Sunday, February 26, 2012

NERD CAMP by Elissa Brent Weissman

NERD CAMP by Elissa Brent Weissman is the winner of the Cybils Award for middle grade fiction.  After reading it this weekend, I'd agree it deserves this top spot.

Gabe is about to get a new brother.  He has begged for one for as long as he can remember and is surprised that his dad is the parent who has come through for him.  Gabe's parents have been divorced since he was just a baby, and now his dad is getting remarried.  His new wife has a son the same age as Gabe.  Zack will be the brother he has always wanted.

Gabe is also excited about going to sleep away camp for six weeks this summer.  The camp is called SCGE - Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment.  Unfortunately, his excitement is dampened when he meets his new brother Zack.  Zack is pretty cool, and Gabe is concerned that he might not be too interested in having a geek for a step-brother.  The idea of sleep away camp impresses Zack, but Gabe knows he will need to keep the nerd part a secret.

Author Elissa Brent Weissman captures Gabe's struggle as he experiences a fantastic time at summer camp but battles his natural instincts to hide his nerdiness because he has been conditioned to think it isn't cool.  NERD CAMP is for all those having difficulty embracing their true interests at the risk of being teased for being different.  Her descriptions of great camp activities and adventures should convince readers that everyone should do whatever comes naturally and not worry about the opinions of others.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

STARTERS by Lissa Price

ARC ebook courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: March 13, 2012

After the Spore Wars the only people left were the children and the elderly.  The children and teens are known as Starters.  Some of them still have family if they are lucky enough to have grandparents or elderly aunts or uncles will claim them, but most young people are classified as unclaimed minors.

The elderly range in age from 80 to 200 years old.  They have returned to the work force to keep the world running.  In fact, the young people are not allowed to work in order to assure there is enough work for the elderly known as Enders.

A new organization called Prime Destinations is marketing a new form of entertainment for the Enders.  Prime has developed a procedure that allows Enders to "rent" the body of a Starter and enjoy the young life once again.

The Starters undergo a brain operation to implant a special chip and agree to be used for three rentals.  The reward is the payment of a health sum of money or the promise of a house.  Having a house for her little brother is what convinces Callie to become part of the Prime program.  She thinks her three short rentals will allow her to give her sick brother a safe place to live.

What Callie didn't expect was for her Ender renter to begin "talking" to her during the rental.  The voice she hears belongs to Helena, and the elderly woman claims to know about some very frightening aspects of Prime Destinations' plans for the future.  She wants to use Callie to murder a Senator she insists is responsible for the disappearance of her granddaughter.  Callie knows the Enders aren't to be trusted, but Helena seems so sure about the danger facing the Starters.

Author Lissa Price has created an amazing future world.  In her future only the young and the elderly were given the vaccine to prevent infection from the deadly spores.  Imagining a world without parents might appeal to some readers, but when they experience this world through Price's characters, they will no doubt change their minds.  Price will also surprise her readers with her depiction of the mild-mannered elderly becoming wild and risk-taking when they take over the bodies of the young.  STARTERS is definitely a must-read!

Monday, February 20, 2012

WINNER OF VEGAN, VIRGIN, VALENTINE

 The winner of VEGAN, VIRGIN, VALENTINE by Carolyn Mackler is
     
                        *** RON ***

I'll be emailing Ron to let him know he's the lucky winner.

Watch for another contest coming soon!!!


ON THE DAY I DIED: STORIES FROM THE GRAVE by Candace Fleming

Review ARC courtesy of NetGalley.com.
Release date: July 10, 2012

ON THE DAY I DIED by Candace Fleming is the best bunch of ghost stories I've ever had the pleasure to read.  I wanted to savory each story, but at the same time, I couldn't wait to start reading the next one.

It all begins with Mike.  He picks up a young girl alongside the highway.  She appears to be drenched and tells a tale of a lake and a boat and a near drowning.  Mike proceeds to offer her a ride home and later drops her off at an isolated lane. 

