Sunday, July 26, 2015

THE THIRD TWIN by CJ Omololu

The Third Twin
Lexi and Ava are identical twins.  They were adopted and raised by a wealthy restaurant owner.  Their father jets all over the globe donating millions to disadvantaged communities while the girls stay at home with their protective housekeeper. 

From an early age the twins played an interesting game.  If one or the other of them misbehaved, they teamed up to blame Alicia, a third sister they both imagined.  Alicia continued to developed as an imaginary character, and as the years passed, the game between the two sisters advanced as well.  Now as seniors in high school, whenever either sister wanted a bit of adventure, the persona of Alicia took over.

Ava used the character of Alicia frequently and encouraged the more reluctant Lexi to join in the fun.  There were strict rules about being Alicia.  One required that the girls had to take turns being the imaginary third twin, and while in character they were required to wear a gaudy, diamond encrusted "A" necklace.  Dating as Alicia was limited to five dates with the same guy, and there was an absolutely "no sex" policy, although, Lexi was fairly certain Ava didn't follow that last rule with regularity.

One afternoon Lexi sat at a coffee shop and was surprised when someone mistook her for Alicia.  Evidently this attractive, heart-throb of a guy had gone on a date with Ava while she was pretending to be Alicia.  Caught unaware, Lexi goes along with pretending to be Alicia, but wishes she could just be herself.

Things are getting complicated.  There is a murder, and evidence seems to point to Alicia.  But, how can that be, Alicia isn't real.  Or is she?  Could this childhood imaginary being created by two precocious little girls have turned into something tangible and decidedly evil?

THE THIRD TWIN by CJ Omololu is the perfect thriller.  It is a clever mystery that will have YA readers on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman
First of all, this post will be more of a reaction than an official review.  Because of the nature of the book, to reveal too much about the characters and plot would definitely spoil its impact. 

I've read so many opinions about the book from the time it was announced to its recent release, however, having taught the book to 9th grade English students for several years, I felt compelled to purchase it and read it.  To be honest, I'm not sure why all the haters out there are condemning it and refusing to read it.  I was thoroughly captivated and read it in less than 48 hours.

Jean Louise Finch has returned to Maycomb after having completed college and having lived in New York City for several years.  She plans to spend her two week vacation seeing family and friends and visiting old haunts from her past.  She is concerned about her father's health, but is thrilled to see him, although she doesn't feel quite the same about her the fact that Aunt Alexandra is now living with and keeping house for Atticus.

I read in an online comment a week ago that readers will feel like they are visiting old friends as the familiar characters come to life once again.  This is the feeling I had right from the first page.  The tone and pacing of the novel felt familiar as well.  There was Harper Lee's delightful humor present throughout, as well as her interesting turn of phrase and lovely vocabulary.  I embraced the changes within the characters after the twenty year absence.

Many have criticized what they view as a negative change in the character of Atticus Finch.  I feel very differently about it.  A scene from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD that kept coming to mind was when Atticus made the deal with Scout after her first day at school.  He promised they would keep reading together even though her teacher had told her he wasn't teaching her correctly and they should cease the practice.  To me Atticus's "new" opinions simply reflect that same attitude about Scout's teacher.  Just because you don't agree with someone else's position, doesn't mean that you have to make a federal case of it.  Everyone is free to think for themselves and, unfortunately, everyone must deal with their own personal baggage which means not everyone comes to the same conclusions at the same time.

As for Scout, I remember as a young girl life for her was very black or white, right or wrong, and good or evil.  Despite her travels beyond home, she returns to Maycomb much the same person as when she left.  She expected to experience all the same feelings twenty years later and was greatly surprised by what she encountered.  This trip home changes her perspective on life and how she will need to adjust her thinking as she faces adulthood.

