Friday, November 29, 2013

GRANDMASTER by David Klass

I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of David Klass's newest release at the ALAN conference.  I even got to meet him, chat with him at a publisher's dinner, and have him sign my copy.  (Please excuse the geekiness.)

Morris Pratzer is a grandmaster, but no one knows - not his wife or daughter or more importantly, his son Daniel.  Mr. Pratzer's secret chess life is revealed when Daniel's chess club teammates do some research for a father/son tournament that promises $10,000 in prize winnings. 

Two of the prep school top players are hoping to find the perfect club member to fill out the six member tournament team.  A little research on the Internet uncovers the fact that Daniel's father was a chess champion as a teen.  He reached grandmaster status but mysteriously chose to leave competition at the age of sixteen.  When the two players approach Daniel about recruiting his father for the tournament, Daniel can't believe his quiet accountant father could possibly be the person they think he is.

Mr. Pratzer acknowledges that he is indeed ranked as a grandmaster, but he insists he has given up the game for good.  Daniel isn't surprised that his father is refusing to compete because the two have never been close.  Daniel knows his father loves him, but outward signs of that love have only been evident on rare occasions throughout Daniel's short life.  It takes a private closed-door discussion between Daniel's mom and dad for his mother to convince Mr. Pratzer that he owes it to Daniel to participate in the chess event.

The majority of GRANDMASTER takes place during the three day chess tournament in New York City.  During this time Daniel learns more about his father's past and the intense toll playing high level competitive chess has taken on the secretive man.  Readers will experience Daniel's fear that his father may crack under the pressure as well as Daniel's own personal growth experience as he competes with the hope of winning the big prize.

Author David Klass played competitive chess as a teen and then gave up the game for many years until his own children recently became involved in tournaments.  His exceptional skill as a writer brings the stress and excitement of the game to life and will likely win him some new reading fans.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


The PERFECT CHEMISTRY series is extremely popular with the girls in my 8-10th grade classroom.  The books are never on the shelf because they are constantly being passed from reader to reader.  After reading the first book, I believe I understand the appeal.

PERFECT CHEMISTRY is the stereotypical tale of forbidden love between the privileged girl and the "bad" boy.  Set in the suburbs of Chicago, the story has the romance, drama, and personal/family problems that connect to with teen readers everywhere.

Brittany is a pretty blonde member of the pom squad.  She may be one of the most popular girls at Fairfield High School, but she has managed to avoid being a "mean" girl type.  Perhaps that is because she secretly faces challenges at home that keep her grounded in reality.  Brittany's socialite mother expects Brittany to be perfectly dressed, perfectly behaved, and involved with only perfect people.  Brittany is convinced all this emphasis on perfection is to hide the fact that she has an older sister who is far from perfect.  Shelley has cerebral palsy and must be cared for 24 hours a day.  She is unable to feed herself, clothe or bathe herself, and is only able to communicate using her own language of grunts and nonsense noises.  Despite their incredibly different worlds, Brittany and Shelley are close, and Brittany lives in constant fear of her parents' threats to send Shelley to live in some institution they claim is better suited for her needs.  Brittany believes they are simply trying to hide away their oldest child to make their own lives easier.

Alex is Hispanic and survives because of his wit and street smarts.  Being a member of the Latino Blood gang is not what Alex wants, but it is the only way he can assure the safety of his family.  The secret he harbors is the dream of college and a better life away from the gang lifestyle, but there are days when that seems like a impossible dream.  It is difficult to keep up appearances with the gang and also meet the demands of family and school.  His tough guy reputation makes him an easy target for a school administration looking to place blame for anything that upsets the regular routine of Fairfield High.

When a demanding chemistry teacher pairs Brittany and Alex as lab partners for the year, interesting things begin to happen.  Brittany's boy friend Colin is pressuring her to have sex, and Alex's buddies make a bet that he can't get his pretty, blonde lab partner into bed.  Thrown together as lab partners, the two try to hate one another, but "chemistry" seems determined to bring them together.

Author Simone Elkeles connects with teens with just the right amount of drama and romance.  The complications in her characters' personal lives create an appeal that has readers forming attachments that pull them eagerly from one book in the series to the next.  Once one reader is hooked, more will follow.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


It's been four years since Francesca's little brother Simon drowned.  It was an afternoon at the beach when the tragedy changed her family's world.  The guilt Francesca feels has changed her relationship with her mother and changed her normally outgoing personality.