Shortly after dropping her off, Mike glances at the floor on the passenger side of the car and sees a pair of saddle shoes.  Still the kind, Good Samaritan, Mike turns around and heads down the country lane.  When he arrives at the lone house at the end of the lane, he is greeted at the door by a woman who informs him that Carol Anne has been dead for fifty years.  If Mike truly wants to return her shoes, he'll have to take them to the cemetery.

Mike decides to do just that only to discover a decomposing pile of saddle shoes covering Carol Anne's grave.  He also discovers that the cemetery if filled with the graves of only young people.  And so begins his night of adventure as one by one the ghosts of those young people appear to share the tales of their final days.

Mike learns of fires, revenge, haunted wallpaper and a father's teeth, Al Capone, a possessed hood ornament, and even a monkey's paw.  Each story is more fascinating than the next.  The storytellers reveal the tragic circumstances of their deaths in often disturbing detail that is sure to captivate readers just as they captivated Mike.

Author Candace Fleming connects the dots from one story to the next in her comments at the end of the book.  All the stories have a Chicago backdrop even though they stretch from mid-1800 to the present.  ON THE DAY I  DIED would make a fine addition to any bookshelf.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

SEE YOU AT HARRY'S by Jo Knowles

Review copy courtesy of NetGalley.
Release date: 5/8/2012

Hungry for homemade ice cream?  Head over to Harry's.  Twelve year old Fern is getting sick and tired of hearing "See you at Harry's."  Her family owns the ice cream parlor/restaurant, and it is practically consuming their lives.

Twelve year old Fern has much to worry about.  She is starting middle school, but it's not just any middle school.  The school is two stories with the middle school on the first floor and the high school on the second.  For the first time she will be riding the bus with high school students.  She's hoping her older brother Holden will provide some moral support, but Holden has problems of his own.

In the meantime Fern's father has everyone scrambling as he works to create new promotional ads for the restaurant.  There's an embarrassing family picture scheduled and a crazy commercial that is sure to be a disaster.  Fern's mother is stressed and spends most of her day in meditation in the room up above the restaurant while Fern's eighteen year old sister makes out with Gil one of the kitchen helpers.  All this confusion means that three year old Charlie gets shuffled from one care giver to another.

On the morning little Charlie is discovered lifeless in his bed, everyone in the family is rocked with guilt.  How could everyone have been so focused on themselves that Charlie could end up dead?  Is it possible for life to continue when a piece of it is missing?

Author Jo Knowles outdoes herself in SEE YOU AT HARRY'S.  Filled with powerful emotional drama, the story takes readers into the heart of a family full of love but distracted by daily pressures.  The strength of love is tested as Fern's family struggles to survive one of the worst tragedies to strike a family.

DEADLY LITTLE VOICES by Laurie Faria Stolarz

DEADLY LITTLE VOICES is the fourth in the Touch novel series by Laurie Faria Stolarz.  Once again Camelia Hammond struggles with her psychometric powers. 

Now in addition to sensing the future with a simple touch, she is hearing voices.  These voices are far from kind and reassuring.  In fact, they are cruel and threatening.  Camelia tries to ignore the voices, but when they combine with a strong sense that a fellow classmate might be in mortal danger, Camelia is forced to admit they exist.

Her problems increase when Danica Pete, the girl she believes may be in danger, accuses Camelia of stalking her.  How is she supposed to protect someone who clearly hates her and doesn't what to have anything to do with her?

Camelia is also trying to come to terms with the fact that her Aunt Alexia is now living with them.  Aunt Alexia is the one person who could understand Camelia's situation since they share the same psychometric powers, but the power has taken a toll on her aunt leaving her unable to cope with the basic tasks of daily living.  She has been in and out of mental facilities for as long as Camelia can remember.  Camelia is now living with the underlying fear that she will eventually become like her disabled aunt.

