Monday, December 28, 2015

DARK HOPE by Monica McGurk

Dark Hope: Book One of the Archangel Prophecies
First of all, a huge thank you to for copies of Book One and Two of ARCHANGEL PROPHECIES.  Your contests are greatly appreciated by your blog followers.

Hope Carmichael was kidnapped as a young child.  She doesn't remember much except for the dark stranger who rescued her from a seedy motel room and returned her to her parents.  The ordeal forever changed her father who was with her in the park on the day of the abduction.  After her safe return, his overprotectiveness and obsession with religion destroyed her parents marriage and left her living with him while her mother pursued a business career that required extensive travel.

Now a teen, Hope has opted to leave her father whose odd behavior has become too much to take.  Moving to Atlanta, Georgia, to live with her mother promises to offer a more normal existence.  Starting at a new high school has Hope a bit nervous, but she is determined to make the best of it.  It feels good to have the freedom to come and go and experience life as a regular teen.  The only reminder of her childhood trauma is the strange mark that appeared on her neck presumably at the hands of her abductor.

After a rocky first day at Dunwoody High, Hope meets Michael.  Also, fairly new to the area, the two share the same classes and seem to hit it off.  Hope finds Michael attractive and strangely attentive, but being the target for "new girl" taunts isn't exactly her idea of fun so she welcomes his protection.

A class project has Hope partnering with Tabitha, the daughter of a local minister.  Their project involves an investigation of Atlanta's human trafficking problem.  This takes Hope and Tabitha into potential danger and reveals another side to Michael.  After he intervenes to save Hope, she recognizes him as the stranger who rescued her from that motel room long ago.  When he explains that he is the Archangel Michael sent by God to protect her, Hope's life heads down a path she could never have anticipated in her wildest dreams.

For readers looking for adventure and danger that includes guardian angels and unexplained powers, DARK HOPE and its sequel DARK RISING are perfect reads.  Author Monica McGurk's writing career began with fan fiction based on TWILIGHT, and readers will recognize a familiar tone and voice as they enjoy this new series with Hope and Michael.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


Trouble Is a Friend of Mine
A teenage girl is kidnapped years after another little girl disappeared in the same town.  The circumstances are different, but Philip Digby is determined to get to the bottom of both cases.

Digby and Zoe, a new girl in town, form a strange crime fighting duo in TROUBLE IS A FRIEND OF MINE.  The relationship between Zoe and Digby is a complicated one.  Most observers listening to the taunts between the two would never imagine the they consider each other friends, and at times, even Zoe finds herself wondering the same thing.

When Zoe learns that Digby's little sister was a kidnap victim years ago, she begins to understand his obsession with locating the latest missing girl, Marina  However, Marina's disappearance from the home of her wealthy family doesn't seem to fit the same crime scenario.  Despite the seemingly unrelated nature of the two events, Digby uses his cunning yet odd mind to solve the mysteries with the  reluctant help of Zoe and an assortment of other acquaintances.

Thanks to a neighbor who won a copy of Stephanie Tromly's TROUBLE IS A FRIEND OF MINE on Goodreads, I was able to enjoy this mad-cap mystery adventure.  Witty dialogue, dicey ideas, and non-stop action make this a fast-paced read.  I'm looking forward to sharing this with some teen readers.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

EXIT POINT by Laura Langston

Exit Point
I was able to read EXIT POINT thanks to a student who shared his copy with me. 

Logan is dead, although he isn't really sure at first.  When he opens his eyes, he is surrounded by gray robed figures and swirling colors.  He is being told that he was supposed to take Exit Point 5 but evidently took the easy way out at Exit Point 2.  Exit Point 5 would have meant extending his life until 2066, however, his early departure ended things for him in 2004.  Well, that's a bummer.

When he is visited by Gran, Logan realizes that he is indeed dead, but if this is heaven, things are definitely not what he expected.  Gran and his personal guide to the afterlife, a guy named Wade, are quick to inform him that he has a mission to accomplish before he can completely cross over.  His job is to save his sister Amy from a rat bastard and his plans to sexually abuse the nine year old.  Unfortunately, it may be tricky since the rat bastard is none other than Logan's uncle Herb.

What follows for Logan is a crash course in learning how to make contact with the living.  It is not as easy as one would think, but he knows Amy's safety depends on his ability to learn quickly. 

Author Laura Langston takes readers on a fascinating adventure into the afterlife.  Logan's ability to make contact with his loved ones will have readers thinking carefully about unexplained sensations and random memories they may experience involving their own lost loved ones.  I will be thanking my student for generously sharing this quick read with me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST by Eric Lindstrom

Not If I See You First
Here are some of Parker's rules: 1) Don't help me unless I ask, 2) Don't talk extra loud to me, 3) Don't treat me differently, and 4) Don't deceive me.

Parker is blind.  A tragic car accident killed her mother and tore Parker's optic nerve, leaving her in the dark.  After the accident, Parker depended on her father for everything.  They had been close before, and that closeness only increased.  But then, he died. 

It has been months since Parker's aunt, uncle, and cousins moved into her family home.  It was decided that having Parker adjust to new surroundings would be too much, and she appreciated that they were willing to make the sacrifice and move.  Parker is now able to concentrate on adjusting to life without her father.

To most people, Parker appears tough and independent.  She evens has a morning running routine that gives her a feeling of control and helps her deal with missing her dad.  A peer aid helps her in her classes at school, but she is determined to be as self-sufficient as possible. 

Despite her tough exterior, Parker not only misses her father, but also mourns the end of her relationship with her boyfriend Scott.  They were best friends and more until an incident in eighth grade when Scott broke the ultimate rule with Parker - "Don't deceive me."  Now she is trying to learn to trust all over again.  It might be possible that a new friend, Jason, can renew her faith in friendship with a guy.  But, just as she's getting comfortable, her feelings for Scott being to resurface.

NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST is the debut novel of author Eric Lindstrom.  I was impressed with the strong voice he created in Parker as she deals with the curveballs life has thrown her way.  Full of grit and determination, Parker doesn't wallow in self-pity and will serve to encourage others dealing with life's issues.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

HER COLD REVENGE by Erin Johnson

Her Cold Revenge
Grace Milton watched the massacre of her family and she swore revenge.  Finding the killers is proving to be more difficult than she anticipated.  Part of that difficulty comes from the fact that she is a woman, and the world of law enforcement and bounty hunting in the Wild West doesn't welcome women.

As she waits for the Guiltless Gang to surface, she has to make a living so she fights for every chance she gets to bring in petty criminals and claim the rewards.  Slowly, she is gaining respect from some of her competitors, but it isn't going to be easy to convince everyone that she deserves to a place with the other bounty hunters.

Another complication is facing her feelings for Joe who helped her survive and convinced the Ndeh tribe to take her in when she needed it most.  Reuniting with Joe has Grace questioning the emotional and physical attraction that draws her to him and leaves her worried that getting too close to him might make her too soft to carry through with her revenge. 

Grace also feels the need to champion the cause of the other women trying to survive in the tough world of the West.  Widows and children and her dear friend from the Ndeh tribe are depending on her.  Despite the distractions, Grace clings to her desire to honor her family's memory.

HER COLD REVENGE by Erin Johnson is the second book in the Wanted series.  Intense action, hardened criminals, and romance all combine to grab readers and keep them wanting more.  Book #3 is due for release in August of 2016.

Friday, December 11, 2015


Chasing Forgiveness
Neal Schusterman's UNWIND series is one of my favorites.  It still gives me chills when I think of it.  Winning this year's National Book Award has some of his older titles reappearing on bookstore shelves.  CHASING FORGIVENESS is one I hadn't read until now.

Preston Scott's father is getting out of prison.  Preston's life changed forever when he was twelve years old when his father killed his mother.  Surprisingly, everyone seems to be able to forgive Preston's father so Preston tries to do the same.

Living with his maternal parents may seem strange, but they insist it's the only place for Preston as he awaits his father's release.  They are protective and hesitant when their daughter's killer returns and once again becomes involved in his family's world.  Preston believes his father is determined to make things right again, but he still isn't sure he can offer his full forgiveness.

Schusterman captures the raw emotion surrounding a family torn apart by a horrific event and what it takes to mend what was torn apart.  Although the focus is entirely different than the dystopian world of UNWIND, Schusterman's storytelling is sure to hold reader attention and leave a lasting impression.  I am eager to read his National Book Award winner CHALLENGER DEEP.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


A Madness So Discreet
Author Mindy McGinnis takes readers into the frightening world of the insane asylum of the early 19th century.  Dank basement containment rooms, corrupt management, and lobotomy procedures were the norm in many facilities.  A MADNESS SO DISCREET combines terrifying medical treatments, sexual abuse, and murder into a spine-chilling tale.

A terrible family secret has stolen Grace Mae's voice and landed her in a mental hospital in Boston.  Unable to speak of the act that ended in an unwanted pregnancy, Grace spends her days listening to the awful sounds made by her fellow inmates and observing the horrible treatment prescribed by doctors and nurses in the name of 19th century mental health.

Due to a "treatment" for a perceived misbehavior, Grace loses the baby and is taken to a cell in the basement where she is befriended by a neighboring cellmate.  With his help and a faked lobotomy, Grace is able to escape.  Among the conditions of her escape, it must be thought that she is dead, and she must accompany a Dr. Thornhollow to her new home in an Ohio asylum and agree to work with him studying the criminal mind.

The Ohio asylum is run by a much more sympathetic staff, and Grace even makes friends with two girls who are also patients there.  Although she has regained the ability to speak, part of the deception involves her remaining mute.  Despite this handicap, she still finds comfort from her new friendships and the fact that her move to Ohio has allowed her to escape her abuser.  However, she is now worried for a little sister still living in her family home. 

A MADNESS SO DISCREET explores the human mind and what it does to maintain its tenuous grip on sanity when threatened by the atrocities in the world around it.  Multiple story lines and gripping suspense make this novel a sure winner.  McGinnis is also the author of NOT A DROP TO DRINK and A HANDFUL OF DUST.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

LOSERS TAKE ALL by David Klass

Losers Take All
Fremont High has a fine history of winning sports teams.  The student body and a supportive community fill the stands for every athletic contest.  When Principal Arthur Gentry takes his place as the 21st runner in the annual senior race everyone cheers his forty year career as leader of the school and creator of a sporting dynasty.

This year the race ends in tragedy when Principal Gentry collapses at the finish line.  The position of principal is now open, and the school board vows to find the perfect person to take the job.  No one is greatly surprised when long-time football coach Brian Muhldinger is appointed to the position.  He will run a tight ship and keep sports in the spotlight.

Not everyone is happy when Principal Muhldinger announces a new school rule.  Every senior at Fremont High must participate in at least one complete sports season or they won't graduate.  Jack Logan and his friends are not interested in sports, but what choice do they have.

Jack comes from a long line of football players.  His father almost went pro except for a career ending knee injury in college.  His two older brothers were part of the Fremont football winning tradition.  Jack is offered a spot on the varsity team by the new principal, but he turns it down.  His rejection of football starts a revolution that will flip the school's devotion to sports on its head.

