Saturday, August 30, 2014

DEMON DERBY by Carrie Harris

Demon DerbyCasey has always liked to kick ass.  Her hobbies are skateboarding, freerunning, and martial arts.  She has devoted her life to taking risks and making her mark. Unfortunately, instead of becoming renown for her accomplishments in one of her chosen sports, she has become known as the girl who survived cancer.

Having won her battle with leukemia, Casey is ready to resume normal life and reconnecting with her dare devil friends.  Not being at her peak physically is causing some tension as she attempts to rejoin the gang.  When a few of her stunts fall short of the mark, everyone rushes to her rescue, cautions that maybe she isn't ready, and some even question if she should be participating at all.

Upon her return to the dojo, Casey connects with Darcy.  Never really close before, Darcy's excitement about Casey's return is encouraging.  As they chat, Darcy mentions the upcoming tryouts for a local roller derby team.  She begs Casey to join her in trying to nab the two openings on the team.  Darcy sees it as her chance to get back her edge and becomes excited about the prospect of reinventing her rough and tumble life.

As tryouts get underway, Casey is not surprised by how difficult it is physically, but she is concerned about the negative attitude several of the team members have toward her efforts to make the team.  Maybe it has something to do with the incredibly attractive coach named Michael and his obvious interest in her.  She wants to become a part of the group for the thrill of skating, but a powerful attraction to Michael also has her inspired to make the team.  Michael becomes even more attentive after Casey has an unusual encounter with a strange man outside the practice facility.  It is evident that some power beyond Casey's comprehension is at work pulling the two of them together.

Author Carrie Harris's snarky, sarcastic tone is perfect for this fast-paced paranormal adventure.  Although the paranormal nature of the piece has Casey battling demons, she is also fighting the very real fears of overprotective friends and family, as well as her own fears that she didn't deserve to beat a disease that usually claims the lives of so many.  The experience of reading DEMON DERBY has me eager to check out Carrie Harris's other books soon.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

THE WAITING SKY by Lara Zielin

The Waiting SkyJane's life revolves around her mother.  Her mother is an alcoholic, but definitely not the kind of alcoholic who admits the problem and attends AA in an attempt to lead a normal life in hopes of holding a job and supporting a family.  Nope, Jane is the one who must to hold it all together by paying the bills with whatever money she can earn babysitting and whatever she can grab before her mother drinks it away.

This is the only life Jane has known for years.  She does have vague memories of a time when her father was still part of the picture and when her older brother was still around, but it's been years since her life included happy memories.  She knows things need to change, but it isn't until the day her mother gets behind the wheel drunk and almost kills Jane and her best friend Cat, that Jane realizes it's time to act.

When her brother Ethan invites her to spend the summer with him as he and the Tornado Brothers chase storms in the Midwest, she jumps at the chance.  Although she is excited, she also harbors incredible guilt about leaving her mother alone.  Ethan assures her their mother is not her problem, and that she needs to break away and live her own life.  He even suggests that she could stay with him after the storm season and finish her last year of high school while living with him in Oklahoma.

Jane is assigned the job of official photographer for the Torbros.  As she joins them in the van following storms, she learns the ins and outs of storm chasing and just how dangerous it can be.  Along the way she meets Max, an intern from another chase team.  He is beyond cute and seems to be as interested in her as she is in him.  But no matter how involved she becomes in the adventure of storm chasing, she is constantly worried about the problems she has left back in Minnesota.  Can her mother survive without her?  Are the bills getting paid?  Is her mother even hanging onto her job?

THE WAITING SKY by Lara Zielin offers readers a variety of story lines.  The excitement of following killer tornadoes, the frustration of dealing with an alcoholic parent, and a budding romance all combine to form a real page turner.  Jane is a strong female character determined to handle whatever comes her way.  She may not always make the best decisions, but she pushes on and deals with whatever life tosses her way.  Head to your library or local bookstore today and get your hands on a copy!

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Fat Boy vs. the CheerleadersWith a nickname like Chunk, you can imagine what life is like for Gabe Johnson.  Gabe's weight problem began when his mother left.  His father sunk into a deep depression, and Gabe's life began to revolve around watching TV and eating junk food with his dad in an attempt to keep him from giving up.  Gabe packed on the pounds, his father continued to mope, and his mother didn't even call or write.

