will want to find a copy of this one.

Sophie was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Now a teen, Sophie's parents have separated so she lives in the United States during the school year and spends her summers in the Congo.  Her mother runs a bonobo preserve in the Congolese jungle.  She has devoted her life to protecting this member of the gorilla family.

Sophie's summer starts with a wild adventure on her way to the preserve.  She knows her mother disapproves of the gorilla poachers and those who capture the endangered apes to butcher or sell, but when she sees the young bonobo in the cage strapped to the back of a poacher's bicycle, she reaches for her money.  Once she makes the deal, she takes possession of the little ape and continues the journey to join her mother at the preserve.

Not happy with her daughter's decision to "rescue" the bonobo, Sophie's mother doesn't have much time to explain her reasons because she of off to release some of the bonobos back into the wild.  Sophie knows when her mother returns there will be further discussion about the incident.  Sophie attempts to stay busy and take care of the bonobo she has named Otto as she awaits her mother's return.

Shortly after her mother's departure Sophie's life turns upside down.  Revolutionaries from the city attack the preserve, killing everyone and destroying the place.  Sophie and Otto manage to escape into a protected enclosure in the compound.  Her survival now depends on her ability to observe the bonobos and learn how to care for herself and Otto.  Will the electric fence surrounding the enclosure be enough to protect Sophie and the bonobos or will she be forced to confront her attackers?

Eliot Schrefer takes readers into an entirely new world.  He describes the violence of the revolution and Sophie's fear as she races to escape and find ways to survive until her parents can come to her rescue.  ENDANGERED is a unique new survival story worth checking out.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

ZOM-B by Darren Shan

Darren Shan has done it again.  He has a new series; this time the subject is zombies.  Book #1 ZOM-B already has a waiting list in my classroom.

B and his friends and family are hearing rumors about zombies attacking in an Irish village.  Living in London, B doesn't take it very seriously, instead focusing on friends and living in the here and now.

B has enough to worry about with an abusive bigot for a father and not much support from a weak, terrified mother.  Unpopular with the principal and teachers at school, B spends time hanging with friends and usually causing trouble as a way to have a bit of fun. 

When the zombies arrive in London, the action truly begins.  In typical Darren Shan form, there is plenty of mayhem and madness complete with gruesome details.  Shan's fans will eat it up.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

UNSTOPPABLE by Tim Green

Harrison's life has not offered him many advantages.  He has been in and out of foster homes and is currently living with a cruel farmer and his wife.  Forced to do back-breaking farm chores and treated like a slave, Harrison finally cracks.  The farmer is killed in an accident, and Harrison fears he will be held responsible.

Much to his surprise, Harrison finally lands a break.  A kind social worker finds him the home he has always dreamed of.  He is living with a middle school football coach and his wife.  The couple, unable to have children of their own, take an immediate liking to Harrison and make him feel welcome and even loved for the first time in his life.

Having a football coach as a foster parent is also like a dream come true.  Harrison has long been a fan of football and promised himself that one day he would play.  The reality is he now on the team, and he is terrific.  Coach is thrilled to have him as a player.  His size, strength, and speed are the perfect combination for the position of running back.  With his natural talent, the team has a chance to win the championship this year. 

Unfortunately, Harrison's bad luck returns.  Not all the members of the team view his arrival with as much excitement as Coach.  Could a few unhappy players keep him from living up to his potential?  Or will something else more devastating sideline Harrison for keeps?

Author Tim Green's newest release, UNSTOPPABLE, will have sports fans rushing to the library or bookstore.  Written in his signature style with action both on and off the field, short chapters, and relatable characters, UNSTOPPABLE should be a hit with young teen readers.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

SEND by Patty Blount

SEND by Patty Blount presents a hot topic in YA and teen lit -- bullying.  Blount brings a slightly different perspective to the topic and presents it with characters that will definitely speak to teen audiences.

Dan has experienced bullying first hand.  He has experienced it from both sides.  He is guilty of being a bully and has also been a victim himself.

Readers are brought into the story knowing that Dan has committed a terrible act.  He has served his time and will forever regret his actions.  Though the details are not revealed until much later in the story, it is clear that Dan has learned from the experience and has vowed to make a difference for here on out.

It's Dan's first day at a new school, and he'd like to fly under the radar.  Unfortunately, he witnesses an act of bullying in the parking lot that ends with him in the nurse's office seeking first aid for a nasty cut on his chin.  He also is disappointed to be starting the year with an enemy. 

Because of his mysterious background, Dan and his family have relocated yet again to avoid angry mobs who found out Dan's true identity.  He wants to do the right thing and protect his family, but he is determined to be a different person and make up for his earlier mistakes.

Event after event conspire to make life difficult for Dan.  He fears getting too close to others in case he and his family are forced to move again, but at the same time, Dan is beginning to realize he must find a way to rebuild his trust and seek the help of others.  Can he keep his secret or will the truth finally be recognized for what it truly is?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

TRUE LEGEND by Mike Lupica

Drew "True" Robinson has a plan.  He and his mother moved to California from New York to advance his basketball career.  Only a junior in high school, he is one of the best.  If things work out, he will be scouted by the best colleges and after the minimum one year of college play, he'll head to the pros.