Overall, I am so glad to have the chance to read GO SET A WATCHMAN.  Whatever the controversy, I see the book as another chapter in lives of some of my favorite characters.  I believe it will provide something special for my students who often inquire about what happened next after TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

SUICIDE NOTES FROM BEAUTIFUL GIRLS by Lynn Weingarten

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls
June lost her best friend to suicide.  Well, at least that's what everyone is saying happened.  Well, at least Delia used to be June's best friend.

Delia's death was announced at school.  Everyone was shocked.  The story that spreads is that Delia supposedly lit herself on fire in a shed in her backyard.  Since Delia always told June she was deathly afraid of fire, June is sure the story is wrong. 

Things become even more complicated when Ryan, June's boyfriend, and Jeremiah, Delia's boyfriend, have their own opinions about what really happened with Delia.  As June listens to both their theories, she isn't sure she believes anyone.

The plot quickly thickens and one mystery piles on top of another.  The twists and turns in this new release will captivate readers who enjoy a good mean girls type psychological thriller.

Author Lynn Weingarten takes SUICIDE NOTES FROM BEAUTIFUL GIRLS in unexpected directions and creates suspense through twisted, hypnotic relationships. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

HIT COUNT by Chris Lynch

fpoThis is it!  My favorite book of the summer!!  I was hooked right from the start and couldn't put it down.

As a freshman in high school, Arlo Brodie has dreams of being a standout player on the football team.  His older brother Lloyd has always been a role model, and they've spent countless hours working out together.  Arlo knows what it will take to be an outstanding linebacker, and he's willing to do just that.

Arlo's dad is supportive and no doubt shares Arlo's football dreams, however, Arlo's mom spends her time worrying about injuries, especially head injuries.  She has dedicated her time to research concussions and complications due to sports' head injuries for years and has amassed what Arlo and Lloyd refer to as "The File." 

When Arlo gets a taste of fame when he is moved up to varsity his sophomore year, his commitment to the game becomes an obsession.  He is training year round and focuses on becoming the best hitter ever.  By the time his junior year arrives, his dedication is so extreme his family, his friends, his girl friend, and even his coach begin to worry.  For Arlo, life is meaningless without a chance to hit, hit, hit, and when symptoms of serious injury begin to develop, he refuses to take heed.

Author Chris Lynch tells a compelling and powerful story of how one young man's obsession with football changes his life in a decidedly negative way.  The perfect combination of football action and personal life story make HIT COUNT a captivating read.  This is not just a sports story.  It has appeal for a wide range of readers and is a definite must read for both teens and adults.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

SURVIVE THE NIGHT by Danielle Vega

fpoSURVIVE THE NIGHT by Danielle Vega is perfect for the YA reader looking for the type of intense horror story likely to induce nightmares.  According to Booklist it is "page-to-page Stephen King style terror."

Casey, addicted to painkillers after a severe knee injury, is just leaving rehab.  Her parents have agreed to allow her to spend the night with some of her high school friends.  But when her old friend Shana shows up with a more tempting offer than a boring sleepover, Casey takes off in search of more excitement.

After visiting a club where her ex's band is playing, Casey and Shana hear about an underground rave that promises to be entertaining.  They head to the dark and seamy side of the NYC subway system.  As they enter the party teeming with creepy characters and an abundance of drugs and alcohol, the bouncer informs them that entering means they must stay until the end.  At first it seems like the perfect way to celebrate her release from rehab, but it soon becomes obvious that this rave is more than they bargained for. 

When Casey and her friends attempt to leave, the real craziness begins.  Finding a way out involves frightening tunnels full of sewage, rats, and unmovable manhole covers.  When one of Casey's friends disappears and then is found disemboweled by some terrifying creature, it is obvious that they might not all survive the night.

Author Danielle Vega captures readers with nonstop action right from the start.  Vivid descriptions and plenty of blood and gore are sure to satisfy those looking for a scary read.

