Monday, January 27, 2014


Everything Breaks
Author Vicki Grove impressed me years ago with REACHING DUSTIN so I was thrilled to see this book at the bookstore a few weeks ago.  More of a young adult offering, I predict it will be popular with both teen guys and girls.  A creative combination of reality and touches of mythology-related fantasy, EVERYTHING BREAKS speaks of friendship and loss in a unique way that tries to make sense of needless tragedy.

Tucker, Trey, Zero, and Steve are inseparable.  Tucker and Trey have been friends since age four, while Zero and Steve joined the crew in recent years.  They play sports together and party together as one would expect from teenage boys.  Tucker has inherited the role of watchdog and caretaker for the group.  Not a fan of beer and in possession of a level head, he is normally the designated driver who makes sure the gang gets to and from parties like the beach bonfire set to be their last of junior year.

The guys make a pit stop at a local carryout to make use of an illegal ID so they will have some beer to start off the night.  The perfect place for a pre-party happy hour is the old zinc mine on the way to the beach.  The huge gravel piles have long been a temptation for Trey.  He is itching to test out the red Mustang he rescued from the junkyard and loving restored.  He announces tonight is the night he will take the car to the top of Hawk's Slope and as he brags, "fly."

Tucker surprises his friends when he downs not one beer, but three, while they hang out and contemplate Trey's daring stunt.  At his command the four boys pile in the car, and Trey heads toward Hawk's Slope.  Before he can accelerate to top speed, Tucker yells from the backseat that he needs to puke.  He's out the door before the car comes to a complete stop.  That's the last thing Tucker remembers until he hears screaming coming from the direction of the beach, and what he discovers changes his life forever.

Filled with guilt that he didn't prevent the accident that took the lives of his best friends, Tucker withdraws.  He goes through the motions of school and home, but strange visions begin to torment him.  Tragedy has already touched Tucker's life.  His mother died of cancer and soon after remarrying, his father left Tucker with his stepmother and her ailing father.  It's his stepmother's father, Bud, who seems to understand what Tucker is going through.  Dealing with his own disappointments, Bud makes a connection with Tucker that might provide the hope that Tucker needs.

An interesting visitation from the mythological ferryman Charon and the frightening appearance of Cerberus, the three headed hound of Hell, give Tucker a new perspective on the life he has ahead of him despite the horrific accident that took his closest friends.  Although moving on is not easy, Tucker is able to imagine a vision for the future.

In EVERYTHING BREAKS author Vicki Grove includes multiple plot lines involving Tucker's past and present, as well as looks inside the lives of his friends and others who care for him.  Readers will witness as the characters reveal the tragedies they have suffered and the various ways they have learned to carry on.

DARK ANGEL by David Klass

Dark AngelSibling relationships are difficult enough, but when your older brother is serving a life sentence for murder, and then is suddenly released from prison on a technicality, it certainly increases the tension.
It has only been five years since Jeff's brother Troy was shipped off to prison.  As a result, Jeff and his parents were forced to leave their home to escape the aftermath of the trial and the publicity. 

At seventeen Jeff feels like he is finally adjusting to his new home, new school, and new friends.  Jeff is an average student and a member of the soccer team.  He is pretty sure he's in love with his girlfriend Beth.  In the years since Troy has been gone, Jeff has gotten closer to his father, a great guy who devotes his time to taking care of Jeff's mother who was devastated when their older son was found guilty of murdering another teen.  Jeff is shocked to learn that his parents are actually excited about Troy's return and are planning to welcome him with open and forgiving arms.

Troy arrives and Jeff immediately senses an evil undercurrent in his brother.  The loving act that Troy puts on doesn't fool Jeff for a minute.  A family friend and the father of Jeff's best friend is kind enough to offer Troy a job in his grocery store, but knowing that everyone in town will be seeing and even interacting with his brother makes Jeff incredibly uncomfortable.  Worst of all, when Jeff tries to explain the situation to Beth, her reaction is not what he expects, and when her father gets wind of the situation, she is forbidden to see or even talk to Jeff.

Though Jeff is unhappy with the return of his brother, life goes on.  That is until one of the most popular guys in school turns up missing.  Troy's past makes him a suspect in the eyes of the townspeople, and as the police begin investigating, they indicate that they are thinking Jeff might be involved or at least have some knowledge of what happened.  Jeff's protests about the accusation are ignored causing him to take matters into his own hands.  Sure that his brother is guilty of another murder, Jeff begins to gather evidence that will prove his brother is evil and should be locked up forever.