Lately Drew hasn't exactly been focused much on his grades, and he is getting some grief about it from his mother and his counselor.  He tries to remind them that college isn't really his goal; it's just a stepping stone to his pro career.  The temptation of endorsements and perks from his mother's rich boss and scouts is beginning to take Drew's attention away from his game. 

Late one night when he heads to a local court to practice, he comes across a street player shooting hoops.  The guy is older but he has great skills.  Drew watches him unnoticed, and after seeing him a second time, he attempts to find out who the mystery player is. 

It turns out he was a legend years ago, but poor decisions ruined his chances to turn pro.  When Drew finally does meet him, he realizes they have a lot in common.  This realization might be just what Drew needs to get back on track.  Hopefully, it's not too late.

Author Mike Lupica focuses on not only the game of basketball, but also on the mind of the athlete in TRUE LEGEND.  Many young athletes dream of a professional career, but all the attention and fame that come from being a legend can quickly derail many of those dreams.

Friday, September 21, 2012

DEVIANTS: THE DUST CHRONICLES by Maureen McGowan

The world as we know it has changed.  After being hit by asteroids, the only safe place to live is under the dome.  Glory and her brother Drake live in Haven and exist with the help of monthly rations and Glory's ability to capture rats to supplement their meager diet.

The teens' mother is dead and they also believe their father is dead.  After becoming a threat to his family, he was exed or expunged.  Now Glory lives in fear of being exed herself. 

The dust resulting from the asteroids causes mutation in human DNA creating what are known as deviants.  Glory is a deviant.  If she loses control of her emotions, especially anger, she has the ability to kill with a simple look.  Being discovered could mean the end for her. 

Glory must take extreme risks to insure her survival and that of her brother.  Being a deviant is only one of her problems.  Drake is unable to take care of himself.  After a mysterious incident with their father, Drake was left paralyzed from the waist down.  Glory must keep his condition a secret because the disabled are considered a drain on society. 

Glory's troubles increase when a stranger named Burn appears with news that her father is still alive.  Can she trust this stranger?  Does she want to be reunited with the man she blames for her brother's handicap?  According to Burn, she doesn't have a choice.  He is about to take Glory and Drake to places they never knew existed.  Hopefully, they can survive as they try to escape the Comps and the Shredders.

DEVIANT is the first book in the Dust Chronicles series by author Maureen McGowan.  She has created a frightening new world where life is hard and dangerous.  Watch for DEVIANT in bookstores October 30.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

PERFECT ESCAPE by Jennifer Brown

I often hear people say something triggers their OCD tendencies.  It usually involves organizing something or a superstition about some upcoming event or activity.  The person mentioning this is most likely referring to a minor quirky behavior that makes them feel a bit self-conscious or has been commented on by a friend.  To truly understand the serious effects of OCD, I suggest you read Jennifer Brown's new book titled PERFECT ESCAPE.

Kendra's older brother Grayson suffers from severe OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  His condition has caused him to leave school by his junior year, enter treatment facilities numerous times, and totally change the dynamics of family life for Kendra and her parents.  For as long as Kendra can remember, Grayson has gotten all her parents' attention and interfered with family activities.  Kendra has learned to stay focused on trying to be the perfect child.  Her goal is to do all the things Grayson can't and make her parents proud.

In her effort to maintain her perfection, Kendra finds herself deeply involved in a cheating ring near the end of her senior year.  When it appears her involvement might be discovered, Kendra panics.  She heads to the nearby quarry that has frequently offered sanctuary for her brother, and she climbs the fence hoping to forget her troubles.  Instead, Kendra discovers her brother, newly released from a treatment program, obsessively counting rocks.  Something snaps in Kendra.  She coaxes her brother into the car and starts driving.  The farther they get from home and all their problems, the more Kendra realizes that distance might just be the answer.

Without sharing her plans with Grayson, Kendra decides to drive from Missouri to California to seek help from their best friend Zoe.  Zoe and her parents had once been their neighbors, but Grayson's condition caused an irreparable rift between the families, and they packed up and move away.  Now Kendra is convinced that seeing and talking to Zoe again will solve her problems and spending time with her brother will allow her to cure his OCD.  Thus begins their adventure.

Author Jennifer Brown once again explores serious issues using relatable characters in a story teens won't be able to put down.  PERFECT ESCAPE will not disappoint her many fans.

Monday, September 10, 2012

UNWHOLLY by Neal Shusterman

The frightening world of UNWIND continues.  Neal Shusterman's UNWHOLLYis book #2 in the sci-fi thriller trilogy.  Picking up where UNWIND left off, readers follow the key characters and are introduced to new ones as well as breath-taking, non-stop action.