Author David Klass takes a look at the overemphasis of sports in some of today's high schools, as well as the issue of bullying and its sometimes devastating consequences.  Jack and his friends recognize the importance of a well-rounded education.  It isn't all about sports, but rather a healthy mix of academics and extracurricular activities.  Teens whose number one priority isn't on the athletic field will cheer on the losers in LOSERS TAKE ALL, and educators will also find satisfaction in a theme that focuses more on success in the classroom than achievements on the field.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

HIT by Delilah S. Dawson

Patsy and her mother have been through a lot.  Her mother works hard and barely enough to make ends meet.  A recent car accident completely wiped out their finances, and not only that, she's just learned she has cancer.

When men in black suits arrive, Patsy can't believe it when they threaten to kill her mother if she can't pay the debt accumulated since the accident.  They tell Patsy that she can save her mother if she is willing to become an indentured assassin for Valor Savings, the company holding her mother's debt.

Patsy is willing to do whatever is necessary to save her mother, and  before she knows it she is wearing a postal uniform, driving a mail truck, and carrying a gun.  According to Valor Savings, she must kill ten people in five days if they refuse to make good on their debt to Valor.

Following the directions on a GPS mounted in the mail truck, Patsy heads to the home of Robert Beard and the killing begins.  Apparently, Valor Savings is now in control of the country.  Calling 911 for help results in an answering machine message generated by Valor Savings, and in time, Patsy discovers the police no longer exist.  The world will soon be in chaos.

Author Delilah S. Dawson's HIT takes a frightening look at a world not so different from our own.  People spending money they don't have while racking up credit card debt is all too real for many.  To imagine a lending company taking over the government and eliminating all those who owe money is the stuff of nightmares.  Dawson's plot is unique and captivating.  Based on the ending of HIT, I believe the adventure will continue to even more horrifying depths in a future book.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

SHACKLED by Tom Leveen

Once again author Tom Leveen takes readers into the stuff of nightmares.  The cover alone suggests the eventual location, a dingy basement prison and a frightening secret.

Pelly has spent years overcoming an incident involving her best friend, the mall, and a stranger.  She tries to forget the day when at age ten she and her best friend Tara were allowed to roam the mall while their mothers shopped.  Tara disappeared in the middle of a game of hide and seek.

It has been six years since the presumed kidnapping, and no one has heard a thing about Tara.  Pelly's fears have her on medication and seeing a therapist.  Just recently she started working at a local coffee shop in an attempt to begin interacting with people.  Another employee named David seems interested in Pelly, but she is reluctant to trust anyone.

All her horrible fears return one afternoon when a man enters the coffee shop with a girl who looks exactly like Tara.  The girl, thin and cowering behind the man, catches Pelly's eye and mouths, "Help me," as he leads her out the door.  Is it really Tara? 

Pelly is stunned, but quickly recovers and calls the police.  They seem only mildly interested in resurrecting the case, but indicate they will check out the details Pelly provides.  Haunted by the girl's unspoken plea for help, Pelly begins her own investigation, but her search may result in a situation way beyond her control.

SHACKLED by Tom Leveen is a mystery along the lines of Criminal Minds and Cold Case.  Pelly must put aside her own fears in hopes of finding her long missing friend.  Leveen's edge-of-your-seat action is sure to hook readers and keep the pages turning.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Everything, Everything
Madeline Whittier has been a prisoner in her own home for most of her life.  When she was less than a year old, she was diagnosed with SCID - Severe Combined Immunodeficiency disease.  Most recognize the rare condition if it is referred to as "bubble boy/girl" disease.  Exposure to even a tiny virus or bacteria could have deadly consequences to someone with SCID.

Madeline's mother is the only family she has left since a tragic accident claimed the lives of her father and brother.  Fortunately for Madeline, her mother is a doctor and able to manage her care so she has been able to reach her eighteenth birthday.  A nurse monitors Madeline's condition throughout the day until her mother comes home.  Her days are filled with online education, reading her vast collection of books, and then movie time and mind-challenging games with her mother in the evenings.

Life changes for Madeline the day a moving truck pulls into the driveway next door.  An curiously attractive young man is part of the family that moves in.  His window faces hers and communication commences almost immediately. 

Madeline and Olly communicate mostly via IM.  Keeping him a secret from her mother is fairly easy, but Carla, her nurse, discovers the relationship quite quickly.  It doesn't take much convincing for Madeline to get Carla to allow a series of short visits.  Olly agrees to the complicated decontamination process required before he can enter the house.  Madeline's secret is out as Olly learns that contact with the outside world's germs could kill the girl he is rapidly falling in love with.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING is author Nicola Yoon's first book, and it is an amazing treasure.  I was hooked by Madeline's independent voice and her incredibly positive outlook despite her limited life.  As her new experiences reveal facts she never dreamed possible, Madeline becomes determined to live life on her own terms.  This book will be a sure winner with my students.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

PAPER HEARTS by Meg Wiviott

Paper HeartsYoung Zlatka and Fania are torn from their homes, forced into cattle cars, and transported to the concentration camp.  Fania is frightened and alone on this journey.  Having been arrested with other young girls, some not even Jewish, she fears for her life and knows nothing about the fate of her family.  Zlatka struggles to stay with her family during the chaotic journey only to be separated once their arrive at the camp.
PAPER HEARTS by Meg Wiviott tells the story of two Jewish girls surviving imprisonment in Auschwitz.  Based on true events, their story is painful but one that needs to be told to help others understand the horror of this terrible time in history.

Told in verse, PAPER HEARTS follows the horrific experiences of the two girls as they struggle to survive.  Their determination helps them as they face starvation, freezing temperatures without the benefit of proper clothing, crowded conditions, and back-breaking labor.  They risk death as they attempt to comfort each other and their fellow prisoners sharing what little they have.

