Thursday, January 31, 2013


Ten year old Jamie doesn't really remember his sister Rose.  She was the twin of his sister Jas, but she died five years ago.  Her death was the result of a random terrorist bombing in a London park, and it tore their family apart.

Jamie and Jas are moving to a small country town with their father.  Their mother has chosen to go live a man she met at the support group for families of bombing victims.  Jamie hopes their parents will resolve their differences, but Jas tells him that probably won't happen.

Starting at a new school has Jamie on edge.  Making friends isn't one of his strengths even during good times so he is fairly certain he won't find any friends here.  Much to his surprise a pretty Muslim girl named Sunya seems eager to be his friend.  The only problem with having Sunya as a friend is that it was a Muslim group that took responsibility for the bombing that took the life of his sister.  If Jamie's father finds out he is friendly with a Muslim the world might end.

As Jamie and Jas struggle to carry on with daily life, their father drowns his grief in alcohol.  Months pass with Jamie continuing to hold out hope that his mother will visit and life will return to normal.  He silent suffers the taunts of bullies at school with only the support of his rocky new friendship with the little Muslim girl.

MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE by Annabel Pitcher is a tender, poignant story of love and loss and what it takes to carry on.

Monday, January 28, 2013

SOMETHING ROTTEN: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery by Alan Gratz

Looking for a good mystery?  How about one with a quirky resemblance to Shakespeare's Hamlet?  SOMETHING ROTTEN is just the ticket!

The setting is Denmark, Tennessee.  Hamilton Prince's father has died under mysterious circumstances.  Hamilton's mother doesn't waste any time getting married to her dead husband's brother and even less time making sure he becomes her partner in the family paper mill business. 

Enter Hamilton and his friend from boarding school, Horatio Wilkes.  The two are all set to spend the summer lounging around the pool at the Prince mansion until they end up trying to solve a murder and get to the bottom of the pollution problem caused by the Elsinore Paper Company. 

At first Horatio thinks his rich friend is acting like a spoiled brat as he orders around the family servants and drinks whatever alcohol he can get his hands on.  When Hamilton tells Horatio he thinks his father was murdered, Horatio dismisses it as drunken rambling.  That is until they watch the videotape with Hamilton's father revealing that he was poisoned.

Horatio is determined to help his friend find out the truth.  Suspicious of Mrs. Prince and her new husband, wondering about a servant with a fake Mexican accident, and discovering the local police may be involved, Horatio begins collecting clues and making connections.  Will he be able to make sense of what he finds or is he in over his head?

Author Alan Gratz has created a true "who done it" style mystery that is perfect for teens.  Horatio is a likable teen detective sure to connect with teen readers, and those familiar with Hamlet will be entertained by Gratz's fun take on the famous bard's tale.  Those who enjoy this story will be pleased to know Horatio appears again in another Gratz offering titled SOMETHING WICKED.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


OCTOBER MOURNING by Leslea Newman is a tribute to Matthew Shepard who was the victim of an ugly hate crime on October 6, 1998.  Newman uses a collection of poems to relate her historical fiction version of what may have happened on that fateful night. 

Matthew's story is told from multiple perspectives including witnesses, his killers, the truck used to transport a terrified Matthew, and even the fence at the scene of the crime.  Newman imagines how everyone and everything reacts to the horrible events surrounding Matthew's death.

It has been some time since I have read a book this powerful.  Filled with raw emotion, OCTOBER MOURNING will help Matthew's story live on and remind all readers that hate has no place in the world.


Against the odds, Alex and Kevin became childhood friends.  Alex was the athlete and Kevin was the smart kid everyone else picked on.  Their friendship became one of those that was bound to last a lifetime, only that lifetime was cut short when Kevin was killed by a drunk driver.

Alex witnessed the horrible accident and was crippled by guilt.  After Kevin's death, Alex's life became very dark.  His parents and teachers were worried about him as his grades dropped, he withdrew and even contemplated suicide. 

When therapy doesn't help, his parents decide to send him to a summer camp for troubled teens.
Sure that the camp idea will be a complete waste of time, Alex is surprised when the clear lake, tall trees, and some great new friends combine to help him find a reason to keep living.  Alex meets Rachel, a girl at the camp for mysterious reasons, and the relationship that results promises to change Alex's life forever.