DARK ANGEL by David Klass explores the contrast of good and evil and family relationships.  Readers will grapple with the issue of whether it is possible for evil to change to good and just how far one should go to protect family.  Other David Klass books include YOU DON'T KNOW ME, HOME OF THE BRAVES, SECOND IMPACT, and his newest, GRANDMASTER, due for release in February.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

IF YOU COULD BE MINE by Sara Farizan

If You Could Be Mine

Sahar remembers the day she told her mother she planned to marry Nasrin.  She also remembers that her mother told her that wasn't a good idea.  Living in Tehran, Iran, means Sahar's love for her best friend is off limits.  Two girls loving each other could end in death for both of them.

Now Sahar is seventeen, her mother is dead, and her father is still in mourning and has no idea what life is like for Sahar.  She plans to finish school and take the test to earn entrance in university.  Her plans also include becoming a surgeon and spending the rest of her life with Nasrin.  Even though the law forbids it, they will find a way.

What Sahar never expected was that Nasrin would accept the proposal of marriage from a young man her parents insist is an excellent match.  How could Nasrin live a lie?  Sahar knows that when the two of them are together there is no denying that their love is meant to be, even if it is forbidden. 

When Sahar's cousin Ali introduces her to a transsexual who successfully completed sexual reassignment surgery, she begins to believe there is still hope for her dream to marry Nasrin.  Iran approves of sex changes if it means an end to homosexual behavior.  The surgery is even fully paid for by the government.  All Sahar needs is to be referred to a surgeon and try to speed up the process so she can present herself to Nasrin as a man and stop the wedding, but once she learns the details of the surgery, Sahar has second thoughts.

Author Sara Farizan explores the frighten life of forbidden lesbian love in Iran.  Her words bring life to the frustration, fear, and fallen dreams of two young women searching for true love.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


When I Was the Greatest

This is the Brooklyn, New York most don't see.  There are neighborhoods where the people struggle working two or three jobs trying to stay safe from the guns, the violence, and the drugs.  It's not a friendly place to be a teen.

Ali's mother works non-stop to keep food on the table and expects him to take care of his younger sister Jazz and stay out of trouble.  He remembers better days when his father still lived with them back before he went to jail. 

There may be no extras and he may have chores and a curfew, but Ali knows he has it a lot better than Noodles and Needles who live in the apartment building next door.  They spend their time avoiding the junkies and thugs and hoping their mother will come home after nights on the town with her "dates."  They only time they get a decent meal is when they eat with Ali and Jazz.

Ali spends time at the local gym working out and learning to box.  It gives him a chance to blow off some steam, and he even earns a little pocket money cleaning up around the place.  As much as Ali likes practicing his boxing skills, he is hesitant to enter the ring for any real contest.  He isn't sure he's ready.

When Noodles scores an invitation to a party known for loud music, hot girls, and alcohol, Ali can't believe their luck.  Going to the party means breaking the rules, but Ali can't resist.  He'll be back by curfew and his mother will never know.  He doesn't know he will end up using his fighting skills to rescue Needles, and in the process, risk his own family's safety.

Author Jason Reynolds takes readers into the rough life on the streets and neighborhoods of New York.  Despite the toughness, Ali's life does include a loving family determined to help the teens they know do the right thing and beat the odds and make something of themselves. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

ZOM-B: BABY by Darren Shan

Zom-B Baby (Zom-B Series #5)

Darren Shan is the master of the YA horror series.  Students in my high school and middle school classroom are great fans.  CIRQUE DU FREAK got them hooked and now they read anything he creates.

The ZOM-B series features an English girl who goes by B.  When England was overrun by zombies, she was one of a few lucky "survivors" who once bitten, was eventually revitalized to become a high-functioning type of zombie able to think and communicate.  Unlike the regular zombies, B is able to reason through situations and in ZOM-B: BABY which is book #5 in the series, she is attempting to decide which of the current controlling groups she should join for the best chance of survival.