Wiviott's first novel for young adults is an excellent addition for library collections and classroom bookshelves.


OBITING JUPITER by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter
When Jack's parents decide to take in Joseph as a foster child, Jack is nervous.  Supposedly, Joseph almost killed a teacher, and at age thirteen, he is a father.  Yep, an eighth grade father!

Joseph isn't too keen on learning how to milk cows and do chores on the farm, but it is what it is.  He buckles down and does what is necessary.  He also heads off to start school with Jack.  Their first school day together starts off with Mr. Haskell, the bus driver, making a rude comment to Joseph.  Even though he still isn't comfortable with this whole foster brother thing, Jack feels he needs to defend Joseph.  The incident is the first of many in which Jack declares that he "has Joseph's back."

As Joseph begins to feel more comfortable with his new family, he opens up and shares the story of Maddie, his girl friend, and the baby they named Jupiter.  Although he knows he will never be allowed to see Maddie again, he longs to see his daughter.  His requests are denied and his frustration grows. 

Jack watches Joseph become more comfortable around the farm, and he begins to think of Joseph as a brother.  Sensing Joseph's increasing desire to find Jupiter, Jack isn't surprised when his foster brother turns up missing.  What does surprise him is that his parents step up to help. 

Author Gary D. Schmidt weaves a tender, yet complicated tale about love and loss that will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.  Joseph struggle to deal with the pain of being torn from the only person he believed ever loved him and separated from the child he created as a result of that love.  His struggle is inspiring and also heart-breaking.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

STAINED by Cheryl Rainfield

Sarah Meadows is excited.  Today is the day her life is supposed to change, that is until her father announces that his company has just lost a bunch of money, and that means that the treatments Sarah has been wishing for will not happen.

Sarah has a port-wine birthmark on her face.  She has lived her life being stared at and taunted.  She finally discovered a treatment that could give her a chance to be normal.  The treatment would be painful and doesn't promise that the results will be permanent, but anything is better than nothing as far as Sarah is concerned.  Unfortunately, her father's news has ruined everything.

Somehow Sarah makes it through the day.  School was the last place she expected to be today, but she tried to make the best of it as she attempted to ignore the usual comments and rude stares.  At least the day would end and she could go home to hid and try to forgot her last hope was probably gone for good.

When a business associate of her father's offers her a ride, Sarah reluctantly agrees.  That decision would be one she would soon regret with every inch of her being. 

She wakes up blindfolded and bound.  What happened?  Has she been kidnapped?  Is her father's friend responsible?  What follows is a terrifying experience that has Sarah fighting for her life.

STAINED by Cheryl Rainfield is a frightening read sure to keep readers awake at night. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015


A Step Toward Falling
Emily and Lucas only have one thing in common.  They were both at the wrong place at the right time, and they both reacted in the same way.  They chose to look the other way.

The cover of A STEP TOWARD FALLING states, "Sometimes the worst thing you can do is nothing at all."  That's what Emily did the night she saw Belinda under the bleachers.  She knew something bad was happening, but when she saw Lucas was also watching, she made the decision to let him deal with it.  Later, she learned that Lucas felt the same way, and no one stepped in to help the helpless Belinda.

Emily and Lucas have the same punishment for their thoughtless inaction.  They are required to put in volunteer time at the Life-Long Learning Center that serves adults with disabilities.  Their assignment is a class called Boundaries and Relationships in which the young adults are given instruction on dating and other social interactions.  It is quite an eye-opener for Emily and Lucas as they learn to work with disabled people just like Belinda.

Belinda is recovering from the traumatic event in her own way.  A student at the same high school as Emily and Lucas, she hasn't been attending class.  She's been staying home with her mother and grandmother and endlessly watching Pride and Prejudice, the version with Mr. Colin Firth.  Belinda loves Mr. Firth and is sure he sees her watching him day after day. 

As her days at home pass, Belinda begins to wonder if she should go back to school.  She misses her job sorting and delivering mail in the high school office, and she misses some of her classmates in the resource room where she attends class.  Her grandmother is completely against her going back to school because she doesn't believe Belinda will be kept safe.  Belinda is surprised though, when her mother, suffering from her own mental health issues, steps up to encourage Belinda to go back to school.

As Emily and Lucas learn more about the true abilities of people like Belinda, they come up with a plan to help her regain her courage and show her how much they regret their lack of action when she needed them the most.  Although their scheme may not go exactly as planned, they are determined to make things up to Belinda and become her friends in the process.

Author Cammie McGovern uses this tender and insightful story to show readers that we may not all have the same abilities, but we all have something to give that is sure to make a difference.  As part of an organization called Whole Children, McGovern knows first hand about adults and children with special needs.  Her determination to give their cause the attention it deserves is clearly evident in A STEP TOWARD FALLING. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

TRAFFICK by Ellen Hopkins


Just in case you missed it yesterday, Ellen Hopkins' latest novel TRAFFICK was released.  TRAFFICK is a sequel to TRICKS and carries on the stories of five teens trapped in the horrors of the sex trade.  Thanks to Lady Reader Blog Tours, I got a sneak peek of TRAFFICK a few weeks ago.  Here's a repeat of the review I posted.

TRAFFICK by Ellen Hopkins is a sequel to her intensely powerful TRICKS.  In TRAFFICK Hopkins provides a follow-up for five teens trapped in the tragic practice of human trafficking.

The victim of a gunshot wound, Cody is in the hospital learning that he may never walk again.  Diagnosed with a SCI (spinal cord injury), Cody must find a reason to fight his way back to some sort of normal life.  His gambling debts sent him in a downward spiral into the sex trade.  He knows he can't return to that life, but facing life in a wheelchair threatens to destroy any hope that remains for his future.