Connor, known for escaping the fate of unwinding, is now leading the AWOL's who live in an aircraft graveyard in the desert.  Still struggling with his own demons, Connor is trying to keep things together for hundreds of under seventeen year olds.  If each one can reach the age of seventeen, they can legally escape unwinding.  Connor is hoping to keep their location a secret, but more and more he is becoming convinced that the Juvie police are aware of their existence and are simply toying with them.

Lev, famous for being the clapper who survived, is working in Connor's organization.  He finds himself paired with Miracolina who is determined to follow through with her unwinding.  She was "rescued" but believes the destiny assigned to her at birth should be honored.  Lev and Miracolina find themselves partners even though they seem to be fighting for two different causes.

Risa has long been in love with Connor but refuses to show it lest it be seen as a sign of weakness.  Confined to a wheelchair since the explosion at the unwinding camp, she still refuses the surgery that could make her whole again because she refuses to take a spine from an unwound teen.  However, when she is captured while rushing with an injured AWOL to the hospital, she becomes part of a plot to improve public perception toward unwinding.

Orchestrated by a woman known as Roberta, the plan of the new organization was to create a complete human from unwound parts.  The experiment is a success, and the result is a unique individual named Cam.  Part of the group's plan is to choose a suitable partner for Cam, and Risa is their choice.  She is horrified by the idea of Cam and vows to figure out a way to escape.

UNWHOLLY is another masterpiece by author Neal Shusterman.  He has a unique talent for taking bizarre ideas and adding just the right touch of reality that make reading his work a chilling experience.  Readers will be thinking about UNWHOLLY long after they turn the last page, and they will be waiting breathlessly for book #3.



Sunday, September 2, 2012

THE ADVENTURES OF STANLEY DELACOURT: BOOK 1 OF HARTLANDIA by Ilana Waters

Stanley Delacourt is a librarian, but he's not just any librarian.  Raised by an elderly librarian after the death of his parents, Stanley actually lives and works in the library.  Only a teen he is still an authority on every book under his care, and he commands an unusual respect for someone so young.

Stanley's life in Hartlandia is simple yet fulfilling.  His friends include Sophie and Will.  Sophie is an apprentice to the local apothecary.  Actually, the old apothecary has pretty much retired leaving Sophie to handle the business.  She is well-trained and does an excellent job, only getting frustrated with annoying customers.  Will works on his grandparents' farm.  Compared to his friends, Stanley and Sophie, his job is a physical one, but he has the necessary strength and stamina to do it well.

As the adventure begins, the three friends are attending the local festival.  They witness a surprise win in the annual boat race and enjoy the other entertainment and delicious food of the festival.  As the events are winding down, the young winner of the boat race approaches them asking for help.  He has lost his winning medal in a nearby meadow.  After searching a short time, Stanley and Sophie must return to their respective jobs leaving Will to continue the search.

The following morning Stanley and Sophie receive devastating news.  Will is dead.  It appears he has been murdered by soldiers under the command of an evil substitute ruler.  Stanley and Sophie vow to avenge their friend.  Not long after, Stanley's beloved library is burned to the ground by the same evil ruler, angering Stanley even further. 

What follows is an adventure that takes Stanley to strange and dangerous places.  He encounters an odd principal and an unusual school, magic, satyrs, and much more.  Sophie who stays at home in Hartlandia has her own share of adventure as she waits impatiently for her friend's return.

THE ADVENTURES OF STANLEY DELACOURT is a new middle grade fantasy adventure by author Ilana Waters.  As yet only available in ebook format, it is the beginning of a series that is sure to thrill many middle grade fantasy fans.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

MY LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE by Natasha Friend

I am so glad to be able to begin a new school year with a new Natasha Friend novel.  Her books are incredibly popular with the girls in my classroom, and they are going to love this one.

MY LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE begins with a car accident that changes the life of one teenage girl.  Lexi, angry at her best friend Taylor, makes the decision to accept a ride from Taylor's brother, and that ride ends with Lexi's face smashing into the windshield.

Used to getting all the attention by being the beautiful girl in the room, now Lexi is struggling with a disfiguring facial injury.  When she is finally released from the hospital, she becomes a sort of hermit spending all her time dressed in her pajamas and refusing to leave her room.  No amount of coaxing from friends or family members can convince Lexi to resume her active teenage life.

Lexi is filled with hate.  She hates her best friend, and because of that friend's actions back on the night of the fateful party, Lexi also hates her boyfriend.  None of their apologies carry any weight for Lexi.  She is sure life is over and only reluctantly begins the new school year because her father warns her that missing any more days will require that she repeat the year after her fellow classmates have moved on.

The painful experiences Lexi encounters after her life changing accident will either make her a stronger and better person or will destroy her from the inside out.  Is is possible to forgive?  Is it possible to move on?

Natasha Friend is a master of realistic fiction.  Once again she takes on a subject with teenage appeal and creates a page-turner that will take readers deep into the life of her characters.  I will be book talking this one on the first day and it won't be gathering any dust on the shelf until every girl has gotten her hands on it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

LIFE HAPPENS NEXT by Terry Trueman

At the end of Terry Trueman's STUCK IN NEUTRAL, readers were left to decide if Shawn's father would kill him.  LIFE HAPPENS NEXT gives them the answer.