Author M. Scott Carter explores love and loss and the pain associated with both.  This powerful story will stay with readers long after the final page.

Friday, January 25, 2013


My students are hoping to make a connection with Mitch Albom, author of TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE.  We would love the opportunity to have a Skype chat with him.

Come visit our fan page on Facebook.  "Like" us and leave a comment.

Monday, January 21, 2013

CRASH: VISIONS Book One by Lisa McMann

Some high school students might see a job at a pizza place as a quick way to make some cash.  For Jules pizza is a way of life.  Her family owns a pizza place/Italian restaurant.  But add to that the fact that they live in the apartment above the restaurant, and Jules and her siblings drive to school in a food truck complete with two giant meatballs on the roof, and you can see why Jules' life may involve too much pizza.

When Jules starts seeing the vision of a crash and explosion in the billboard she passes every day, she chalks it up to exhaustion from going to school and working every night.  When she begins seeing the vision in every street sign and store window, she worries it might mean something else.  Her grandfather's suicide and her father's battle with depression and hoarding have her thinking perhaps she will be the next one in the family to lose it.

The vision is beginning to interfere with her daily life, and as it becomes clearer, it becomes more disturbing.  A snowplow crashes into a building and nine body bags appear.  Details begin to surface that allow Jules to recognize the building as the restaurant of a rival Italian family, and even more disturbing, one of the body bag opens to reveal the son of the owner, a boy Jules has secretly loved since grade school.  It seems impossible to get rid of the vision so Jules becomes determined to find a way to prevent the accident hoping that will stop the frightening images.

Author Lisa McMann has another sure hit with CRASH, and I was thrilled to see it is the opener for a new series.  McMann combines likable characters, a little romance, a bit of humor, and just the right amount of the supernatural to make CRASH a riveting read.  I couldn't put it down and can't wait for Book #2.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

HOUSE OF SECRETS by Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini

There has been an incident and the Walker family must relocate.  The realtor is about to show them the Kristoff House in an area known as Sea Cliff.  Since moving is the last thing the children Cordelia, Brendan, and Eleanor want; they are suspicious when the realtor gushes about how fabulous this house is.

Sea Cliff is no joke.  Kristoff House is balanced precariously on a cliff with portions of the structure supported by stilts and something described as "earthquake" barrels.  The family is promised that the elaborate house is perfectly safe and has survived previous disasters unscathed.

A fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge impresses the potential buyers, but before they even enter the house, Brendan is spooked by an angel statue in the garden.  No one listens to his worries which should have been taken as a warning of times to come.

Inside, the place is amazing.  It is fully furnished with elegant appointments including an amazing library that captures the attention of Cordelia.  This place might not be so bad after all.  The asking price is too good to pass up, and the sale is quickly made. 

The family has barely moved in when disaster strikes.  In a freak accident the children's parents disappear leaving only bloody traces behind.  What follows is total chaos!  Cordelia, Brendan, and Eleanor begin a series of adventures that have them battling colossal giants and pirates as they struggle to stay alive in a house that soon becomes a vehicle of sorts.  When book loving Cordelia discovers they have become part of some story created by the house's original owner, the children's quest becomes one of finding the right story that will take them to their parents and reunite the Walker family.

Author Ned Vizzini teams up with movie director/producer Chris Columbus in creating this new fantasy adventure.  HOUSE OF SECRETS will be the first in a series of books sure to capture the attention of young adventure fans.  Set to release April 23, 2013, this is one to put on your to-be-read list.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Abby's parents explain that her father is having an operation to remove one of his kidneys.  He comes home from the hospital and seems a little tired, but other than a scar on his stomach, he doesn't seem any different.  Abby learns that he will be going back from time to time for treatments, but he assures her everything will be fine.

Life goes on.  Abby hangs around with her best friend Spence.  She goes to school and does her homework plus all the extra credit.  She fights with her brother and disagrees with her mother.  Her father's treatments are making him tired and sick, and one day her mother announces he will be retiring from his teaching job at the high school.

When Abby overhears a conversation that includes the word cancer, she knows that everything is not going to be fine.  The worst happens and her father dies.  Nothing seems real, and Abby keeps expecting him to walk through the door or be sitting in his recliner in the living room.  How can life go on without him?