With summer beginning Francesca knows her friend Lisette will be expecting her to hang out, but Francesca knows things will be uncomfortable since she has a secret crush on Lisette's boy friend.  To complicate matters, Francesca is fairly certain that her father is having an affair with a woman who lives across the street.  She knows that following the death of her brother, her father's affair is the last thing her fragile mother needs.

One afternoon Francesca follows the neighbor woman to the local country club sure that her father is planning to meet the woman there.  She doesn't see her father, but she does meet a little four year old boy named Frankie.  To her surprise, several days later, she has a job as a mother's helper watching over the active young boy. 

As the summer passes, Frankie and Francesca become inseparable.  Frankie's behavior and often random comments seem so much like Francesca's little brother that she begins to believe he may be the reincarnation of Simon.  When her feelings about Frankie collide with family and friend problems, Francesca has more than she can handle.  Can she deal with the powerful emotions that threaten to overwhelm her or will this confusing summer end up helping her put her life back together?

Author Gae Polisner explores love and loss and the reality that life goes on.  THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO is the inspirational story of one girl's attempt to make sense of heartbreaking tragedy.  Be sure to watch for its release in March of 2014.

Monday, November 18, 2013

THE NATURALS by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Jennifer Lynn Barnes' newest offering is perfect for YA readers who are also fans of popular TV shows like Criminal Minds.  In THE NATURALS teens are gifted profilers and are recruited to work with the FBI to train and work on cold cases.

Cassie is one of those naturally gifted with the ability to read personalities and motivations of almost any one she meets.  When she is approached to join the program, she sees it as an opportunity to find the answers to her own mother's mysterious murder.  Raised by caring relatives since she was twelve, Cassie has always sought closure in the violent death of her loved one.  Having been the first person to stumble into the bloody dressing room scene of her mother's death, Cassie's vivid memories of past have haunted her.  Now maybe she can discover the answers to her mother's untimely end.

Cassie joins Michael, Dean, Lia, and Sloane at a secluded house near FBI headquarters in Virginia.  Several special agents are in charge of grooming the talented teens as future crime fighters.  Along with the others, Cassie practices and sharpens her skills in mock crime situations hoping to become involved with cold cases the FBI has been unable to crack. 

As the teens work on their skill development, the FBI agents respond to new crime scenes that seem to be ever increasing and becoming suspiciously closer to resembling the details Cassie's mother's murder.  It is becoming easier and easier for Cassie to visualize the profile of the killer.  Is her mother's killer now focused on her life?

THE NATURALS promises to be the first in a new suspenseful crime series aimed at a YA audience.  I am eagerly awaiting Cassie's next adventure.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux

Dan Crawford was ready for a change, and the special summer college prep program at New Hampshire College seemed like the perfect thing.  He loved his adoptive parents, but at sixteen he needed to put some distance between himself and his loving parents as well as his sometimes not so caring high school acquaintances.  Dan signed up for the five week program never dreaming what was in store for him and the new friends he would meet.

New Hampshire College campus was quaint and exactly how Dan had pictured it from reading the program literature.  There was one unexpected change though.  The normal student dormitories were under renovation so Dan and the other students enrolled in the summer program would be staying in Brookline, a former mental hospital.  Dan's first reaction as a history buff, was that this was pretty cool, but the situation began to become bizarre on his very first day there.

After hearing his roommate talk about the old, unused office of Brookline's former warden, Dan and two of his new friends decided to explore.  The three young people found the abandoned office area was filthy and decaying, but they pushed on into the inner recesses of the old asylum.  One room lead to another and then down into lower levels that revealed the true evils of Brookline's past.

Both Dan and his new friend Abby discover strange connections to the asylum's warden and past patients.  Dan is captivate by the fact that he shares the name of the long gone warden, and Abby learns that her aunt was once a patient.  As the two begin to research their finds, they uncover much more than they bargained for, some of which may even threaten their very lives.

Author Madeleine Roux takes readers into the inner workings of an old psychiatric hospital.  Be ready to meet an evil doctor experimenting on his patients, a psycho serial killer, and other unfortunate characters connected to the old institution local residents would like to see destroyed forever.  The creepiness factor of the story is doubled by the inclusion of old photos that illustrate the patients and their surroundings.

Monday, November 11, 2013


A fellow reader suggested this book saying she was only halfway through it, but she thought I would enjoy it.  She was right.  MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND is a unique book.  It is one of those books that make me wonder how authors do it.  How do they come up with such unusual stories and such interesting ways to tell them?  Guess that's why I'm a reader and not a writer.