Shawn is alive and well.  Well, as alive and well as can be expected for an about to be fifteen year old with severe cerebral palsy.  Shawn has never walked, talked, or been able to care for himself.  Only his dreams and his grand mal seizures offer him a chance to feel free of the body that holds him prisoner. 

Glad to be alive, Shawn is still looking for a reason that would explain why someone with such a disability would even be born.  He gets some pleasure from watching his brother and sister enjoying life.  They include him as much as they can.  Shawn thinks he might have found a reason to live as he watches his sister's friend Ally.  She is amazing, and he just might be in love with her.

It doesn't take long for Shawn to realize that Ally has eyes for his brother, and the feelings seem to go both ways.  Frustrating as it is, Shawn tries to take comfort in knowing his brother is a good choice for Ally and they seem happy. 

When a forty-one year old woman with Down syndrome moves in, Shawn is fascinated with the idea of sharing his home with another "retarded" person.  What is most interesting is that Shawn discovers Debi may not seem connected to the world around her, but she actually sees more deeply than anyone.  She may be the only person to understand what life is like for Shawn.

Author Terry Trueman wowed me when I first read STUCK IN NEUTRAL in 2000.  Through the years it has inspired many of my students.  I never thought about the possibility of a sequel other than CRUISE CONTROL told from the point of view of Shawn's brother.  I'm so glad Trueman chose to continue Shawn's story, and I can't wait to share it with others.



Monday, August 20, 2012

TRIANGLES by Ellen Hopkins

After learning that TILT was a companion to Ellen's adult novel TRIANGLES, I needed to read it to get the full picture.  This is definitely an adult novel on many levels, however, readers who discovered Ellen at the very beginning of her career will no doubt be interested in check this one out.

TRIANGLES begins the story that connects to the teens in TILT.  The focus in TRIANGLES is on three women and the complications they are dealing with in their lives.  The teens in TILT are the children of these women and are suffering the backlash of some of the adults' decisions as well as problems of their own making.

The two novels connect well but can easily be read separately.  Teens can read and appreciate TILT without needing to read the earlier adult novel.  (See previous post for a review of TILT.)


Saturday, August 18, 2012

TILT by Ellen Hopkins

Thank you Goodreads giveaway for giving me the opportunity to read and review TILT by Ellen Hopkins.  It was my first Goodreads giveaway win!

For three teens the world is tilting out of control.  Ellen Hopkins gives voice to Harley, Shane, and Mikayla and relates their struggles to hold on to what remains of their lives despite the messes created by the adults in their world.

Harley's dad is about to remarry and her mother attempts to hid her unhappiness with fanatic workouts when she isn't focused on her writing.  When Lucas starts paying attention to Harley, she is amazed that someone so cool would be interested in her.  His gentle concern soon turns daring as he takes Harley over to the wild side.  Even warnings from her best friend and her soon to be step-brother aren't enough to convince Harley to slow things down.

Shane is getting involved with his first boyfriend.  It doesn't set well with his father, but Shane is quick to remind dear old dad that just when his wife needs him, he has been noticeably absent.  Shane's mother has spent five long years caring for his terminally ill little sister, and with the end near, she sure could use more support than her teenage son is able to give. 

Then there's Mikayla.  She is deeply in love with Dylan.  He is everything to her.  The relationship has become serious enough to involve sex.  Dylan is always responsible and prepared with a condom until one night that changes Mikayla's life forever.  She is now pregnant and struggling with what to do.  Dylan threatens their relationship will be over if she doesn't have an abortion, but she can't go through with it.  True to his word, Dylan is gone, and Mikayla is left deciding how and when to tell her parents and friends the truth.

TILT is a companion novel to Ellen Hopkins's adult novel TRIANGLES.  The three teens in TILT are the children of characters dealing with their own personal pain and poor decisions.  Hopkins's fans who became serious followers since reading her first novel CRANK, will be glad to know that they can continue to follow her through her adult novels, too.



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

MAY B. by Caroline Starr Rose

May B. would love to be a school teacher some day, but school isn't easy for her.  Reading is her biggest challenge.  If the time was 2012 instead of the pioneer days on the Kansas prairie, her teacher would recognize she has a reading disability and probably suggest a remediation program to address the problem and help May.  Unfortunately, her teacher announces that May is just not able to learn, embarrassing May and dashing her dreams.

Even though reading is difficult, May carefully packs her school materials as she prepares to leave home.  Her family's failed wheat crop has resulted in her father's decision to send May to a neighboring homestead fifteen miles away to help the Oblingers.  Her responsibilities include cooking, cleaning, and helping Mrs. Oblinger who is barely older than May herself to manage the household duties.  May isn't thrilled, but she knows the money she earns will help her family.