Friday, July 17, 2015

O.K. IS GREAT written and illustrated by David Tiefenthaler

O.K. is Great
Otis Kalshwonkee, nickname O.K., is starting 7th grade at a new school.  He is determined to make a real name for himself that doesn't have the mediocre connotations that his nickname suggests.  He is sick of being stuck in the middle and average at best.

With the help of his new friend Leo, O.K. wants to find a way to stand out.  First, they pin their hopes and dreams for fame on their science fair creation, the Chemical Warfare Robotic Beast.  It's a sure-fire winner!  That is until it almost sets fire to the entire school.

His first day in gym class at Boykinville Middle/High School, O.K. gets a glimpse at what he decides will be his next attempt at fame -- the Boykinville Board of Beasts.  This amazing board boasts the record breaking accomplishments of past Boykinville athletes.  All he has to do is break one of the records.  Will it be for sit-ups, pull-ups, the mile run, or for the mysterious shuttle run?

What follows is a mad-cap adventure as O.K. and Leo train and put their athletic abilities to the test.  They will be faced with many obstacles such as mean girls, annoying siblings, a teacher/mom, and a demanding gym teacher/coach.  Readers will be entertained by the zany antics of likeable characters and also the spot-on illustrations provided by author David Tiefenthaler.  This book is perfect for middle grade readers looking to be entertained and also reassured that they are not alone if they are feeling overwhelmed by the ever increasing need to fit in and compete.

Note: Thanks go to author David Tiefenthaler for the review copy.

A SENSE OF THE INFINITE by Hilary T. Smith

fpo

*I was able to read this ARC thanks to my generous neighbor who won it on Goodreads!
In A SENSE OF THE INFINITE, author Hilary T. Smith takes readers on a roller-coaster journey through Annabeth's senior year.  Smith truly captures the ups and downs of that tumultuous year.  Readers about to embark on the next step in life's adventure will see that relationships often change as hopes and dreams take different paths than originally planned.

Ever since Annabeth can remember, she and best friend Noe have been planning their future.  A trip to Paris and being roommates at college have topped their list after high school graduation.  Annabeth, the quiet one, has forever followed in the confident footsteps of Noe, but as Noe gets involved in a new romantic relationship and throws herself into gymnastics, Annabeth finds herself searching for something she didn't know she was missing.

A bit of newfound confidence has her dating for the first time.  It's a short-lived connection with handsome Oliver, but when she tries to share her new adventures with Noe, she feels a distance developing that leaves her saddened and confused.  It seems that the plans the two have made over the years are quickly eroding, and she begins to realize she may not be happy with the adjustments Noe expects.

An unexpected development in Annabeth's relationship with Oliver, a growing closeness she feels toward Noe's boyfriend, Steven, and shocking news about her absentee father have Annabeth questioning not only her future, but her present circumstances as well.  Can she find the courage to stand on her own two feet to make the important decisions she faces?  If she can't trust Noe anymore, just who can she trust?

Annabeth's senior year is filled with sometimes mind-boggling, non-stop action, but it is a guarantee that A SENSE OF THE INFINITE is sure to connect with many readers experiencing some of the same life-changing decisions in that last year before real life takes over.  This is a great page-turner for the beach this summer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

CALLING MAGGIE MAY by Anonymous

Calling Maggie May
As stated on the cover, "in the tradition of Go Ask Alice," CALLING MAGGIE MAY is said to be the actual diary left behind by a teenager whose life took a wrong turn.

Maggie May, feeling pressured by demanding parents and ignored by classmates, is searching for something more exciting in life.  Her days are filled with school, swim team, debate tournaments, and math team competitions.  At night she pours over homework and listens to her mother's nagging about better grades and college applications.  When Maggie meets Ada in the school restroom, her life changes.

Ada suggests a wardrobe change and a date with someone who will make Maggie May feel special.  The date is fabulous.  His name is Damon.  He takes her to dinner at the top of Seattle's Space Needle.  His fantastic kisses have her wanting more, and she loses her virginity in a fancy hotel room complete with room service breakfast the next morning.