Fans of the Touch novel series will find this fourth book fascinating.  Camelia is sure she is gaining control of her power, but things aren't always as they seem.  A note at the end announces that readers should watch for the final novel in the series, DEADLY  LITTLE LESSONS.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

THE STUTTERING TATTOO by Greg Logsted

NetGalley ARC
Release date: December 13, 2011

Steven's life changed the day Becky walked into his algebra class.  He was fascinated, but he was sure she was way out of his league.  However, she might just be the girl to get him out of his shell and into the high school social scene.

Steven lived with his dad and spent most of his time skating by in school and working on random construction projects with his friend Carlos Perez.  The work earned him some decent money, enough that he was able to restore an old motorcycle that gave him some independence and a fairly cool look.

The real adventure begins when Becky approaches Steven after school and asks for a ride home.  Having her behind him on the motorbike with her arms around him is a feeling Steven doesn't ever want to end.  Her house is in a nice neighborhood which is a bit intimidating, but when she assures Steven that no one is home, he begins to relax. 

Heading to the front door, Becky is concerned that the family dog hasn't appeared with his usual friendly greeting.  She insists that Steven needs to help her locate the missing dog.  It doesn't take long to find the animal at the the far reaches of the backyard.  His attention is focused on some object he has gripped in his jaws.  As Steven approaches, he is stunned to see that the dog is gnawing on a human arm.

What follows is an amateur investigation that leads Steven and his friend Carlos into some hair-raising situations.  Becky may not really be who she says she is, an evil man named Pa adds an element of danger to the mix, and Steven finds himself skipping school and lying to his father for the first time in his life.

Greg Logsted is the author of several other books for teens and young adults.  He takes his readers into a world filled with typical teenage behavior and at the same time, he puts his characters into highly charged, action-packed scenarios that are sure to hold even the attention of reluctant readers.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

Everyone knows the stories and horrors of the concentration camps in Europe in WWII, but many don't realize thousands of people suffered similar circumstances at the hands of Stalin, Russia's tyrannical ruler.  BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY tells of the Soviet secret police tearing people from their homes, crowding them like cattle onto trains, and transporting them across the continent to Siberia.

Fifteen year old Lina, her young brother, and their mother are given twenty minutes to pack their things before they are whisked away.  Packed into rail cars with the words "thieves and prostitutes," they begin a journey that will take most of them to their deaths.

Conditions were horrible.  Any food they were able to bring with them was quickly eaten leaving them to share one bucket of gray gruel once a day if they were lucky.  Drinking water came only when it rained and someone managed to catch the drops in a cup stuck through a crack in the side of the rail car.  They were surrounded by filth and forced to use a hole in the floor to relieve themselves.

After more than forty days of traveling, the survivors were unloaded and set to work in a labor camp where conditions were not much better than on the train.  Lina and her mother and brother worked and watched out for one another as they tried to keep up their spirits with the hope that they might one day be reunited with Lina's father.

This was only the beginning of the suffering for the people of the Baltic states.  Stalin's occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia targeted anyone considered to be anti-Soviet.  Doctors, lawyers, and teachers were among those taken from their homes and deported to labor camps and worse.  Lina and her brother and mother ended up north of the Arctic Circle in Siberia where even the grim determination to survive didn't guarantee they would ever see their homeland again.

Author Ruta Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, has created this powerful story of just how cruel human beings can be to one another.  It is the hope of such stories that civilized man will one day end move beyond cruelty and inhumane treatment, but it seems history has a habit of repeating itself.  We can only pray stories like these will not be needed in the future.

DEATH OF A DREAMER: THE ASSASSINATION OF JOHN LENNON by Alison Marie Behnke

NetGalley ARC
Release date: May 1, 2012
On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was assassinated by Mark David Chapman.  The world grieved along with John’s wife, Yoko Ono.  Everyone had lost an extremely talented musician and simply an interesting individual.

DEATH OF A DREAMER highlights the early life of John Lennon.  Raised by a beloved aunt and uncle, his artistic talent was revealed at a young age.  Always a rebel uncomfortable with authority, John didn’t do well in school, but instead, found music to be the outlet for his powerful thoughts and feelings.

