Sunday, February 22, 2015


Grace and the GuiltlessGrace watches as a gang on horseback ride in and slaughter her family.  With her mother, father, sister, and two brothers dead, she vows revenge.

The only life she has known has been on the homestead where her parents settled hoping to raise horses and provide for their family.  When a group of so-called ranchers/outlaws decides they want the land her family will soon own, they set fire to the log cabin and kill everyone Grace loves.  When she emerges from her hiding place in the root cellar, she faces total devastation and the horrible task of burying her slain family members.

Grace heads to the nearest town to report the incident to the sheriff only to discover that the Guiltless Gang has been paying the lawman to look the other way.  Alone and inexperienced, Grace barely escapes town with her life.  She heads toward the hills where she believes the criminals have headed, hoping to use her father's gun to get her revenge.  Instead her lack of survival skills have her traveling in circles and becoming the victim of a bear attack. 

With the help of a young man, she winds up in the camp of a tribe of Apaches who tend to her wounds and offer her a safe place to stay.  Will their friendship and acceptance enable her to put aside her anger or will she still try to carry out her promise to kill the men responsible for her family's deaths?

Author Erin Johnson takes readers back to the wild west in GRACE AND THE GUILTLESS.  It may not be the usual time and place for a young adult adventure, but Johnson's smooth narrative and non-stop action will capture teen readers and no doubt leave them begging for more.  This is a must have for classroom and library shelves.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

BROKEN by CJ Lyons

BrokenScarlet doesn't have many memories that don't include hospitals, doctors, and being sick.  After countless medical tests and procedures, doctors diagnosed her with Long QT Syndrome.  The heart condition Scarlet refers to as a "broken" heart could end her life at any time.  The irregular heart beat it produces has prevented her from living the normal life of a teenager, but she has made a deal with her parents that if she follows all health instructions and promises to take every precaution, she can begin going to the local public high school.

It only takes a few hours for Scarlet to realize that high school is not exactly like what she has seen portrayed in movies and TV.  Her first moments involved curious stares and taunts from bullies.  Her presence has brought out the worst in some of the popular crowd, but with the help of a small peer support group, Scarlet makes a few friends.

Scarlet's mother is a constant source of support but also irritation for Scarlet.  Working as the school nurse, her mother is able to keep a close eye on Scarlet, but she isn't exactly convinced that her daughter's attempt to live as a typical teen is the wisest choice.  When Scarlet becomes involved in a science project with a fellow student, strange discoveries about her medical condition and her earlier life cause her to question her mother's motivations. 

Author CJ Lyons uses her medical knowledge and sense of drama to create an intense story that will capture the attention of the YA audience.  Having recently finished another one of her books, WATCHED, I am definitely a fan and can't wait to read her next book.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

WATCHED by C.J. Lyons

WatchedJesse has been controlled by a cyber-hacker for four years.  After his father left and they moved in with his uncle, things went downhill fast.  Jesse's uncle began forcing him to do unspeakable acts and then offered him up to an Internet creep.  With no one to turn to, Jesse has suffered in silence.

A mysterious envelop arrives with a cell phone wrapped in plastic.  Jesse also finds a note in the envelop with the words, "I can help."  One phone call later, Jesse may have found someone else who is being tormented by the same cyber bully.

Miranda has also spent years trying to escape the power of the man she calls The Creep.  He has ruined her family's life and pushed her to attempt suicide twice.  She is determined to use her own excellent computer skills to help others who have fallen prey to sexual abuse via the Internet.  When she connects with Jesse, she hopes he will be able to help her take down The Creep once and for all.

Author C.J. Lyons is the mastermind of this riveting tale.  The suspense begins on the very first page and never falters.  Bouncing back and forth between Jesse and Miranda, the story takes readers on a frightening ride all too close to the stories one hears on the news about cyber criminals who take advantage of the careless acts of kids and teens.  Lyons is also the author of BROKEN, the next book on my reading list.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Death by Toilet PaperYep, I admit it; the title and cover sold me on this one.  Didn't even read the description, just bought it.

Ben is in seventh grade.  He spends his free time entering sweepstakes.  Hoping to finally win an awesome grand prize, Ben enters mail-in contests and logs into online sweepstakes.  He has gotten lucky a few times, but so far that has only earned him a life-time supply of instant oatmeal (plain) and a barbecue grill.  Those along with a few other minor prizes continue to fuel his hopes for a BIG win.