Author Amy Ackley tells a story of loss that emphasizes the hard facts associated with grief.  As Abby's remaining family members experience the stages of grief, Ackley shows that each of us grieve in our own way and in our own time.  SIGN LANGUAGE is a powerful look at love and family and living after loss.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I FUNNY: A MIDDLE SCHOOL STORY by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Jamie Grimm is funny.  He has dreams of being a stand-up comic, although since he is in a wheelchair, he might have to become a sit-down comic instead.

Jamie lives with his aunt and uncle and their three children.  The oldest, Stevie, is a bully who picks on Jamie mercilessly.  Jamie has discovered that one way to deal with bullies is to hit them with a joke instead of a punch.  He's had some success but not with his vicious cousin.

Another uncle of Jamie's owns a seaside restaurant.  He encourages Jamie to follow his dream.  Jamie enters a local comedy contest and wins.  His uncle's customers encourage him to continue to the next level of the contest. 

I FUNNY is filled with great jokes and one liners, and readers will learn how humor can help even in some of the worst times.  Jamie makes the best of his situation and will inspire young readers to follow their dreams.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Stay tuned for a review of Charlie Price's latest book ...

The book is headed in my direction.  I'll be reading and reviewing it as soon as it lands on my doorstep!  Hope you are as excited as I am.

FOR ONE MORE DAY by Mitch Albom

Charley "Chick" Benetto grew up being a "daddy's boy", but at a critical moment in Chick's life he wishes he had had more time with his mother.  When he is given that gift, he learns more than he ever believed possible.

His own failed marriage and the fact that he wasn't even invited to his only daughter's wedding because he might embarrass someone, sent Chick over the edge.  He had long been drowning his sorrows in alcohol, but missing that wedding caused him to make the decision to end his life.  He pointed his car toward his childhood home not really intending to reach his destination.

A car accident ends with Chick hitting a billboard and being thrown from his vehicle.  As he lay on the ground, he experienced something he was never fully able to explain.  Chick finds himself entering his old home where he finds his mother who died years before.  During one morning, afternoon and evening, he takes a journey with her that brings new meaning and understanding about his childhood and gives him a greater appreciation of all his mother did for him.

Author Mitch Albom weaves a complicated tale about a man looking to make amends.  This man's regrets will mirror those of many readers.  Those who question the decisions they have made, relationships they have compromised, and mistakes they have made, will be able to relate to Chick and perhaps have time to change things in their own lives before time runs out.  Although, it might be too early in life for teens to fully appreciate Chick's experience, this book could help them make better choices as they make their own journeys.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


A number of years ago Mitch Albom was asked by his Rabbi if he would provide the eulogy when the Rabbi passed.  Reluctantly Albom agreed but suggested they meet so he could learn more about the man's life beyond what Albom could recall from growing up in the Rabbi's congregation.

What followed was eight years of meetings.  Some of them brief and others longer.  They had discussions about religion and life in general.  Albom learned about the Reb's, as he called him, private life, hopes, dreams, and disappointments.  A friendship developed way beyond that of rabbi and congregant.

At the same time Albom met a Detroit pastor named Henry Covington.  Gradually, he also learned this man's story.  Although, one man followed the words of the Torah and the other followed the teachings of Jesus; both shaped Albom's thoughts on religion and helped him restore his faith. 

Don't panic!  I haven't suddenly turned into a reviewer of religious material.  It's just that after rereading Albom's TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, I picked up his newest book THE TIME KEEPER and then this one was suggested by a friend.  The point of HAVE A LITTLE FAITH is that it doesn't matter what sort of spiritual life you have, whatever you believe is OK - just have a little faith in mankind and the world we live in. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

THE TIME KEEPER by Mitch Albom

Please excuse the continued reviewing of Mitch Albom books, but when I reread TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE to prepare for teaching it in the upcoming weeks, I recognized the potential appeal his books might have for teens.  I already own and have read THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN, and my students occasionally select it from the shelf so I decided to purchase his latest book, THE TIME KEEPER.

Dor was fascinated by time before anyone knew time even existed.  His obsession resulted in him becoming Father Time.  God gave him the task of finding two people - one wanting time to move faster and one wanting it to slow down.  From them God said he would learn the true meaning of time and why man's limited time is so precious.