Budo is the imaginary friend of a little boy named Max.  Budo explains that in the world of imaginary friends he is quite special.  He has been Max's friend for over five years which is an extremely long time for an imaginary friend to be alive.  In the first few chapters Budo shares some very interesting facts about other imaginary friends he has met.  Some live only a few days or weeks.  Some look fairly human while others lack body parts or might even be as simply constructed as a dot on a wall.  Budo feels very lucky to be Max's friend and to very closely resemble the human form.

Max is in the third grade.  He is most likely on the autism spectrum which causes some tension between his parents.  His mother would like to have him tested while his father thinks that Max will outgrow his problems.  Budo understands that Max doesn't like to be touched, is wary of strangers, and would rather play alone than join in with the other kids.  Budo knows that Max is smart and that his excellent imagination is what has given and continues to give Budo his life.

Budo's abilities as an imaginary friend are tested when Max is abducted by one of the paraprofessionals at his school.  Since Budo can only be seen and heard by Max, he must find some way to tell someone where the woman has taken Max, or he must figure out some way to rescue Max on his own.  Budo utilizes every resource he can think of, including the help of other imaginary friends.  His own remarkable creativity is put to the test as he races against time to save his friend.

Author Matthew Dicks transports the reader into the world of imaginary friends.  Anyone who remembers their own childhood imaginary friend will connect to this unique narrator.  I found Budo's world fascinating, and the drama of Max's situation made this book difficult to put down.  So glad it was recommended.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

OUT OF THE POCKET by Bill Konigsberg

Being one of the most talented high school quarterbacks in the state of California should mean life is pretty perfect, but that's not the case for senior Bobby Framingham.  If he can keep his team going on its current winning streak, Bobby has a chance of attracting the top college scouts and from there, hopefully it will be on to pro ball.  Everyone is rooting for him.

On the surface it all looks good for Bobby, but underneath he is struggling with a life-changing issue.  Bobby is attempting to come to terms with the fact that he is gay.  He has known for a while now, but he hasn't confided in anyone.  Coming out of the closet means possibly alienating family and friends, and he isn't sure he's ready for that.  Besides the issues of friends and family, Bobby doesn't think a single college or professional football player has ever come forward to admit that they are gay.  Would publicly acknowledging his sexual preference be the end of his future before it even starts?

During a candid conversation with a student reporter for the school paper, Bobby lets down his guard and mentions that he is gay.  When the news breaks in the school paper, Bobby realizes it's out of his control.  Although reactions aren't as bad as he expected from classmates, the reaction of some of his teammates proves to be even more negative than he anticipated.  What Bobby wants more than anything is to play football, but his announcement could mean the end of his dream.

Author Bill Konigsberg tackles the sensitive topic of homosexuality in the locker room.  As I began reading, I immediately liked Bobby and cheered for him as he made his brave decisions.  Konigsberg does an excellent job combining football action with the drama and tension surrounding Bobby's coming out and the backlash of his announcement.  OUT OF THE POCKET is a worthwhile read.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

CONFESSIONS: THE PRIVATE SCHOOL MURDERS by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Teen detective, Tandy Angel, solved her first case when she proved that she and her siblings were innocent in the mysterious murders of their mother and father.  Now she is on to her next case.

After the horrible ordeal involving her parents' deaths, Tandy finds herself deep in another case.  This time it is her older brother who has been accused of brutally murdering his girl friend and their unborn child.  Tandy knows the anger her brother is capable of showing, but she is convinced that he is innocent of the crime that has him behind bars.

As Tandy and her siblings attempt to get used to a new live-in guardian, a man named Jacob, who says he is a step-uncle of sorts, Tandy gets down to business trying to find the proof that will save her brother.  As if she isn't busy enough trying to keep up in school and focus on her new detective career, the apartment building they call home is infested with poisonous snakes and spiders.  Everyone is in a panic as pest control experts scour the building to find the source of the problem.  Naturally, Tandy's detective skills lead her to the thought-to-be-vacated apartment where the creatures are living.  Despite the frightening scene she discovers there, her discovery serves to validate her talent for investigation and problem solving.

Another complication that derails Tandy's focus on her brother's trial is the murder of several private school girls.  The crimes took place in a nearby park, and since the girls are about the same age as Tandy, her natural instinct is to start work on solving that case as well.  Police detective Caputo thinks she should keep her nose out of police business, but when she once again discovers the answer everyone else has been missing, he has to give credit where credit is due.  Tandy is on a roll, but the case she wants to solve even more than her brother's is still eluding her.

Author James Patterson joins forces with Maxine Paetro to continue the Confessions series.  If you haven't already checked out their first novel, CONFESSIONS OF A MURDER SUSPECT, get to your library or bookstore today!