Tuesday, December 31, 2013

REALITY BOY by A.S. King


Some of the most popular TV programming today involves reality shows of one kind or another.  REALITY BOY is about one boy's experience as part of one those all too familiar "English nanny to the rescue" shows.

Gerald Faust was five years old when his family was featured on the show.  His dysfunctional family included a work-a-holic father, an emotionally distraught mother, and two older sisters.  Gerald's eldest sister was an undiagnosed psychopath who literally tried to kill Gerald and his other sister on numerous occasions.  The fake English nanny whose job was to sweep in and change the family dynamic, did more to damage the situation than repair it.

As a tormented and helpless five year old, Gerald retaliated by depositing piles of poop in random places whenever the pressure of family and show got to be too much.  He became known as the Crapper, a nickname that followed him into high school where his disturbed mother forced the school to qualify him for special education services.  Gerald views the safety of the SPED room as he calls it and the job he has working concessions at the local hockey arena as the only places he is free of his terrifying sister and complacent parents.

When Gerald finally works up the nerve to speak with a co-worker named Hannah, he discovers that he isn't the only one with a dysfunctional family.  At first neither of them are willing to reveal their crazy home lives, but as they become more comfortable, the truth comes out.  Together they may be able to conquer their fears and overcome the negative influences of their crazy families.

Author A.S. King has put together another winner.  Readers will immediately connect with Gerald and root for him and Hannah.  What could have been a life of tragedy and failure, becomes an inspiring story of how to beat the odds and take control of one's own destiny.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

BIG FAT DISASTER by Beth Fehlbaum


This book was like riding a roller-coaster of emotions.  There were highs when I was so angry I could spit, lows when sadness and pity brought tears to my eyes, and times when the ride made me feel flat because I couldn't even imagine the tremendous evil that motivates some people.  This book had me talking to the characters and sometimes wanting to throw my shoe at them.  If you want to feel involved and invested in a book, pick up BIG FAT DISASTER by Beth Fehlbaum.

Colby's life has just exploded, and she believes it is entirely her fault.  She discovers evidence of her beloved father's affair with another woman, and this inadvertently leads to the discovery that he has been misusing campaign funds from his run for senator.  The result is that Colby and her mother and two sisters find themselves homeless and forced to move into a rundown trailer behind her aunt's house in a place called Piney Creek.

Complicating matters is the fact that Colby is nothing like her beauty pageant mother and beautiful blond sisters.  She takes after her soon-to-be in prison father.  She is overweight and seems to gain more every day.  Colby's mother doesn't understand how her daughter can be so out of control when it comes to food and makes it a point to berate her every chance she gets. 

Moving to Piney Creek is Colby's worst nightmare.  She is taunted and teased not only because of her weight, but also because of her father's indiscretions and because of an incident the previous year involving her cousin Ryan.  She finds herself in the middle of angry, hurtful people at a time when what she needs is love and support.

Author Beth Fehlbaum doesn't hold back as she drags readers right into the middle of Colby's chaotic life.  Filled with gut-wrenching honesty, BIG FAT DISASTER takes readers to the lowest of the low and yet is able to inspire at the same time.  Thank you to the author for sharing an ARC of this incredible book!

Friday, December 27, 2013

BEING HENRY DAVID by Cal Armistead


A seventeen year old male wakes up in NYC's Penn Station with no ID and no idea who he is.  With nothing but a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau, he senses something has gone wrong in his life but doesn't have a clue what it could be.

Figuring maybe the book could reveal some answers to his many questions, he adopts the name Henry David (Hank) and heads out into the city.  An unpleasant experience with a couple of runaway teens and their drug dealing benefactor quickly convinces Hank he needs to find another place to begin his search.  He heads toward Concord, Massachusetts, and the home of Thoreau.

Once in Concord, Hank is disappointed in the commercialism of Thoreau's Walden Pond, but hopes the wise words of the American philosopher will guide him to the answers he is seeking.  A man named Thomas and a girl named Hailey provide the support Hank needs as the details of his past begin to surface.  What follows is the painful realization that his actions have caused suffering for those closest to him, and now he must decide how to face the past and plan for the future.

Author Cal Armistead combines thought-provoking quotes from Thoreau's Walden with the mystery of Hank's past to hook readers and keep them on the edge of their seats to the very end.  Although, it is obvious that Hank's amnesia is hiding some terrible tragedy, Armistead keeps readers guessing as to the specifics and then wondering what decisions Hank will ultimately make to pull together the crumbling pieces of his life.  After reading BEING HENRY DAVID, I can't wait to see what this author offers her readers next.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

GOING VINTAGE by Lindsey Leavitt


After hearing Lindsey Leavitt speak at the ALAN conference, I headed to B&N to order this one.  The light-hearted humor I heard in her author talk comes through in GOING VINTAGE loud and clear.  I will definitely be checking out her other books soon.