Lennon got his musical feet wet in the then popular genre known as “skiffle.”  As a member of the group called the Quarrymen, he met Paul McCartney and then George Harrison.  The three would later join with Ringo Starr to become the infamous Beatles.

Author Alison Marie Behnke goes on to chronicle the high points in the history of the Beatles followed by the band’s later breakup.  Behnke details Lennon’s solo career and then the development of his musical partnership and marriage to Yoko Ono.  His political activism and sometimes controversial anti-religious statements may have fueled the fires of hatred in his assassin, Mark David Chapman.

The biography of Lennon then switches to the life and times of Mark David Chapman.  Chapman is portrayed as a likeable individual with an interest in working with children and young people.  Many of his acquaintances, including his wife, described his later violent action to be a surprise and not in character with who he really was.

Behnke paints a clear picture of the time leading up to Lennon’s death.  Chapman’s love of a book by J.D. Salinger titled THE CATCHER IN THE RYE appears to have provided at least part of his inspiration to murder the famous musician.  Whether or not Chapman was sane at the time of the killing was never officially determined, but his final plea of guilty led to his imprisonment and so far, all denials for parole.

DEATH OF A DREAMER is beautifully presented with attention to detail and a translation of events that will capture even young readers not familiar with the fame of both John Lennon and the man who killed him.  Behnke records the story in an easy-to-read narrative with just enough background to make the facts clear but not overburdened with detail.  The addition of the timeline and information about Lennon’s family and friends will help readers pull it all together into a seamless telling of recent history.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

GHOSTS IN THE FOG: THE UNTOLD STORY OF ALASKA'S WWII INVASION by Samantha Seiple


Did you know that Alaska was invaded by the Japanese during WWII?  Author Samantha Seiple tells the story of that little known invasion in GHOSTS IN THE FOG.
The invasion began on June 7, 1942.  The Japanese didn’t leave until more than one year later, and American and Alaskan native prisoners of war were still in the hands of the Japanese until the second half of 1945.  Most details of the attack and invasion were kept secret by the U.S. Navy.

The focus of the attack was the Aleutian Islands.  The inhabitants of the islands were made up of mostly native Alaskans and Eskimos.  Some military personnel lived there to man weather stations and lookout stations designed to report information to the American forces.  This harsh territory could have been an easy stepping stone for the Japanese to invade the lower United States. 

Although, their military presence was just limited to the islands, many Americans lost their lives and those natives lucky enough to survive the fighting and later imprisonment, lost all their possessions to looting by the Japanese and even the American soldiers.

GHOSTS IN THE FOG chronicles the attacks on various islands in the Aleutian chain and the ill-prepared U.S. troops.  The planes available were not always capable of dealing with the adverse weather conditions and were forced to fly well below safe altitudes in hopes of hitting their targets.  Food and supplies were scarce.  The troops and local natives lived in appalling conditions which often made becoming prisoners of war a more attractive proposition.

Readers who enjoy WWII nonfiction selections will find this new release filled with interesting information.  GHOSTS IN THE FOG makes one wonder how many other historical events have been under-reported by the government.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

POWERSLIDE by Jeff Ross


POWERSLIDE by Jeff Ross has a little something for everyone.  It begins with some hardcore skateboarding with tons of tricks and skater lingo.  A few chapters in the story turns into a survival adventure and will keep readers tuned in until the very last page.

Casey has a chance to be a stunt-double in an upcoming skate movie.  Not really interested in going off to college with some of his other friends, he sees the opportunity as a way to keep doing what he loves to do and make a little money besides.

Goat, an acquaintance of Casey's, is jealous of Casey's skateboarding success.  He thinks he has what it takes to be a stunt-double.  Goat challenges Casey to a competition to prove who has the most skill.  What follows are crazy stunts some of which involve illegal trespassing and threats of near fatal physical injuries.

POWERSLIDE is from the Orca Sports high interest/low level series.