Eden wants a life with her true love Andrew.  Hoping to leave Vegas behind and return to her home in Boise, she just may have found a way to avoid her overly religious, controlling parents.  With help and guidance from a counselor at the rescue center, she files legal papers that will grant her emancipation so she and Andrew can work together to create a future.

After his father's rejection, Seth used his body to survive.  As a gay teen, Seth found everything but love as he tried to eek out a meager existence providing sexual favors beyond anything he could imagine.  Through it all, he wished for a way to reunite with his father and earn the man's respect.  Is it possible for him to return to the farm to live the life he misses so much?

Whitney had everything until she became a slave to heroine.  Drugs took her away from her privileged life and into the horrors of the drug and sex scene of Vegas.  In rehab she tries to overcome the power of the Lady, but her mind may not let her escape the pull of drugs and alcohol. 

Ginger lost Iris to AIDS.  No one ever cared for Ginger more than Iris unless it would be Gram.  Gram always wanted to give Ginger love and provide as much as possible.  It takes hitting rock bottom to remind Ginger how much she lost by running.  Might it be possible for Gram to forgive her and take her back?

Where TRICKS describes the dark and gritty life of the sex trade and the teens it destroys, TRAFFICK provides a glimmer of hope if only the teens can find a helping hand to pull them out of the depths of sex, drugs, and abuse.  Each teen struggles to find the determination and will to overcome great odds to regain control and start fresh.  In her typical fashion, Hopkins doesn't wrap up each story in a neat and tidy package, but instead shares the next step for each teen and allows her readers to relate to and learn from the struggles of others.

Review copy courtesy of Amy Del Rosso blog tour.
Release date: 11/3/15

Monday, October 26, 2015


In Search of Mockingbird
Erin's mother died before Erin was old enough to know her.  Everyone is thrilled that her father is finally about to remarry, but the idea is making Erin feel uncomfortable.  She always wished her father shared more information about her mother so Erin can hardly believe it when his birthday gift to her is her mother's diary.

One of the first entries mentions her mother's favorite book, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  Erin can barely contain her excitement.  Harper Lee's famous novel is also her all-time favorite.  She has read it countless times, so to learn that she shared this love with her mother is amazing.

Upset about the upcoming wedding, Erin makes a snap decision.  She packs a bag, uses the birthday money her grandmother sent to buy a bus ticket, and begins a journey from Minnesota to Alabama.  With TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD clutched in her hands, she boards a Greyhound bus determined to met her favorite author in person.  After all, her mother wrote in her diary about sending a letter to Harper Lee asking what it takes to become an author.  Erin would like to get an answer to that question as well.

She knows her father will probably ground her until the end of high school, but some things are more important than potential punishments.  The journey gives Erin time to read the diary and begin to understand the mother she never knew.  She also meets Sedushia, an aging exotic dancer, and Epp who becomes her protector on the journey.  Both help Erin gain the confidence she needs to complete the trip and accomplish the goal of getting to know exactly who her mother was and what she may have passed on to Erin.

Fans of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD will fall in love with Erin's story immediately.  Author Loretta Ellsworth voices the hopes and dreams of aspiring authors and anyone searching for the meaning behind love and loss.  Hand this one to any reader in love with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and they won't be able to thank you enough.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy

The Miss Teen Blue Bonnet beauty contest has been a part of Clover City, Texas, and the life of Willowdean Dickson for as long as most people can remember.  Being the daughter of a former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet winner/contest organizer, Willowdean is surrounded by frantic contest preparation once every year, but you can bet your last dollar, Willowdean herself stays as far removed as possible.

Generally, a confident, independent teen, Willowdean has one insecurity - her weight.  Her great best friend, Ellen, and her job as cashier at Harpy's burger joint keep Willowdean busy. 

She does miss her Aunt Lucy who died nearly a year ago.  Lucy lived with Willowdean and her mom.  Lucy and Willowdean's mother were huge Dolly Parton fans.  Dolly's music played nonstop in their home, and Lucy's room was crammed with Dolly merchandise collected through the years.  Willowdean counted on Lucy as a buffer when it came to dealing with her pageant obsessed mother. 

When a handsome, new employee begins working at Harpy's, Willowdean's world is turned upsidedown.  Bo seems inexplicably interested in Willowdean.  How could he be attracted to a fat girl in an unattractive, polyester fast food uniform?  The kiss they share behind the restaurant dumpster has Willowdean reeling, and the craziness continues when she decides to enter her mother's beauty contest.  What was she thinking?

Author of SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY, Julie Murphy, takes readers on another interesting journey.  Her main character, Willowdean, is a refreshingly smart, courageous heroine sure to connect with girls dreaming of relationships and adventures they aren't sure they deserve.  Willowdean proves that everyone deserves the best and can find exactly that if they stay true to themselves.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

TRAFFICK by Ellen Hopkins


TRAFFICK by Ellen Hopkins is a sequel to her intensely powerful TRICKS.  In TRAFFICK Hopkins provides a follow-up for five teens trapped in the tragic practice of human trafficking.

The victim of a gunshot wound, Cody is in the hospital learning that he may never walk again.  Diagnosed with a SCI (spinal cord injury), Cody must find a reason to fight his way back to some sort of normal life.  His gambling debts sent him in a downward spiral into the sex trade.  He knows he can't return to that life, but facing life in a wheelchair threatens to destroy any hope that remains for his future.

Eden wants a life with her true love Andrew.  Hoping to leave Vegas behind and return to her home in Boise, she just may have found a way to avoid her overly religious, controlling parents.  With help and guidance from a counselor at the rescue center, she files legal papers that will grant her emancipation so she and Andrew can work together to create a future.