The only thing that keeps Gabe going is playing his trombone in the Minnekota Lake High School band.  The band director Mr. Shaver has influenced a lot of kids like Gabe, in other words, the geeks of MLHS.  The marching band is a huge success thanks to proceeds from the pop machine located in the school cafeteria.  Gabe is one of the pop machine's biggest supporters which doesn't exactly help his weight problem.  A minimum of four Code Red Mountain Dews is what gets him through the day.

When Gabe and his fellow band members see the sign on the pop machine announcing that the money raised will now be going to support the cheerleaders' dance team, they can't believe it.  Who made that decision?  The next announcement angers them even more - no money means no marching band camp!

Gabe suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of leader as he organizes a protest to reinstate funding for the band and come to the aid of the band director who is arrested for drunk driving after learning that his program is may be cut.  Can Gabe help the band and at the same time deal with a depressed father, a health conscious/workout freak of a grandfather, and the fact that he just might be in love with the school's only Goth girl?

Author Geoff Herbach, known for his STUPID FAST series, has created another great teen character.  FAT BOY VS THE CHEERLEADERS is the perfect read for teens who love to root for the underdog and have a laugh or two at the same time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Andre the Giant: Life and LegendBeginning in Molien, France, in 1958, this graphic novel* traces the wrestling career of Andre Roussimoff.  Over seven feet tall and weighing in at 600 pounds, the man was truly a giant. 

Author Box Brown captures the true flavor of professional wrestling as he chronicles Andre's life in and out of the ring.  Life in the spotlight led to heavy drinking and at times a vulgar lifestyle.  Brown explains that the stressful and physically taxing life of a wrestler would have been hard enough, but it was even more devastating for Andre since his huge bulk was due to a condition known as acromegaly.  Guaranteed, because of the condition, to have a shorter than normal lifespan, Andre made the most of his fame and traveled the world to perform for his fans.

Brown also lets readers into the inner world of pro-wrestling.  He describes the roles of hero and "heel" as the wrestlers get the crowd geared up before the fights.  In Andre's career he played both roles well.  Readers also learn some of the secrets of how moves are faked to create the theatrical performance well-known in the sport.

ANDRE THE GIANT portrays the man behind the legend in startling detail.  His personal life, his appearances in movies, as well as his professional career are clearly written and illustrated within the graphic format.

*One note of caution - considering the graphic novel style might attract younger readers, this reviewer cautions some of the language and innuendo are more suited to mature readers.

Friday, August 15, 2014

FAR, FAR AWAY by Tom McNeal

Far Far AwayFAR, FAR AWAY begins and ends with "the strange and fateful tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost."  The boy is Jeremy Johnson Johnson.  The girl is Jeremy's new found friend, Ginger.  The ghost is Jacob Grimm of the famous Grimm's brothers.

Jeremy and his father live in the Two Book Bookstore inherited from Jeremy's grandfather.  Considering that the store only carries copies of just two books (the two volumes of Jeremy's grandfather's autobiography) business is not exactly booming.  Jeremy's father is also suffering from depression and hasn't left the store, which is also their home, in years.  Since they are unable to pay the mortgage on the store, father and son may be out on the streets in a few short weeks.

Both Jeremy and his small town have some unusual quirks.  First, Jeremy has grown up hearing a voice that identified itself as Jacob Grimm.  Because of a tragic event that hasn't allowed Jacob to rest peacefully, his spirit has remained behind for centuries and his ghost currently speaks through and shares his famous tales with this lonely teen living in the town of Never Better. 

Never Better is home to a popular bakery.  Whenever the residents observe a mysterious green smoke coming from the bakery chimney, they know the baker is making some of his famous Prince Cakes.  The cakes supposedly possess magical qualities no one can explain. 

Another mystery in Never Better is the disappearance of several of its young citizens.  The police chief believes the disappearances are simply cases of run away kids, but Jeremy and Ginger begin to suspect otherwise.  The real adventure begins when Jeremy and Ginger become the next two missing teens.

Author Tom McNeal has cleverly created a modern day tale with the tone and flavor mimicking the fairy tales of old.  FAR, FAR AWAY will captivate fans of fantasy as well as those who usually prefer more realistic tales.  This reviewer believes there is a little something for everyone.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon

How It Went Down
Review ARC courtesy of
Release date: October 2014

It is a case of violence in the hood.  A would-be teen gang member is shot and killed as he leaves a neighborhood store.  Did he have a gun or was it a Snickers candy bar clutched in his hand?