Maggie May learns that Damon was actually a client, and Ada swears her to secrecy.  If Ada's handler, Miss Irma, finds out, she could lose her job.  Curious about a job that would involve someone as wonderful as Damon, Maggie May wants to know more, and soon she is skipping school to go on "dates" just like Ada.

The new clothes, the thrill of meeting each new customer, and the promise of substantial cash are all Maggie May needs to convince her that this is the life she has been looking for.  Her diary reveals the consequences of her choice all too soon, and readers will watch her life quickly crumble.

In gritty, emotional detail Maggie May's story of teen prostitution is revealed.  CALLING MAGGIE MAY is a compelling and powerful read.

Monday, July 13, 2015

THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B by Teresa Toten

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
Dealing with divorced parents, an adorable but extremely quirky stepbrother, and OCD behaviors that are spiraling out of control, is beginning to take its toll on Adam Spencer Ross.  Medication and therapy are not quite doing the job so Adam has started meeting with an OCD support group.  Adam is hoping to find answers and maybe a few new friends, as well.

Adam's parents have shared custody, but most of Adam's time is spent living with his mother.  She has her own problems.  Through the years since the divorce her tendency toward hoarding has increased, and it is beginning to worry Adam.  Recently, she has seemed particularly upset.  She finally admits that she has been receiving threatening letters, but she swears Adam to secrecy fearing that if anyone finds out about the letters and the hoarding problem, Adam's father will insist that she give up her son.

For Adam OCD involves ritual counting, ordering, and clearing rituals.  A new problem has surfaced that involves time-consuming, complicated rituals before he can cross certain thresholds.  When this interferes with his ability to enter his own home, Adam knows that his condition is becoming way beyond his control.

Meeting with the Group provides some stability for Adam, and meeting Group member, Robyn, is giving him a confidence that he never knew he had.  The two begin to hang out after Group sessions, and Adam is fairly sure he is experiencing true love. 

THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B by Teresa Toten realistically depicts the plight of those suffering from OCD.  Readers will immediately fall in love with Adam and marvel at how he handles his diverse personal and family issues.  Although, Adam constantly feels overwhelmed, he is determined to overcome his disability and make everything work for himself and those he loves.  Definitely a must read!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

SERVANTS OF THE STORM by Delilah S. Dawson

Servants of the Storm

One year ago Dovey watched her best friend Carly get swept away by Hurricane Josephine.  Carly's body was recovered days later, and Dovey vaguely remembers the casket and the funeral for her dear friend.  Since then Dovey has been taking medication to keep calm and seeing a therapist to deal with nightmares and panic attacks.

Hating the way the pills make her feel, Dovey secretly stops taking them.  She is sure if she feels more like herself, she'll be able to start the healing necessary to carry on.  But, when she visits an old diner she and Carly used to frequent, she is believes she sees her friend appear and then exit quickly through the back door of the restaurant. 

Will she see Carly again if she returns to the diner?  Who will believe her?  As she rekindles her friendship with another childhood buddy, Baker, she hopes to gain his support in her search to learn the truth.  Baker fears Dovey's new risky behaviors are too dangerous for both of them.  As her determination to find Carly increases, Dovey begins to run into strange and questionable characters who suggest that there is a power at work beyond anything Dovey can imagine.

SERVANTS OF THE STORM is a psychological thriller that is best read with the lights on.  With a backdrop of historic Savannah, Georgia, the presence of mystery and evil abounds. 





Friday, July 10, 2015

BENEATH by Roland Smith

fpo*WARNING!  If the very thought of crawling in tight spaces has you hyperventilating or induces nightmares, then read BENEATH by Roland Smith with caution.  Really!  Seriously!