Times have been tough since his dad died.  His mother works hard as a waitress at a pancake restaurant by day and studies at night to pass the final test to earn a certification as an accountant.  No matter how much she earns and how frugally they live, they are still behind in their rent payments and are about to be evicted.  Winning the grand prize in the Royal-T toilet paper caption contest would be just what they need to catch up on the rent and help them out until Ben's mom can pass that test and get a better job at Mr. Daniels' CPA firm. 

Between dodging the landlord, dealing with a bully at school, and worrying about his grandfather's memory issues, Ben is trying everything he can to help his mother make their Grand Plan come true.  Ben is a kind-hearted kid who puts his personal needs aside for the sake of family. 

DEATH BY TOILET PAPER by Donna Gephart is a fast-paced middle grade novel that touches on financial hardship and dedication to family and friendship.  I'm glad the title and cover caught my eye.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


The Shock of the FallA big thank you to my neighbor and Goodreads.  My neighbor won a copy of THE SHOCK OF THE FALL by Nathan Filer as one of her many prizes from Goodreads.  She insisted that it was one I should be sure to read.  I'm truly glad she shared it with me.  Not specifically a YA selection, I know of a number of high school students who will enjoy it when I add it to my classroom shelf.

Matthew is several years younger than his special needs brother Simon.  They spend most of their time together, and Simon worships his younger brother.  When Simon meets an untimely end, Matthew's life begins to crumble.

No doubt the seeds of mental illness were planted long before Simon's death, but whatever the cause, Matthew's schizophrenia gradually takes control.  In the years after his brother's passing, Matthew takes to writing his thoughts and stories, many of which recount memories of the two siblings and family life before the tragedy.  Grief is often overwhelming for Matthew, leaving him unable to function normally.

It is difficult to explain the attraction this story held for me.  Something about the flow of Filer's words on the page pulled me in wouldn't let go.  Matthew's character explains his mental illness but never uses it as an excuse.  He knows life is and always will be challenging, but he refuses to forget his brother even when the drugs he is given are aimed at taking away the one voice he longs to hear.  Filer combines his talent as a writer with his experience as a mental health nurse to take his readers into the mind of a schizophrenic.  It is an imaginative yet frightening place. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

ALWAYS A CATCH by Peter Richmond

Always a CatchJack is headed to Oakhurst Hall, a boarding school in the middle of nowhere.  He hasn't been getting along with his dad and likes his new stepmom even less at the moment.  When his father suggests the change, saying it will be the perfect answer to getting Jack into a good college, Jack isn't thrilled.  However, after further thought, Jack recognizes the opportunity is a chance to get away from his father who spends most of his time traveling for business anyway.

Getting a fresh start encourages Jack to try new things.  One of those things is football.  He has never played a organized sport, but the few times he has played catch, he has displayed a natural ability to grab a football with almost magic hands.  After earning a spot on the JV team, Jack's talent is noticed, and he is moved to varsity.  Now he has to figure out what his demanding coach expects of him and how to gain acceptance from the rest of his teammates who have been playing together for years.

Jack has another talent.  He plays piano and is being encouraged by the school music teacher to enter the annual concert/contest held just before the Thanksgiving break.  His piano skills also open another opportunity for Jack when he meets up with several other boys interested in starting a band.  Between football and the band, Jack is beginning to find himself as an individual.  It may just be one of the best things that have ever happened to him.

Author Peter Richmond takes an insecure young man and shows his journey of discovery and greater self-confidence.  Jack experiences bullying, difficult and demanding teachers, and living away from home for the first time.  It is not always easy, but Jack is determined to be successful.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Breaking Stalin's NoseSasha is about to become one of the Young Pioneers.  He has waited for the day he could become a dedicated member of the group and officially serve his beloved leader, Comrade Stalin.  His father is a loyal soldier of Stalin, and Sasha wants to follow in his footsteps.

The night before Sasha is to join the Pioneers, soldiers arrive at his crowded apartment and arrest his father.  Horrified at the sight of his dear father being hauled away, Sasha vows to find Stalin and alert him to the horrendous mistake that has been made.

Unable to find the great leader, Sasha goes to school the next day, hoping to see his father at the ceremony.  Surely someone has heard of the arrest and demanded that Sasha's father be set free so he can attend the Young Pioneers induction ceremony.  When Sasha is given the task of carrying the Pioneer flag, he is certain all will be well.  Unfortunately, as soon as he retrieves the flag from the storage room, his hopes and dreams begin to crumble.

Author Eugene Yelchin takes readers back in history to the time in the Soviet Union when Stalin ruled with an iron fist.  Yelchin deftly describes the blind loyalty of Stalin's followers, the horrible living conditions, and the terrible life of the working class.  BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE is the perfect read aloud for classes studying this period in world history.