What May and her family don't plan on is that Mrs. Oblinger will hate homestead living causing her to run away.  Mr. Oblinger follows his wife hoping to bring her back, but neither return leaving May alone in the shabby sod house as winter sets in.  Will she survive?  Can she travel the fifteen miles home on her own in the middle of the Kansas winter?

Author Caroline Starr Rose paints a stark picture of May's prairie world.  Harsh conditions, back-breaking chores, and loneliness combine to make the pioneer life a nightmare for most.  MAY B. is written in verse and quickly pulls the reader into May's world.  Excellent for anyone with an interest in historical fiction or simply in search of a good story.


Monday, August 13, 2012

WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corey Whaley

This is one of those books that really makes me admire authors.  The teaser on the back cover promises that the lives of two characters will collide creating a "harrowing climax."  How do authors do that?  Written in a style with alternating chapters, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how author John Corey Whaley would connect these characters, but he did.  Amazing!

Cullen Witter lives in a small Arkansas town changed forever when a famous ornithologist believes he has spotted a long extinct woodpecker.  All the excitement about the bird eclipses the fact that Cullen's cousin recently OD'd and his younger brother has simply vanished.  Cullen watches as his parents and his aunt mourn their losses while at the same time he tries to hold himself together. 

The other storyline in WHERE THINGS COME BACK begins with Benton Sage, a young missionary.  Readers will follow him to college and his eventual disillusionment with religion.  After his suicide, his roommate Cabot and his problems become the focus.

Death, disappearance, lost love, and a town hoping to make history combine to create a unique story that will keep readers hooked until the final page.  I can see why this one won the 2012 Michael L. Printz award.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

SKINNY by Donna Cooner

Review ARC ebook courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: 10-1-12

Readers will want to head out to the bookstore or library on October 1 to grab a copy of SKINNY by debut author Donna Cooner.  According to the acknowledgment notes, Cooner included a bit of herself as she created Ever Davies.  Having undergone gastric bypass surgery herself, she is able to provide a realistic view of Ever's experience.

Ever weighs 302 pounds.  She had always been a chubby girl, but since her mother's death and her father's decision to remarry, Ever has eaten her way to her largest size yet. 

Diets have never worked for Ever.  She loses a few pounds and then puts it right back on.  She is tired of being invisible as she listens to other girls complain about their excess weight as they strut around in their size 0 jeans.  No one talks to her unless they bump into her in the hall and taunt her about her size.  She dreams of being smaller and finally being able to talk to Jackson, a childhood friend who doesn't seem to remember she even exists.

Ever does have the support of Rat, another longtime friend and neighbor.  When she begins contemplating the idea of gastric surgery, his fascination with all things science gives her the final encouragement to take the risk.  With Rat's support and the support of her father and step-mother, Ever makes arrangements to leave school five weeks early to have the surgery she hopes will change her life.

It is made clear that because of her long history of unsuccessful dieting, she does qualify for the procedure which is usually not performed on someone her age.  The risk factors are carefully explained and precise instructions are given for her recovery and future weight loss success.  Ever knows everything depends on her will power and dedication.

SKINNY takes readers through the experience of one girl determined to change her life.  Ever's emotional struggle with inner voices and periodic lack of self-confidence show how difficult weight loss can be.  Donna Cooner's combination of wit and determination make Ever's story an inspiration.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

THE OTHER NORMALS by Ned Vizzini

THE OTHER NORMALS by Ned Vizzini is going to be just the ticket for reluctant readers with a passion for online role playing games.  I already have a few in mind and can't wait to share it with them when school starts.

Perry Echert's story starts out in typical RPG form.  His parents think he spends too much time playing Creatures & Caverns.  They are concerned about his lack of social skills and what they see as his total lack of friends.  They decide the answer is summer camp.

When Perry arrives at Camp Washiska Lake he is shocked at the search and seizure tactics of the camp officials.  Game-playing books, electronics, and even comic books are off limits.  When he spots the familiar face of a recent acquaintance from school, he thinks maybe things might not be too bad, but he is soon proven wrong.  Sam, a fellow gamer, seems intent on ignoring Perry.

Camp is just as frightening as Perry imagined until a trip into the woods lands him in another world.  The characters and creatures he is used to interacting with online are now real, and they insist he must help them save their world.  They are asking the impossible.  To save their princess, he will need to return to the world of Camp Washiska Lake and kiss the girl of his dreams.  How will he be able to make friends with her, gain her confidence, and kiss her when he can barely talk to her? 

Readers will follow Perry from one world to another and join him in his quest as he battles creatures and learns how to navigate in a reality that resembles his online hobby.  Author Ned Vizzini's ability to use humor and create a completely believable nerdy fifteen year old made THE OTHER NORMALS a captivating read even for this reader who has never played a role playing game.  Look for it in bookstores this October.

Monday, August 6, 2012

DRESS YOUR MARINES IN WHITE by Emmy Laybourne

Author Emmy Laybourne has written a short story connected to her novel MONUMENT 14.  It is a chilling side-story concerned with testing done on the chemical/biological weapon released during the apocalytic event in MONUMENT 14. 