Pat and Coop O'Toole have lived adventurous lives.  Having parents who are both scientists wrapped up in their careers, left the two brothers with time to play and experiment freely.  One of Coop's ideas ended with a hand-dug mile long tunnel through their neighborhood.  An explosion in the tunnel resulted in the involvement of the FBI and left poor Pat with a severe case of claustrophobia.

When Coop takes off in search of something that has been calling to him since early childhood, Pat senses there might be trouble.  Supposedly headed to Florida to visit while his parents are on their own separate adventures, Pat detours to New York City.  With the help of recorded messages the brothers have been exchanging, Pat believes Coop is living somewhere beneath the city.

What follows is a nerve-racking journey through small, damp tunnels infested with rats and bats and various suspicious individuals.  Pat must face his fear of tight spaces as he accompanies an unusual girl named Kate.  Kate has lived her entire life in a community deep below bustling NYC.

Author Roland Smith is at his best in this breathtaking novel for teens.  Pat and Coop's amazing story captured me in the first chapter.  I found myself gasping along with Pat as he barely squeezes through spaces that threaten to trigger his claustrophobia.  BENEATH is perfect for any reader looking for a heart-pounding adventure.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert

fpoCONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert illustrates how families can make life difficult.  Everyone knows Braden's father, and when he ends up on trial for his life, Braden's world is turned upside down.

One dark, foggy night Braden and his father are pulled over by the police.  According to Braden's dad, the whole thing was an accident, but he has ended up in prison and on trial for running over Officer Reyes and killing him.  The prosecuting attorney wants the jury to believe that Braden's dad may have even backed up and run over the officer a second time.  Now Braden must testify in court about that terrible night.

Braden's older brother Trey arrives from New York City where he owns and operates a restaurant.  Trey has been gone from Ornette for years, and the fact that he left under unpleasant circumstances doesn't make things easy.  Braden always looked up to his older brother and they shared many interests, but now Trey is distant and refuses to provide the support that Braden needs as he faces testifying for their father.

CONVICTION has a little something for everyone.  There is the accident and trial as well as baseball action, a love interest, and Braden questioning God and the religious beliefs that have played a major role in his upbringing.  Author Kelly Loy Gilbert has concocted a complicated plot with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers on their toes.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

SMALL AS AN ELEPHANT by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Small as an Elephant
Despite having an argument with his mother about going to York to see Lydia the elephant, eleven year old Jack Martel is excited about their brief vacation to Maine.  They arrive at the campground and pitch their tents late in the evening.  In the morning Jack emerges from his small tent to discover his mother's tent is gone and so is their car.

She probably went to get supplies and will return in a short while so Jack tries to stay busy around camp.  As time ticks away, he begins to suspect the worst.  This isn't the first time his mother has disappeared.  Things can be going along just fine until she stops taking her medication.  That's when she begins "spinning" as Jack refers to it.  Even if she is gone for several days, they have always been at home and Jack knows how to take care of himself.  Now he's alone in Maine more than 250 miles away from their home in Massachusetts.  That's a whole new level of taking care of himself.

Jack decides he must find her.  He hides his tent and most of his supplies in the nearby woods.  Taking only his backpack and sleeping bag, he heads off.  The campground is located on an island in the Bar Harbor area, but it doesn't take long for Jack to realize the island is much bigger than he thought.  As he scours the first small town, he begins to understand the challenges he will be facing.  How will he find food?  Where will he sleep?  How will he answer the questions from strangers when they encounter an eleven year old boy on his own?

One of the things that keeps Jack going is his unusual fascination with elephants.  Ever since he can remember he has gathered facts about them.  His one up close and personal encounter with an elephant is etched in his memory, and he wants desperately to recreate that moment.  Although, he and his mother had argued about whether to stop in York, Maine, to visit the elephant in an animal sanctuary there, he begins to believe that going there is how he will find his mother.

As the days go by, news reports of a missing young boy are popping up.  Jack is trying to stay one step ahead of those searching for him because he fears that if he is found he will lose his mother forever.