Making lists gives Mallory special pleasure.  Now that she has broken up with her boy friend Jeremy, many of her lists focus on strategies to show him a thing or two.  The breakup involved her finding out that Jeremy had a "cyberwife" on a social networking game called Authentic Life.  A little online investigating reveals hundreds of emails between Jeremy and his avatar "wife."  Mallory decides it's something she can't tolerate.

Mallory's fascination with all things vintage helps take her mind off her failed relationship.  At the same time she stumbles across a list her grandmother made back in the 60's while she was in high school.  Mallory is determined to give up modern technology and focus on trying to complete her grandmother's list.  That's how operation 1960's begins and also how Mallory discovers another unexpected relationship and many other interesting things about herself.

Leavitt has created a cast of unique, quirky characters and combined them with the challenge of giving up the technology that drives our modern day lives.  Mallory's story is filled with humor as well as a dose of reality for those of us more focused on our gadgets than on our relationships.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

CAGED WARRIOR by Alan Lawrence Sitomer


Set in inner-city Detroit with the backdrop of MMA cage fighting, I predict that CAGED WARRIOR will be a sure-fire hit with teen boys.  Author Alan Lawrence Sitomer takes readers into a violent world of no holds barred wrestling and the corrupt business that goes along with it.

McCutcheon Daniels "MD" goes to a rundown, neglected high school, and he is well aware of the fact that his father expects him to drop out as soon as he is sixteen.  MD's father had hoped to have his own championship boxing career, but when that fell short of his expectations, he decided to groom his son to be a wrestler.  Unfortunately, his father's desire for money and fame above all else, pushes MD into the most dangerous form of wrestling - mixed martial arts.

MD does enjoy the power and adrenaline rush he gets from his fights.  He skips out on school every afternoon to train at a local gym.  After his exhausting training session, he heads over the elementary school to pick up his five year old little sister so they can head home, do their homework, and fix dinner from whatever they can scrape together.  MD is solely responsible for little Gemma since his mother left years ago and his father is usually drunk in some local bar.

When MD is offered the chance at a scholarship to attend a prestigious Detroit private school, he knows his father will not be in favor of the idea.  It would interfere with his development as a championship fighter and cut into the prize money that keeps a roof over their heads.  But, a tour of the school and the promise of a normal life and a future may be more than MD is willing to sacrifice even for his tyrannical father. 

CAGED WARRIOR combines vicious, bloody fight scenes with family drama and connections with organized crime that will keep readers turning the pages.  Not due for release until May 2014, this is one to add to your wish list.

Friday, December 20, 2013

IN MEMORY OF NED VIZZINI...



I met Ned Vizzini twelve years ago when I invited him to visit Morenci Middle School to talk about his first book TEEN ANGST.  He was a huge hit!  He made an immediate connection with our small town Michigan kids.

Ned made a return visit after he wrote BE MORE CHILL.  Once again he was a hit with the students in both the middle school and high school, some of whom were already his fans.  Unfortunately, some members of the school administration at the time of this second visit were not as open-minded as the student body, and I was criticized for inviting an author who would have the nerve to use the term "masturbation" in the presence of a teen audience. 

Well, I knew that Ned's genuine voice truly spoke to teens and inspired them so I worked with our public library and arranged two more visits with Ned over the coming years.  He was greeted by enthusiastic audiences and new readers were exposed to his wonderful writing.  Each time he came to Morenci, Michigan, he expressed his love for our tiny town and hoped to some day bring members of his family to visit.

In October Ned agreed to Skype with the college students in my Children's Literature class at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan.  He talked about HOUSE OF SECRETS and answered questions about his TV writing career.  He was hilarious as usual and full of excitement about his family and his new career adventures. 

I will always remember Ned and his contributions.  He will be greatly missed.

Monday, December 16, 2013

PICTURE ME by Lori Weber


PICTURE ME by Lori Weber follows the lives of three teen girls each with their own unique issues.  The three teens also represent the bully, the bullied, and the guilt-filled bystander. 

Tessa lives with her mother and younger sister.  She has spent the last five years coming to terms with the loss of her father who was killed in Afghanistan by a roadside IED.  Quiet and reserved, she is friends with Krista, and together they work hard to earn good grades and cultivate good reputations that will ensure they get into good colleges and make something of themselves.

Krista is battling her own demons.  Her mother is a dedicated neonatal nurse who tirelessly works the night shift leaving Krista and her father to manage with takeout menus and evenings filled with TV.  Krista is overweight and very self-conscious about the problem.  She is taunted by classmates but tries to ignore the insults and carry on.

Chelsea is the bully.  She and her posse of girl friends are constantly finding new and more evil ways to make Krista's life miserable.  The final straw comes when they tape an unflattering picture on Krista's locker and wait nearby to watch the results. 