In DRESS YOUR MARINES IN WHITE scientists at NORAD have scheduled a test of a compound known as MORS.  The frightening events surrounding the test are recalled in a report being written by one of the scientists.  Unable to forget the horror, he relives the terror as he explains following the orders of his superiors, getting set for the test, and remembering the Leavenworth prisoners used as test subjects.

The information in this brief story makes the events in MONUMENT 14 even more meaningful and terrifying.  It will provide great supplemental material in my plan to use Laybourne's novel with my 9th graders this fall. 

DRESS YOUR MARINES IN WHITE is available in ebook format for only 99 cents!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

THE HUNCHBACK OF NEIMAN MARCUS: A NOVEL ABOUT MARRIAGE, MOTHERHOOD, AND MAYHEM by Sonya Sones

Sonya Sones's books are well likely by my students.  Her topics hit the mark and being written in verse appeals to reluctant readers making her stories a great stepping stone to other material.  When I saw she had written an adult book, I headed to the library immediately.

I found out I would have to get the book through the inter-loan process so I placed my request.  I got the book yesterday and finished it last night!  It was a fun read and once again - hit the mark!

Holly is turning fifty!  She isn't handling it well.  Her body image has been dealt a cruel blow which she describes in all too familiar detail, her only child is about to leave for college, and her mother is hospitalized more than halfway across the country.  While juggling all this, Holly is also struggling with the book she is writing.  She is overdue on her deadline and her editor is pestering her nonstop.  Everything conspires to interrupt her writing. 

Her husband, who is an artist and also works at home, has a knack for disturbing her peace and quiet.  He seems to be trying not to annoy her but manages to aggravate her with his mere presence more and more.  One minute she is freaking out because he obviously is having an affair with one the mother of one of their daughter's classmates or the slippers he never puts away conspire to trip her in the dark.  Just as she imagines "spending his insurance money," he steps up and helps her through another crisis.

In THE HUNCHBACK OF NEIMAN MARCUS Sonya Sones includes all the frightening moments of growing older as well as the joys of watching our children succeed, the appeal of pleasant memories, and the comfort we find from those who know us best.  I am thrilled to know that teens who read and love her as an author now will be able to continue enjoying her work as they too grow up and grow old.

Friday, July 27, 2012

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

I'm ashamed to say I saw the movie first and then read the book.  I don't usually do that, but when THE HELP first came out, I shrugged it off as just another "grown-up" book I didn't have time to read. 

The movie was fantastic!  I laughed and cried my way through it, probably embarrassing myself, but fortunately went with some understanding friends and my daughter who expects me to become too emotionally involved.  With that said, I decided I should take the time to read the book. 

If you haven't heard about it or seen the movie, here is a brief summary.

It's the early 1960's.  A young Mississippi white woman returns home from college and gets a job writing a household hints column for the local newspaper.  Since Skeeter was raised in a white household with a black maid, she doesn't have a clue about cooking and cleaning.  She approaches the maid of one of her friends and asks for advice. 

Each time she talks with Aibileen she discovers more and more reasons to admire the thankless work these black women do for totally ungrateful white women.  For Skeeter the newspaper column is just temporary.  Her dream is to become a full-fledged journalist and some day write a book.  That day seems to be coming sooner than she thinks as she contemplates the idea of telling the stories of the these hardworking, dedicated family servants.

Aibileen reluctantly agrees to share her stories with Skeeter and over time convinces other maids to share their experiences.  This simple idea seems harmless, but Skeeter recognizes that the more these women share the good and the bad of working for white families, the more danger there is.  If they are discovered they could not only lose their jobs but risk the safety of themselves and their families.

Author Kathryn Stockett alters voices as Skeeter, Aibileen and another maid named Minny share their stories.  Set in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, there are shocking moments, disgusting behaviors, heart-wrenching events, and laugh-out-loud antics that reveal the life and times of Jackson, Mississippi during the early 60's and before.  Now, having read the book, I can say I believe the movie did the work justice.  With each scene I could visualize the events unfolding just as they did on the big screen.  My compliments to the director and screenwriter.

As a last comment I will include the fact that I will be teaching 9th grade English for the first time in my 34 year teaching career, and I am thrilled to say that I will be including THE HELP in my curriculum.  I've decided it will be a perfect follow-up to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and will provide another take on an important part of U.S. history.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

TWO BOOKS BY TRACI L. JONES...

I've now read all three of the books by author Traci L. Jones.  They are perfect for middle grade girls.  Each features a strong female protagonist determined to reach her goal.

In STANDING AGAINST THE WIND Patrice Williams must leave her grandmother's home in Georgia and move to Chicago with her mother.  After only eight short weeks, Patrice's mother ends up in prison leaving Patrice with an aunt she barely knows. 

Patrice hates Chicago.  It is cold and windy.  She spends her days working hard to earn straight A's in school, keeping her aunt's apartment clean, cooking meals on time, and taking care of her two younger cousins.  When the principal suggests that Patrice apply for a scholarship contest to an African-American boarding school in the South, Patrice believes it may be her only chance to make something of her life.  She is determined to complete the application on time and win one of the coveted scholarships.