Author Jennifer Richard Jacobson has created a story that will tear at the heartstrings of readers.  Jack's na├»ve determination is touching and inspiring as his genuine love for his mother and all things elephant combine in this memorable book.  Perfect for middle grade readers or anyone looking for a beautifully written story about love and courage.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

OUT CAME THE SUN by Mariel Hemingway

fpoHaving recently read and reviewed the YA memoir INVISIBLE GIRL written by Mariel Hemingway, I decided to read her other new release, OUT CAME THE SUN.  Describing her life and overcoming a legacy of mental illness, depression, and suicide, the book may target adult readers, but its comfortable, flowing text will definitely work for a young adult audience as well.

Mariel Hemingway takes her readers on a journey from early childhood to the present.  The grand-daughter of famous author Ernest Hemingway, she has no memory of her grandfather as his suicide took him months before she was born.  Her father was the son of Ernest during his first marriage and his fame was ever-present throughout Mariel's life.

Mariel describes an alcoholic father who often used his passion for fishing to escape family responsibilities.  Her overly critical mother could be loving, but the love was always overshadowed by nitpicking and fault-finding that caused insecurities in Mariel and both of her sisters.  Sister Margot turned to substance abuse and developed eating disorders that interfered with most of her relationships.  As a model and later an actress, self-doubt left her fragile and unsure, and eventually led her to suicide.  Mariel's oldest sister Muffet suffered from chronic mental illness.  The diagnosis of a manic disorder or possibly schizophrenia resulted in heavy medication and many institutional stays.

Ever the peacemaker in this chaotic family, Mariel was able to survive in her own often complicated way.  She talks of loving the outdoors, especially skiing and hiking near their home in Idaho.  Her sister's acting career opened a door for Mariel when she was cast alongside Margot in a film called Lipstick.  This lead to future roles including starring with Woody Allen in Manhattan. 
Relationships were challenging for Mariel.  Having no healthy relationships to serve as models, she stumbled along as best she could.  Her marriage of twenty-five years to Stephen Crisman was fraught with tension.  She details the difficulties of balancing an acting career with raising two daughters and holding together her marriage.

OUT CAME THE SUN has a definite purpose.  It illustrates for those struggling with addiction, depression, or mental illness that seeking a healthy lifestyle and positive personal attitude can be the answer.  Mariel acknowledges that everyone is different, but in sharing what has worked for her and listing available resources at the end of the book, she hopes her family's struggles can in some way help others.
As a high school and college English instructor, I believe OUT CAME THE SUN will provide an interesting read and a needed resource for many of my students.




  

Friday, July 3, 2015

DIME by E.R. Frank

fpoDime has been living in foster care for as long as she can remember.  Foster mother Janelle isn't bad as long as she's not drinking.  When Dime meets Daddy, she sees a chance to change things.

Daddy treats Dime kindly and takes her home with him.  She may have to sleep in the alcove in a sleeping bag and deal with two other moody, bossy girls, but Daddy is generous with food and clothes and even offers the kind words and gentle caresses Dime has been craving.

It doesn't take long for Dime to figure out what L.A. and Brandy do that allows them to return with fists full of money for Daddy.  She longs for Daddy's gentle touch and begins to want to please him in other ways.  By the time he suggests that she can have what she wants if she earns her keep on the street, she believes that is the only way to survive and avoid returning to live with the drunken Janelle.

The longer Dime works for Daddy, the more she wishes to be free.  She experiments with writing notes that might get the attention of someone willing to help her, but it isn't until a new recruit, eleven year old Lollipop, becomes pregnant that Dime sees her chance to leave.  Will leaving end her life of prostitution or perhaps just end her life?

Author E.R. Frank presents the ugly, gritty life of young girls enslaved by heartless, greedy pimps.  This look at human trafficking is a must read that will have readers looking more carefully at suspicious situations involving nervous-looking teen and pre-teen girls accompanied by imposing adults.