After his father's rejection, Seth used his body to survive.  As a gay teen, Seth found everything but love as he tried to eek out a meager existence providing sexual favors beyond anything he could imagine.  Through it all, he wished for a way to reunite with his father and earn the man's respect.  Is it possible for him to return to the farm to live the life he misses so much?

Whitney had everything until she became a slave to heroine.  Drugs took her away from her privileged life and into the horrors of the drug and sex scene of Vegas.  In rehab she tries to overcome the power of the Lady, but her mind may not let her escape the pull of drugs and alcohol. 

Ginger lost Iris to AIDS.  No one ever cared for Ginger more than Iris unless it would be Gram.  Gram always wanted to give Ginger love and provide as much as possible.  It takes hitting rock bottom to remind Ginger how much she lost by running.  Might it be possible for Gram to forgive her and take her back?

Where TRICKS describes the dark and gritty life of the sex trade and the teens it destroys, TRAFFICK provides a glimmer of hope if only the teens can find a helping hand to pull them out of the depths of sex, drugs, and abuse.  Each teen struggles to find the determination and will to overcome great odds to regain control and start fresh.  In her typical fashion, Hopkins doesn't wrap up each story in a neat and tidy package, but instead shares the next step for each teen and allows her readers to relate to and learn from the struggles of others.

Review copy courtesy of Amy Del Rosso blog tour.
Release date: 11/3/15

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

INTO THE KILLING SEAS by Michael P. Spradlin

Into the Killing Seas

I'd like to thank author Michael P. Spradlin for kindly providing this ARC for reading and review.

Two young boys are in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Living in the Pacific during the height of WWII, they are being sent to a safe location until they can rejoin their parents and return to the U.S.  Their travel plans are destroyed when Pearl Harbor is attacked, and the two end up as stowaways on the infamous USS Indianapolis. 

Helped by Benny, affectionately known as Benjamin Franklin Poindexter, Private First Class, United States Marine Corps, Patrick and Teddy are loaded into a crate labelled "ammunition."  Their accommodations come complete with food, water, and a few other creature comforts.  Benny promises to let them know when the coast is clear so they can leave the crate and stretch their legs as the huge ship makes its way across the ocean.

Unfortunately, all Benny's well made plans crumble when the ship is struck by Japanese torpedoes.  As history books reveal, the warship is sliced nearby in half and sinks in minutes.  The two boys and their friend Benny are among the few survivors and soon find themselves in the ocean clinging to a wooden pallet.  Surrounded by crazed sailors, dead bodies, and circling sharks, Patrick is forced to protect his younger brother as he struggles to follow the directions of the severely injured Benny.

Author Michael P. Spradlin captures a moment in history is this action-packed, gritty story of survival.  The images he describes are frightening and vivid and sure to captivate not only history buffs, but also readers in search of a breath-taking adventure.  INTO THE KILLING SEAS is perfect for middle grade libraries and classrooms. 


The Truth Commission
I have been a fan of Susan Juby since reading ALICE, I THINK.  Her humor and uncanny ability to weave a story with quirky characters sharing the ups and downs of their lives hooked me immediately.  For me THE TRUTH COMMISSION carries on the Juby tradition perfectly.

Normandy, Dusk, and Neil are friends and classmates at the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design.  They are dedicated to the exploration of their artistic talents and recently, also dedicated to the search for truth.

The three teens have decided to delve into the lives of their fellow students in search of the truth as it relates to each individual.  They are not seeking to expose secrets and generate gossip.  No, they simply want to question others and persuade them to face the real nature of what lies deep within.

Dusk and Neil jump right into the project, and the group finds the successes quite interesting.  When questioned, some individuals give up the truth easily, while others hold back with promises to reveal the cold hard facts when the time is right. 

Normandy "Norm" who gives voice to the trio's story, finds herself facing a truth that might be more of a challenge than she bargained for.  Her older sister Keira is a talented artist in her own right.  She is famous in the art scene for her comic series featuring her own family. 

Recently returned from a prestigious art school, Keira has been acting mysteriously.  She disappears for days at a time, and when she comes home, she spends every minute shut up in the closet she and Normandy share.  The closet has long been the studio where her artistic creations come into being.  Normandy is sure something with Keira is amiss, and when the older sister begins to share the details of a questionable relationship with one of her professors, Normandy is frightened.  Should she press Keira for more details?  Should she involve their parents or some other adult? 

Normandy is quickly discovering that the truth may be uncomfortable and even a bit difficult to control.  Conflicted by pressure from her friends and the love she feels for her sister, Normandy has some big decisions to make.

Author Susan Juby is sure to gain new fans with THE TRUTH COMMISSION.  Clever, witty, and completely truthful, it takes readers on a unique adventure with three spirited friends. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

THE CANDLE STAR by Michelle Isenhoff

The Candle Star
It is 1858 and young Emily Preston is headed to Detroit.  Her unpleasant behavior and poor attitude have resulted in her parents' decision to send Emily to spend time with her mother's brother, Uncle Isaac. 

Used to life on the plantation in Charleston and the attention of family-owned slaves, Emily is out of her element when she arrives in Detroit.  Uncle Isaac owns and operates a hotel in the city.  Emily is expected to attend school and lend a hand helping around the hotel.  Dealing with the idea of blacks who have their freedom is completely contrary to Emily's upbringing.

Determined to be annoying enough to give her uncle reason to send her home, Emily treats him and his employees with contempt and disrespect.  Uncle Isaac rises to the challenge of dealing with the obnoxious teen and puts her in her place instead of sending her packing.