It is 1975 in FINDING MY PLACE.  Tiphanie Baker's father receives a promotion which requires the family move from the heart of Denver, Colorado, to the suburbs.  Tiphanie is one of only two black students attending ninth grade at Brent Hills High.  She misses her old life.  Her parents insist that given time she will be just as comfortable here as she was in Denver. 

Tiphanie struggles as she attempts to fit in to her new surroundings.  Not only does she have to make a place for herself in Brent Hills, but she also finds that on visits back to her old neighborhood, she no longer fits in there.  Through it all, she is determined to "find her place."

Author Traci L. Jones's last book is SILHOUETTED BY THE BLUE.  You can read my review of that book here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

BETWEEN THE LINES by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer

Author Jodi Picoult and her teenage daughter Samantha Van Leer have written a book together.  Based on an idea Samantha pitched to her mother, BETWEEN THE LINES is a great way to introduce YA readers to Picoult.

Delilah would love to spend all her time reading and avoid the disappointing real world as much as possible.  Recently, she has been hooked on what most people would say she is too old to be reading.  She has been reading a fairy tale called Between the Lines.  In fact she has been reading and re-reading it so much she has it memorized. 

One day while reading page 43 where the hero of the story, Prince Oliver, is scaling a rocky cliff, Delilah is startled to see the words "help me" scratched onto the page where there hasn't been anything before.  Beginning with that message, she finds herself able to communicate with Oliver.  He speaks with her from the pages of his story, and she is able to chat with him from wherever she is reading the book.

Delilah quickly learns that Oliver's "help me" is an appeal to be released from the pages of the book.  He wants more than anything to be able to leave those pages and live a real life.  Delilah finds Oliver extremely attractive and just the answer to her own loneliness.  Together, the two try to figure out how a fictional character might be released from the printed page.

BETWEEN THE LINES takes readers into both worlds - Delilah's reality and Oliver's fictional story of dragons and damsels in distress.  The magical idea that characters in a book are meant to playact their story when the pages are open but go back to their own interesting activities when the book is closed, offers a fascinating concept for readers to consider.  I may never look at characters the same way again.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

LIES, KNIVES, AND GIRLS IN RED DRESSES by Ron Koertge




Beware!  This is not your normal fairy tale collection. 

Author Ron Koertge recaps the action of some well-known tales, but he adds a twist...a dark, morbid twist.  Readers will be hooked with the Once Upon a Time beginning, but they shouldn't expect the old standby ending of Lived Happily Ever After.

Each tale represented in the anthology highlights what, according to Koertge, likely happened after the last page was turned.  Endings that include death, dismemberment, or lives continued but headed down the decidedly wrong path.

LIES, KNIVES, AND GIRLS IN RED DRESSES is 87 pages of free verse with intense black papercut illustrations.  It plays off society's penchant for tidying up those fairy tales of old and taking off some of the "edge" that really made them tales to remember.  Koertge's versions are not for the faint-of-heart or for those in search of the "politically correct."

THE OBSIDIAN BLADE by Pete Hautman

If you are looking for a great new sci-fi adventure, then check out THE OBSIDIAN BLADE by Pete Hautman.  It is Book #1 of what I'm going to guess will be a trilogy.

Tucker is living a fairly uneventful life in Hopewell.  His father is the pastor of a local church and his mother is...well a bit different, but he loves her anyway.

Then Tucker sees the disk.  It appears to be hovering above the roof as his father ascends a ladder to investigate some damaged shingles.  Suddenly, Tucker's father disappears!

A thorough search of the property and the town leave Tucker at a loss until the day his father mysteriously appears walking down the road beside a strange young girl.  Life isn't so uneventful anymore.

The girl is adopted by a neighboring family, and Tucker watches as his mother becomes more bizarre.  His father keeps preaching sermons every Sunday, but admits to his own family that he no longer believes. 

Then the day arrives when both of Tucker's parents vanish, leaving him behind.  He finds a note left on his pillow explaining that his Uncle Curtis will be coming soon to take him away.  When his Harley-riding uncle arrives, Tucker doesn't have much choice but to join him.

THE OBSIDIAN BLADE is filled with floating, shimmering disks that suck in unsuspecting folk and deposit them in another time and place.  Tucker is sure his parents are in one of these places, but he must learn more about this time-travel business before he can make his way to them, if he ever can.  Author Pete Hautman blends reality and fantasy into a masterful story with incredible twists and turns that will take readers back into great moments in history, but it's history with a frightening twist.

Friday, July 13, 2012

BUTTER by Erin Jade Lange

Review ARC eBook courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: 9-18-12

Weighing in at over 400 lbs. Butter has a weight problem, and he knows it.  His mother is concerned but continues to cook his favorites and slip little goodies into his lunch sack.  His father doesn't really say much unless the absence of comment is his attempt at making a statement.