Victor is an incredibly wealthy businessman with a terminal illness.  He hopes to use his wealth to figure out a way to cheat death. 

Sarah, an insecure teen, meets Ethan who she believes is the boy of her dreams.  When he turns her life into a nightmare, she is determined to cut her time short and end her life.

When Dor hears the voices of Victor and Sarah begging for more time, less time, or another time, he knows they are the two he needs to find.  He connects with them when they enter the same clock shop to purchase special timepieces.

The story unfolds in Albom's smooth, easy style as he takes readers on an amazing adventure that will leave them with a greater appreciation of the time they have, whether short or long. 

I'm now reading HAVE A LITTLE FAITH and plan to read FOR ONE MORE DAY, so expect reviews to follow soon.

DEAR BULLY edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

DEAR BULLY is a collection of pieces written by 70 contemporary YA authors who share their own personal experiences with bullies.  Ellen Hopkins, Lisa McMann, Heather Brewer, Chris Crutcher, and JonScieszka are just a few of the contributing authors.

I have only read about half of the selections, but I can say it includes some powerful stuff.  Most stories are only a few pages long, making it an easy volume to pick up and read randomly.  Even though I've chosen to read DEAR BULLY in short spurts, the messages presented have left a lasting impression.  This book should be available in every library and classroom.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


I'm loving this new series by Darren Shan.  For teens who grew up with Cirque Du Freak, it is the perfect next step.  The focus is on zombies rather than vampires, and it has just the right amount of blood, gore, and brain matter to satisfy the truest zombie fans.

ZOM-B:UNDERGROUND is book #2 in the series with book #3 due out in the U.S. in April.  B continues as the main character in book #2, but now she finds herself one of a select group of zombies called revitalized zom heads.  As a zom head she has regained some of her human characteristics and is "alive" in a different way than she once was.

B is being gradually assimilated into a group of zom heads.  They are being studied by medical professionals, and they are frequently sent to interact with the regular zombies to see what happens.  Readers are given a few peeks into the horrific violence that results from these meetings.

A continued underlying theme is that of racism.  B was raised by a racist father and managed to avoid his wrath by playing along with his twisted ideas.  She is now reliving some of those times and realizing the error of her ways.  She is trying to make amends by changing her behavior, but changing negative behavior is totally contrary to her new life as a zom head. 

The new ZOM-B series is not for the faint of heart, but for those looking for raw adventure and a slightly different approach to zombies, it is definitely worth a try.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

FOURMILE by Watt Key

Foster's father died in an accident in the woods behind the farm, and now Foster's mother thinks it is time to sell the place and move the two of them back to Montgomery.  Foster misses his dad, but he agrees it might be time for a change.

Another reason Foster wouldn't mind leaving the farm is his mother's new friend, Dax.  Dax says he works for the power company, and he has started hanging around pretty regular.  Foster doesn't trust the guy and neither does Foster's dog Joe.  Fortunately, she keeps Foster busy with chores as she tries to fix up the property to sell.

One afternoon as Foster is painting the fence, he notices a stranger and a dog walking along the road.  The stranger introduces himself as Gary and asks if he could use their hose to refill his water container.  When it begins to rain, Foster begs his mother to let the man stay in their barn until the weather clears. 

Foster is fascinated by Gary and his curious questions reveal that the man was in the military and is traveling to Texas.  With Foster's help, Gary fixes the leaky barn roof and proves that he might be helpful around the place.  As the days go by, Foster becomes attached to the wanderer.

When Dax stops by for a visit, he challenges Gary's right to be there.  His temper flairs and a threatening side of Dax shows itself, frightening both Foster and his mother.  Gary sends the bully on his way and promises to stand up to him should he return.

FOURMILE by Watt Key is sure to be a hit with reluctant readers.  Readers will quickly connect with Foster and relate to his mixed feelings about leaving the place that holds final memories of his father.  The mysterious Gary may have a dangerous secret, but he will win over fans as he protects Foster and his mom from the mean and nasty Dax.  Key's previous fans will want to get their hands on this one, and he is sure to gain new fans that can be directed to ALABAMA MOON followed by DIRT ROAD HOME.