Tessa has had enough and retaliates by attacking Chelsea.  Both girls are suspended but the actual bullying problem is swept under the proverbial rug.  School staff and parents are not aware of the real underlying problem which results in a life-threatening situation for Krista and potential future problems for Chelsea since no one realizes the true source of her emotional turmoil.

Author Lori Weber captures the current controversial issue of bullying in stark detail.  Her characters ring true to real life situations today.  This is a must read for teens, parents, and teachers concerned about bullying.

UNSOULED by Neal Shusterman


Fans of Shusterman's UNWIND series will not be disappointed with the final book.  The cast of characters returns to meet many new challenges.  Everyone is on the run and trying to either avoid being unwound or coping with the effects of being reassigned various body parts and the side effects they create.

The country is still divided in its opinions about the legal and moral issues of unwinding, but now another element has entered the equation.  When some one receives an organ or body part from an unwound victim, the side effects may go beyond the physical.  Camus Comprix is the prime example.  Completely reassembled from parts of the unwound, his questions about the soul he now possesses may be more than any one can answer.

Readers will be challenged to follow the threads of all the characters as they come from far flung places to battle those who threaten their very existence.

Monday, December 9, 2013

FROM NORVELT TO NOWHERE by Jack Gantos


Crazy life continues in Norvelt, Pennsylvania.  Jack is still helping Miss Volker write obituaries for the newspaper and taking care of things around her house, but things are about to get even crazier.

Another Norvelt old lady dies under suspicious circumstances renewing Miss Volker's belief that the murderous Spizz is still hanging around.  Jack and the old lady are working together once again to find the killer and bring justice to Norvelt.

When Miss Volker learns of the sudden death of her sister in Florida, she convinces Jack's mother to allow him to travel with her to retrieve her sister's body so she can be buried in Norvelt.  Jack isn't sure about spending time on a train with the old lady, but he decides the adventure might be worth it if it means not spending the summer on the watchful eye of his mother.  His father has been making plans for the family to move to Florida anyway so this will give him a chance to check it out.

What follows is a wild and wacky trip involving history, a would-be detective, surly train attendants, and learning how to drive a stick shift.  Author Jack Gantos continues his fun-filled tale loosely based on his own boyhood experiences in FROM NORVELT TO NOWHERE.  The story is filled with twists and turns that are sure to please Gantos' many fans.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

SICK by Tom Leveen

 


A comment on the back of this book mentions that it is a cross between the Breakfast Club and the Walking Dead.  That should be enough to grab the attention of most teen readers and maybe even some adults.

High school is tough enough without adding a mysterious virus that infects some of the students and staff turning them into zombies.  The remaining students take cover wherever possible hoping to be rescued.  It only takes a short time for it to become apparent that it isn't just the school that is affected.  The strange illness is causing chaos everywhere leaving the students to fend for themselves for the foreseeable future.

Brian, usually focused on how he can manage to cut class with his buddies and hang out anywhere besides school, finds himself stuck in the drama wing of the building with a bunch of theater geeks.  Once he helps to secure their safety, he turns his energy to finding out where his younger sister and his recent ex-girl friend are.  He can't believe that his little sister managed to survive leukemia several years ago only to face this bizarre situation.

The few remaining students arm themselves with theater props and power tools to battle the zombies intent on snacking on their bone marrow.  Can they survive long enough to be rescued?  Will Brian be able to find his loved ones and get them to safety?

SICK joins the ranks of recent zombie novels, but author Tom Leveen puts his own personal touch on the details and turns it into a real page-turner.  The ending suggests there will be a sequel which makes this reviewer happy.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

REMEMBER DIPPY by Shirley Reva Vernick


Summer is about to begin, and Johnny can't wait.  It promises to be even more exciting than a regular old summer in his tiny town when his mother announces she has a new client and will be heading to upstate New York for an interior design job in a museum.  Johnny thinks that sounds like the perfect way to spend his summer until his mother breaks the news that he will be staying with his aunt instead.  Johnny knows that staying with Aunt Collette means babysitting for his cousin Remember.

Yep, the kid is two years older than Johnny and his name is really Remember Dippy.  Remember is weird.  He spends most of his time watching the weather channel, eating the filling out of Twinkies, and repeating whatever anyone says to him.  Johnny will be in charge whenever his aunt is at work at the local 7 Eleven.  Johnny will probably spend the summer fighting off bullies like Dirk the Jerk when he's not mowing his lawn and his aunt's lawn and watching endless hours of the weather channel.  He certainly isn't expecting to become friends with Remember and maybe even ending up with a girl friend, too.

Author Shirley Reva Vernick explores the world of autism and proves that friendship can turn up where you least expect it.