As time passes and Emily gets to know Uncle Isaac and his friends, including some of the free blacks, she begins to realize that she is not better than others.  When she first arrived and met Mr. Burrows, a slave catcher, she thought his job was an honorable one.  Retrieving runaway slaves was something she was raised to believe was acceptable.  However, her time in Detroit and a growing friendship with a young black boy causes her to change her thinking and view the work of Mr. Burrow as unjust.

Author Michelle Isenhoff brings history alive in THE CANDLE STAR.  Her characters are relatable and intriguing.  Readers will be frustrated with Emily's behavior, but will come to appreciate her change and growth as she experiences life in the North.  THE CANDLE STAR is book #1 in the Divided Decade Trilogy.  Its fast pace and easy style is perfect for middle grade readers.

Monday, September 28, 2015


I Crawl Through It
A.S. King's latest release takes readers into the lives of four teens teetering on the edge of sanity. 

Stanzi, a victim of PTSD, is dealing with the death of her younger sister.  Guilt is preventing both her and her parents from coming to terms with the tragedy.  Family "vacations" consist of trip to the scenes of school shootings leaving Stanzi completely confused and prepared to runaway from parents she believes have emotionally abandoned her.

Gustav is building an invisible helicopter.  His parents seem supportive even though they confess to not being able to see his amazing creation.  Stanzi, who care deeply for Gustav, can only see the helicopter on Tuesdays, but she believes in him completely and willing boards the aircraft when he invites her to join him on a flight to an invisible land.

China avoids emotional trauma by turning herself inside out.  Living with her insides on the outsides allows her to observe life without participation.  She wants to be normal, but since a traumatic encounter with Irenic Brown, she fears interaction.

Last is Lansdale Cruise, a compulsive liar.  Each time she lies her hair grows.  She cuts it daily, but continuous lying keeps it growing at an alarming rate.  Her low self-esteem prevents her from dealing with family and friends honestly.

Filled with odd characters and disturbing imagery, I CRAWL THROUGH IT is a hypnotic read.  The four teens will draw readers into their unusual stories and carry them through to each unconventional resolution.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

ALL WE HAVE IS NOW by Lisa Schroeder

All We Have Is Now

Emerson and Vince are two teens living on the streets.  Emerson's mother kicked her out, and Vince has no family at all.  Together they are managing to survive, but there's a time limit for that survival.

In fact there's a time limit for everyone.  In just over twenty-four hours an asteroid will hit North America, ending life for anyone not fortunate enough to be able to afford a ticket to some safer part of the world.

As Emerson and Vince wander the streets deciding what to do with their remaining hours, they meet Carl.  He tells them he has been granting people's final wishes and has decided to pass his remaining money and his car on to the two teens.  He challenges them to continue paying it forward.

Time continues to tick down as Emerson and Vince wander the streets offering what they can to desperate people.  In between their good deeds, Vince tries to convince Emerson that they should use the remaining gas in the car to take her back home to reunite with her family.  Emerson isn't sure she wants to confront the mother who sent her packing or if she would even be welcome if she showed up in these final hours.

Author Lisa Schroeder credits a favorite high school teacher for the idea behind this book - "if you only had 24 hours...."  What would you do?  Schroeder's characters find satisfaction in helping others as a strange twist of fate works to provide a surprise for them as well.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A DIFFERENT ME by Deborah Blumenthal

A Different Me
Allie is ecstatic to learn that she is not alone.  She is not the only girl who hates her nose!

For as long as Allie can remember, she has wanted to change one thing about her appearance.  The shape of her nose, especially the bump, has disgusted her.  She wears sunglasses in hopes of hiding it, and she is always looking for makeup tips that help hid imperfections. 

No one knows how she feels, not her parents and not even her best friend Jen.  But all that changes when Allie finds a website devoted to people considering cosmetic surgery.  She meets Katrina and Mel.  They also hate their noses and plan to do something about it.

After sharing her feelings with her two new friends, Allie is even more determined to make a change that she thinks will improve everything about her life.  Will she have the courage to confront her parents about the subject?  Will tutoring a girl named Amber help her realize what real problems look like and what's really important in life?

Author Deborah Blumenthal explores the increasing popularity of cosmetic surgery that is sweeping the country.  A DIFFERENT ME is perfect for girls dealing with body image issues and is sure to stimulate quality discussion about related topics.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar

Fuzzy Mud

Author Louis Sachar, famous for HOLES, is back with a new release called FUZZY MUD. 

Tamaya and Marshall attend Woodridge Academy.  Tamaya is in fifth grade and her mother insists that she not walk to and from school alone.  Since Marshall, a seventh grader, lives nearby, he is Tamaya's companion twice a day.  Years have gone by uneventfully, but that is about to change.

Marshall is the victim of school bully Chad Hilligas.  When Chad threatens to beat Marshall up on the way home, Marshall insists he and Tamaya take what he calls a "shortcut."  The supposed shortcut takes the two through the woods and makes Tamaya very uncomfortable.

The two soon become separated in the dense woods.  Sure that she has heard Chad following closely, Tamaya trips in her rush to escape.  She feels her hand sink into something she describes as "fuzzy mud."  When she hears footsteps coming closer, she clutches a handful and flings it at the noise.  The mud hits Chad full in the face allowing Tamaya to make her escape.

Overnight Tamaya's hand develops an unusual rash which develops into bleeding blisters.  The condition worsens throughout the next day, and she begins to wonder what happened to Chad.  That worry deepens when it is announced at school that Chad has been reported missing.  After that the plot (and the mud) thickens.

This frightening tale is perfect for middle grade readers.  Many of them may have not even heard of HOLES or Sachar's other books, but FUZZY MUD is sure to earn fans who can then be pointed in the direction of his earlier books.