B has experienced unbelievable horrors in her short time as a zombie.  Although, she has joined her fellow revitalized to fight against the other zombies, she has decided maybe operating on her own is the best choice.  She may be lonely, but dealing with the crazy clown Mr. Dowling was more than she could take, and her recent experience with Dr. Oystein and the Angels doesn't quite fit in with her lost faith in the power of God.  A solitary existence seems like the answer.

Loneliness drives B in search of Timothy Jackson, one of the rare remaining humans.  His goal in life is to record the devastation of England through his art.  B is thrilled to discover him still alive and painting, but he has a surprise for her that could result in their destruction. 

Fans of Darren Shan and his new ZOM-B series will be excited to learn of this new character and the plot twist that will carry the story into another book titled ZOM-B: GLADIATOR and yet another due out this summer.  Let the series continue!!!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

WINGER by Andrew Smith

WINGER received a rave review from one of my 9th grade students, and having just finished it, I can definitely see the appeal.  Author Andrew Smith creatively portrays the worlds of boarding school rich kids, the violence of rugby, and the efforts of a young teen to fit into both worlds as he stands up to the bullies and attempts to get the girl.

Ryan Dean West, call him Ryan Dean, please, is a junior at Pine Mountain.  One thing that makes him stand out from his classmates is that he is two years younger than his sixteen year old cohorts.  Although he competently competes with them both in the classroom and as a wing on the rugby team, he must stay on his toes to keep one step ahead of them.

Because of an unfortunate cell phone issue, Ryan Dean is starting the year in O-Hall also known as Opportunity Hall which is the dormitory for troublemakers.  To complicate matters even more, his roommate is the biggest troublemaker at Pine Mountain.  If Ryan Dean can stay out of trouble for a semester, he will be able to return to his old hall and his friends.  Things don't start out well when his roommate invites him to play poker after lights out on their very first night together.  The night includes not only poker but also beer, and what follows is some rather embarrassing behavior. 

After that first night Ryan Dean vows to keep his nose clean, but circumstances dictate otherwise.  His best friend Annie tries to keep him on the straight and narrow, but since Ryan Dean actually has a crush on her, his mind is filled with all the things he wishes he and Annie could do.  His lack of focus seems to lead him into one mess after another.  Will Ryan Dean get out of O-Hall?  Will he get the girl of his dreams?  Or more importantly, will Ryan Dean even survive his junior year?

Monday, January 6, 2014


Coaltown Jesus

I have long been a fan of Ron Koertge.  After reading THE BRIMSTONE JOURNALS, I was hooked.  Although not for the faint of heart, Koertge writes frankly and starkly about his chosen subjects which is something I truly appreciate in an author.  COALTOWN JESUS did not disappoint.

Walker is worried about his mom.  His brother Noah died two months ago and she hasn't stopped crying.  At his wits end, Walker resorts to prayer hoping it will help.

The result -- Jesus appears in Walker's bedroom.  After the initial shock wears off, Walker finds Jesus is quite a character.  He seems to be a regular guy, but at the same time, he obviously knows his stuff.  Jesus agrees that Walker's mom might need some divine assistance, but Jesus has plans for
Walker, too.

Using humor and heartfelt emotion, Koertge uses his unique verse to reveal the healing powers of our own inner spirits.  He presents a "Jesus" that will speak to even the most reluctant teen reader.


ENEMY TERRITORY by Sharon E. McKay artfully presents man's struggle to identify with other cultures and recognize that despite our differences, we are the same.  In choosing two cultures that have historically been at odds, McKay illustrates her point and hopefully leaves readers with a lot to think about.

Sam is Jewish and lives in Israel.  Yusuf is a Palestinian teen currently in a Jerusalem hospital for complications from an eye injury.  The two become uncomfortable roommates.  The tension is obvious as each boy attempts to visit with relatives the day before they undergo their procedures.

What follows is an unlikely friendship between the two teens.  Both confused by the misconceptions each have of the other's culture, their communication begins with taunts and jabs.  However, when they decide to sneak out of the hospital to go to a well-known candy store in the Old City, they each experience the true nature of their people.  Once revealed, this provides a fresh outlook that should be inspiration for all of us to set aside our differences and accept people for who they are, not simply for where they live.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

SEE JANE RUN by Hannah Jayne

Riley feels her parents are way too overprotective.  Most Saturday nights she ends up alone in her room or watching old black & white movies sitting between her parents on the couch because they won't let her go out with friends.  With college in her near future, she is trying to get their permission to go on an overnight trip to tour a nearby university.  Hopefully, the fact that her father graduated from there years ago and the trip is sponsored by her high school will convince them that the trip is safe enough for their little girl.