Tariq didn't have the best reputation, but that doesn't excuse the tragedy that ended his life.  He was running an errand for his mother and was shot leaving the store.  When a white man with a gun observed a black teen in a hoodie running from the store with the store owner hot on his heels, the white man opened fire and fatally shot Tariq.  What no one stopped to investigate was that the shop owner was simply trying to get Tariq's attention because he had forgotten to pick up his change.

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon is proof that every witness has a different view of the event and every person has a different opinion about the victim.  The story records the nine days following Tariq's death.  Multiple points of view are presented taking readers into life on the streets of Tariq's neighborhood.  The emotional impact on Tariq's mother, grandmother, sister, and best friend are only a few of the many voices present in the novel.  Both friends and enemies as well as random participants in the events surrounding Tariq's death share their thoughts and reactions to the violence that is an unfortunate part of their daily routines.

Similar to recent real life events, HOW IT WENT DOWN definitely speaks to the racism, inner city violence, and how justice  is viewed by many today. 

TO THIS DAY: For the Bullied and Beautiful by Shane Koyczan

To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful
Review ARC courtesy of
Release date: September 2014

Maybe some of you readers have already witnessed this amazing piece of material.  Author and poet Shane Koyczan first performed TO THIS DAY as a spoken word poem on stage.  From there it became a hit on You Tube, first as a recording of his performance and later as a video highlighted by the work of visual artists.  Now TO THIS DAY can be found in book form complete with Koyczan's poem, art from select graphic artists, and a detailed background of the history of the piece and the message Koyczan hopes to convey to the world about bullying.

TO THIS DAY expresses the conflicting feelings of an individual growing up in a vicious, intolerant world.  Whether suffering emotional or physical attacks, the victim of bullying struggles with how to carry on as each day presents what feels like insurmountable challenges.  As Koyczan explains, "Sticks and stones may hurt your bones, but words can never hurt you," are words that offer empty comfort to a child facing torment from his peers.  The power of the bully is overwhelming for those under attack.

Koyczan hopes his poem will speak to victims, perpetrators, and bystanders alike.  The power of his words combined with eye-catching and emotional artwork should ensure that his message touches anyone who turns the pages of this brilliant piece.  Those who have suffered at the hands of a bully will no doubt be able to see themselves at some point in the poem, and hopefully, rejoice that Shane Koyczan has been able to present their feelings for the world to see.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

ZOM-B CLANS by Darren Shan

Zom-B Clans (Zom-B Series #8)What's next for B?  When readers left her last, she had just begun battling the Klanners whose goal wasn't just to attack the zombies, but mostly to eliminate anyone who didn't fit their racist views. 

It would seem that with the world overrun with zombies anyone still alive would ban together no matter their race or ethnic background.  B and her fellow Angels are shocked to realize that these Ku Klux Klan crazies are intent on destroying the living or the dead if they represent some minority.  B thought she left those prejudices behind when she escaped her racist father.

To complicate matters, Dan-Dan has returned.  The fat man dressed in the sailor costume is guilty of killing children, and all B wants to do is rip him to pieces, but instead she finds she must protect him if there is any chance that she can rescue her best friend Vinyl and other Angels being held captive by the Owl Man.

The action and excitement continue as B takes daring chances in her attempt to return control of the world to the living.  Fans of Darren Shan's ZOM-B series won't have to wait long for book #8, ZOM-B FAMILY, due for release in October.

Monday, August 4, 2014

DARIUS & TWIG by Walter Dean Myers

Darius & TwigWhat a loss for the world of YA!  Walter Dean Myers's books offered the best in YA lit for the guys, especially the reluctant reader.  DARIUS & TWIG is one of his titles I hadn't read so when I saw it at the bookstore, I grabbed it for my classroom.

Set in Myers's infamous 145th Street neighborhood, the story tells of two friends hoping to escape the life of the inner city through college scholarships.  Darius is a writer being encouraged to edit a story he submitted for possible publication.  If he can tweak it as advised, it will be in print and potentially be his ticket to a better life.
Twig is a runner.  If he competes and performs at his peak, college scouts will be knocking at his door.

Both teens have the opportunity to live out their dreams, but family members and the hostile environment that surrounds them threaten to derail their plans.  Street violence, including robberies and shootings, create distractions that have Darius and Twig defending family and friends.  Within their families where support for their dreams would be expected, there is reluctance they find difficult to explain. 

In DARIUS & TWIG Myers is at his best.  Through the writing of Darius it is easy to imagine a young Myers fighting his own fight to improve his life and make a difference in the lives of so many others in the process.  If you somehow haven't discovered the amazing books by this awarding winning author, please jot down his name and head to your local library or bookstore today.