Monday, September 7, 2015

GEORGE by Alex Gino

George is a fifth grade boy who identifies herself as Melissa.  George's best friend is Kelly.  Having a girl for a best friend helps a bit, but George would love to be able to share her secret with someone and just be herself.

The kids at school seem to know George is a little different.  She deals with taunts and teasing from some of the guys, especially when the teacher finishes reading CHARLOTTE'S WEB and George sheds a few tears at the sad ending.

George begins to hatch a plan that might make telling her mother about her secret a bit easier.  Every year the fifth grade performs a play based on CHARLOTTE'S WEB.  George believes she would be the perfect Charlotte.  She even gets encouragement from Kelly as they practice running lines before the tryouts.  However, the teacher dashes any hopes George has when she refuses to let George play the part she so badly wants.  This calls for a new plan, and Kelly is on it.  There may still be hope that George can show the world how important it is to live life as a girl.

Author Alex Gino began writing GEORGE in 2003.  Just released this week, the book represents a step forward in acknowledging transgender issues for younger readers.  Gino presents the subject in an informative, non-threatening plot that not only educates but also speaks to kids questioning their own sexual identities.  GEORGE is a must have for classrooms and libraries.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


Charlotte Cuts It Out

ARC graciously provided by Viking Publishers.

BFF's Charlotte and Lydia have always had a grand plan for their futures.  As students in the cosmetology program at ATC, the Arts and Trades Center, they are partners intent on winning this year's Winter Style Showcase.  That win is the first step in their Grand Plan to graduate, go on to earn business degrees from Jackson College, and then open their own salon.

Winning the Style Showcase is more important than ever for Charlotte.  Her mother simply won't acknowledge that cosmetology is an acceptable career.  She believes that earning a four year college degree is the only future for her daughter.  After a family argument, Charlotte makes a bet with her mother that means her entire future plan requires winning the Showcase at all costs.

Things begin to fall apart almost immediately.  The first devastating blow comes when her best friend ever decides to totally switch directions by dropping cos arts to join the culinary arts program.  Are you kidding? Problems at the family grocery store arise that eat away at the time Charlotte has to spend prepping for the big show.  Things really heat up when a potential romance is sabotaged as Charlotte discovers that the "QT" (cutie) of her dreams is really interested in Lydia instead.

One complication leads to another, but through these challenges Charlotte, who is usually a very "me" focused person, learns that working together and thinking of others can make all the difference. 

Author K. A. Barson takes readers on a wild ride that involves the stress of competition, the frustration of a family business, and the rollercoaster of romance.  Using the backdrop of an alternative high school focused on skills and arts training adds a unique element.  The showcase competition provides an interesting educational opportunity requiring cooperation and a variety of real world skills that current educators might be wise to investigate. 

CHARLOTTE CUTS IT OUT is perfect for readers looking for a story that combines hair styles, makeup, and fashion with the daily struggles teens face with school, friends, and family.  

Saturday, September 5, 2015

THE TROUBLE IN ME by Jack Gantos

The Trouble in Me
Author Jack Gantos is known for his JOEY PIGZA series and DEAD END IN NORVELT and its sequel.  This latest book is similar to the autobiography Gantos wrote titled HOLE IN MY LIFE.  THE TROUBLE IN ME is fiction, but its main character is Jack himself.  He combines memories with fiction to tell readers about a time in his life when his desire was to be anyone but himself.

Young Jack's family moved frequently.  This story takes place shortly after the family moves into a new Florida neighborhood.  Feeling lonely and bored, Jack begins observing his neighbor, Gary Pagoda. 

Gary has had his fair share of trouble with the law.  Currently on probation, Gary doesn't let that stop him from doing what he wants and going where he pleases.  When he discovers that Jack is shadowing him and that he could probably take advantage of the fact that Jack also appears to look up to him, he knows just what to do.

Jack is willing to do anything Gary asks of him.  He also isn't discouraged by Gary's verbal and often physical abuse at all.  Jack's dream is to become Gary so he becomes the truest of followers.

THE TROUBLE IN ME speaks to just how far someone will go to escape a boring, lonely life.  Jack details how far he was willing to go to become Gary's friend and what it took for him to see the error of his ways.  Gantos fans will definitely want to check this one out.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


A Whole New Ballgame
It is not often that a book marketed for an elementary/middle grade audience also strikes a chord with the teachers who offer it to their students.  Author Phil Bildner has written such a book.  A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME may be intended for kids ages 8-12, but it speaks to educators just the same.

Rip and Red are starting fifth grade in the elementary school they have attended since kindergarten.  When they arrive at school on the first day, they are greeted by unfamiliar faces.  Where is Ms. Hamburger, the usual fifth grade teacher?  Where is Ms. Darling, the principal?  Where is Waldon, the parent coordinator? 

Upon entering their classroom, Rip and Red come face to face with a man who introduces himself as Mr. Acevedo.  A new teacher?  How can this be? 

As the days pass, all the students realize that Mr. Acevedo is not a usual kind of teacher.  He encourages reading and writing and starts the students on a research project, but he doesn't believe in worksheets and he doesn't believe in TESTS.  Another surprise comes along after school when Rip and Red discover that Mr. Acevedo is also going to be their new basketball coach.

Will the fifth graders learn what they need to to pass the district-required standardized tests?  Will they actually learn anything at all?  And, will their mixed up basketball team ever win a game?  Mr. Acevedo doesn't seem to be worried at all.

Phil Bildner's fast-paced style and illustrator Tim Probert's great sketches are sure to capture the attention of young readers, but that's just the beginning.  Mr. Acevedo's bold approach and dedication to helping kids learn to think and not just regurgitate facts for some mandated test will speak to and encourage teachers to do what is best for their students.  A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME truly has something for all audiences!