In the midst of begging for her parents approval and planning for the trip, Riley stumbles across a puzzling mystery.  When she and her best friend Shelby do a little snooping through some packing boxes in her parents' room, Riley discovers the birth certificate for a girl named Jane.  The birth certificate inspires Shelby to create various scenarios involving Riley having been kidnapped from her biological parents or that this mystery girl is Riley's long lost sister.  Whatever is going on, Riley is determined to find some answers.

When Internet searches, a visit to the hospital where the girl was born, and scouring through files in the city records department don't turn up any clues, Riley's frustration level rises.  Because her searching has involved breaking some of her parents strict rules and even hanging out with one of the town's "bad" boys, Riley's parents finally confront her with some startling information.  At that point Riley isn't sure who to believe.

SEE JANE RUN by Hannah Jayne is a true thriller.  There are definitely enough plot twists and turns to interest even the pickiest of readers.

Friday, January 3, 2014


I have to admit I haven't read Nick Lake's Printz Award winning book IN DARKNESS, but after having picked up HOSTAGE THREE and devouring it in two days, I now know I must read IN DARKNESS as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

HOSTAGE THREE begins with a spoiled, rich girl getting kicked out of her A level exams mostly to see what kind of reaction she can get from her work obsessed father and the stepmother she believes he married all too soon after her mother's death.  What Amy Field didn't expect was that her banker father would buy a yacht and announce that the three of them (plus a few handy crew members) would be taking the next six months to sail around the world. 

In a few short weeks Amy finds herself on a  luxury sailboat traveling through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea.  As she lounges on the sun deck working on her tan and listening to music, Amy recalls life with her clinically depressed, OCD mother.  There were good times and bad.  She remembers one amazing birthday surprise and their girls only trip to Mexico.  What she tries to forget are the panic attacks and the obsessive behaviors that often turned life into a nightmare.  Amy's most vivid memory, one she never shared with anyone, is of her mother's final phone call before she climbed to the top of her office building and jumped to her death.

Shortly after leaving the Red Sea, Somalian pirates seize the sailboat and begin organizing their demands for a ransom that will free Amy and her family and their crew.  What follows are weeks on the boat along with the pirates who refer to themselves as the South Central Coast Guard.  Amy struggles to understand how the men can so casually tote their guns and demand a ransom in exchange for human life.  One of the younger pirates speaks English quite well, and he and Amy begin to form a bond.  Although dangerous for both of them, they secretly seek each other out and slowly begin to share stories in an effort to make sense of their situation.

HOSTAGE THREE reveals the strange culture of modern day pirates one hears about on the news.  Author Nick Lake illustrates the desperation of an oppressed people in stark contrast to the often wasteful wealth seen in other parts of the world.  Readers will be riveted to Amy's story and eagerly turn the pages right to the exciting conclusion.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

SAR: POWDERHOUNDS by Heather Kellerhals-Stewart

Review ebook provided by NetGalley.

Winter sports fans or anyone looking for edge-of-your-seat adventure will want to give SAR: POWDERHOUNDS a try.

SAR/Search and Rescue team members get a real workout when two young skiers turn up missing in the middle of some horrible weather.  Luc and Cass pass on the chance to come in off the slopes as bad weather threatens.  They choose to leave the patrolled runs and take a less traveled but more scenic path to the ski lodge.  Blowing snow prevents them from seeing an important turn off, and they find themselves lost and in trouble. 

Chic and his older brother Josh are part of the rescue team that hear the report of the missing skiers.  Chic has been training for the team for quite some time, but this is his first rescue mission.  The group heads to the area where the skiers where last seen and attempt to pick up their trail.  Little do they know that Cass suffered a broken arm and Luc has tried to start down the treacherous Suicide Scarp to get her help. 

Author Heather Kellerhals-Stewart captures the danger and daring of the young rescue team willing to risk their own lives to help even the most foolhardy risk takers.  Readers will feel the bone-chilling cold and the whipping wind and snow as they follow the stories of both the missing skiers and the team sent to find them.