School is filled with verbal attacks or pointed isolation.  Butter knows the over sized desk in each room is there for him and him alone.  He is also grateful for the bench-style seating available at a few tables in the cafeteria.  Using one of the flimsy plastic chairs would be a sure way to gain unwanted attention.

Friends?  There is Tucker who Butter meets every summer at fat camp, but the last time he saw Tucker, the dude had dropped at least 50 pounds.  The only other relationship Butter has is his online connection to a girl named Anna.  The catch is Anna actually goes to school with Butter but doesn't know her online "boyfriend" is the 400 pound kid she sees every day.

All the negatives are piling up for Butter.  After a particularly humiliating incident in a fast food parking lot, Butter starts his own webpage.  He announces to his online audience that on New Year's Eve he plans to eat himself to death.  He is amazed at the number of followers this generates, and suddenly he begins to gain an odd popularity at school.  Now the question is will he really do it or not?

BUTTER is Erin Jade Lange's first YA novel.  I can't wait to read her next.  Butter is an incredibly likable character facing a problem many teens can easily relate to on a personal level.  Butter's reality fits right into current hot topics like bullying and obesity so it strikes just the right cord to attract teen interest.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

MIDDLE SCHOOL: GET ME OUT OF HERE by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts

The sequel to MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE is here!

Rafe learned a few things the hard way when he set out to break the rules in book #1, and now he has a new plan.  After a freak fire destroys the diner where his mother works, they move from their small town to the big city so his mom can hopefully find a job.

All this means Rafe, his little sister, and his mom will be living in cramped quarters in his grandmother's over-stuffed house.  Rafe is also going to a new school.  He'll be able to exercise his artistic talents because it is an art school, but things are not exactly what he expected.  There are all sorts of requirements along with the art classes, and he faces something known as a "crit" in which his artwork is criticized by his new classmates and teachers.  The pressure is really on.

Rafe thinks he has found a new friend, Matty the Freak.  At first he seems crazy and fun, but Rafe soon begins to wonder just what kind of friend this new character truly is. 

Living in the city offers Rafe another unique opportunity.  It may be possible to discover information about his long absent father.  If he can make the right contacts and ask the right questions, he may be able to learn what his mother has never been willing to share.

Complete with great cartoon illustrations, Rafe's new adventure should be a hit with fans of his first adventure and earn him some new ones.  This is a winner for any middle grade collection.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

SILHOUETTED BY THE BLUE by Traci L. Jones

Seventh grader Serena Shaw is moving on.  Her mother died in a car accident eighteen months ago.  Serena made it through the school year last year being the girl whose mom died.  This year she's hoping to make her mark by earning the lead role in the school musical The Wiz.

Just when Serena thinks she is going to start living again, her father decides he's not.  Her mother always explained it as begin "blue."  Whatever it is, Serena's father hasn't taken a bath, gotten dressed, or left the house for days.  All the housework, food preparation, and care of her little brother Henry has fallen on Serena's shoulders.   

When Serena succeeds in landing the lead in the musical she knows after school practices will demand her time.  She needs to be able to count of her father to pick up Henry after school, start going to the grocery store, and begin fixing the meals.  In addition, he needs to get back to work as the great artist famous for his amazing book illustrations.  That's what Serena needs, but it is not what she is getting.  Her father is withdrawing farther every day.

SILHOUETTED BY THE BLUE by Traci L. Jones explores the world of depression and its effects on the family.  Readers will fall in love with the determined Serena on page one and will continuously root for her to succeed and hold her family together.


FREAKS LIKE US by Susan Vaught

ARC eBook courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: 9-4-12

Jason "Freak" Milwaukee and his friends ride the short bus.  They call themselves the Alphabets.  They've all been diagnosed with conditions like ADD, ADHD, OCD, ODD, or in Freak's case, schizophrenia.

Freak, Drip, and Sunshine have known each other since before elementary school.  They are now in high school and have learned to cope through behavior therapy and medication.  They put up with a lot in their daily lives, but at least they have each other.

On the way to their bus one afternoon, Freak and Drip once again witness a couple of bullies from their special ed classroom picking on Sunshine.  Sunshine is a selective mute so she suffers in silence as the two bullies attack her with taunts and suggestive slurs.  Freak and Drip hover over her protectively, and when they arrive at their drop off point, Freak considers walking her home, but she insists she's fine.

The next thing Freak knows Sunshine is gone!  Her mother calls asking if she is with Freak or if he has seen her because she never came home after school. 

The cops and soon the FBI are involved.  Freak's schizophrenia and Drip's ADHD complicate the questioning process, and it seems both are being considered suspects.  Freak tries to quiet the voices in his head so he can be helpful in the search, but he fears it might be too late to save his best friend.

Susan Vaught's FREAKS LIKE US give voice to those suffering from conditions most of us don't truly understand.  She takes readers into the mind of Jason "Freak" so they can sense his frustration as he tries to communicate what he knows but is afraid to reveal.  Presented in an hourly format of less than twenty-four hours, readers will be on the edge of their seats from start to finish.