Sunday, April 24, 2016


Rhyme Schemer
After recently reading HOUSE ARREST by K.A. Holt, I picked up a copy of RHYME SCHEMER.  It had been on my wish list for awhile with the topic "bullying" noted next to it.  I'm so glad I final got around to getting a copy and reading it!

Kevin is twelve.  He is bullied at school and bullied at home.  At school his enemy is Robin.  At home the bullies are his brothers.

When Robin gets ahold of Kevin's poetry journal, the stakes become even higher.  Threats to show fellow students and even teachers what Kevin has written in a journal meant for his eyes only sends waves of terror through young Kevin.  Having gotten one suspension when he tried to retaliate for Robin's bullying, Kevin feels the journal becomes a method for blackmail that he will simply have to suffer through on his own.

Kevin truly feels he is alone for a number of reasons.  The bullying he suffers at home from his brothers is because his parents are both self-absorbed with their own careers.  He is commonly referred to as a "tag-along" and the "mistake," and there never seem to be any consequences for his brothers' bad behavior.  At school his one defender, a girl named Kelly, is battling great odds, since the principal and teachers seem to believe Kevin brings on the problems himself.  Even the librarian has it out for Kevin, or so it seems.  There just aren't any adults in his corner.

Spending time shelving books in the library as part of his punishment, allows Kevin to see that the librarian, in fact, is the one grownup who understands him.  Her own love of poetry helps create a bond between the two, and Kevin's world expands when she takes him to an open mic night at a local coffee shop. 

RHYME SCHEMER by K.A. Holt is an inspiring read for both young people and the adults in their lives.  Kevin's courage and determination demonstrate how the power of words greatly outweigh the power of the fist.  At the same time, Mrs. Little, the librarian, proves that a caring authority figure can make the difference between a child who succeeds and a child who fails.  Holt's simple poetic forms pack a powerful punch in the battle against bullies both young and old.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

WHEN WE WAS FIERCE by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

When We Was Fierce
*Review copy courtesy of author and publisher.

According to Theo "T", he and his buddies was fierce the day they was rolling down the street and witnessed Ricky-Ricky get flat-fixed.  T tried to revive his friend but couldn't.  The helpless feeling he had as he watched Money Mike gun down a neighborhood kid was the worst thing he had ever experienced.

Witnessing the shooting makes T angry and bitter.  Listening to his mother and sister and the warnings they speak about staying at home and off the streets, fall on deaf ears.  Even with threats that his mother is going to ship him off to Texas, T sneaks out to join his buddies and scheme ways to change things in the hood.

The sound of gunfire is common place in the hood, and there are far too many funerals.  Mothers and grandmothers mourn the loss of boys who will never become men or even young men. 

Having already lost his father in a shooting, T knows how tough it is to survive in the hood, but still he dreams of experiencing all the pleasures of life.  He wishes his sister's unplanned pregnancy could work out, but he knows she plans to give up the child for adoption in hopes of finishing school and improving her life.  He dreams of having a girl friend and his hopes grow when he meets Nia and discovers she might have feelings for him, too.  But, when he learns Money Mike has sprayed a local basketball court with bullets and flat-fixed several little kids, T may be ready to sacrifice it all to get revenge.

Author e.E Charlton-Trujillo takes readers right to the streets in WHEN WE WAS FIERCE.  Tough, vivid street talk leaps off the page as her characters reveal the odds stacked against them in the hood.  Mentions of Ferguson and Trayvon Martin connect fiction to real life and remind readers that what's between the pages is in fact what it's like for many young people simply trying to stay alive.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

BOOKED by Kwame Alexander

Nick Hall's life revolves around soccer.  He and his best friend might not play on the same team, but they practice together, play online soccer together, and vow to beat one another when they come face-to-face in matches. 

Home life for Nick has its ups and downs.  His mother, a former horse trainer, knows the meaning of competition.  When she isn't fixing mouth-watering breakfasts and lobster mac-n-cheese, she is grabbing him in affectionate headlocks and beating him at ping pong.

Nick's dad, on the other hand, suffers from verbomania, defined as a crazed obsession for words.  The man is famous for a dictionary of weird words which he insists Nick must read and study from cover to cover.  Doesn't Nick want to impress people with his vocabulary?  How could he only be interested in soccer? 

At school Nick spends his time avoiding the reading assignments given by his English teacher, crushing on the amazing April, and running from twin bullies named Dean and Don.  As soon as school ends, it's soccer practice and then home to argue about reading his dad's freaking dictionary.

Life gets very complicated when Nick's parents announce they are going to separate.  His mother will be returning to work with horses in Kentucky, and he'll be staying in the city with his father.  To make matters worse, appendicitis takes Nick out of a long awaited soccer tournament in Dallas.  What else can possibly go wrong? 

Author of THE CROSSOVER, Kwame Alexander is back with a new book.  BOOKED, also written in verse, is the perfect book to place in the hands of readers of all kinds.  Soccer players will love it.  Readers drawn to problem novels will devour it.  Reluctant readers won't be able to put it down.  Alexander's characters and situations ring true as they entertain, and at the same time, explain the ins and outs of dealing with parents, teachers, and first love.  BOOKED is a sure winner!

DARE TO DISAPPOINT: Growing Up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci

Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey
In DARE TO DISAPPOINT, Ozge Samanci shares what it was like to grow up in Turkey.  Using detailed graphic illustrations, family conversations, and vivid memories, Ozge tells about her personal dreams and the expectations of both her parents and her country.

Ozge compares public school which she and her sister attended to prestigious private schools her parents couldn't afford.  She tells of her parents' teaching jobs that barely provided enough income to sustain the family and how they dreamed that Ozge and her sister would study to become engineers paid well by the government.

During her childhood in Turkey, Ozge witnessed controversy between secularist and fundamentalist beliefs.  Turmoil in the Turkish government caused financial stress for many families like Ozge's and also rifts between families who shared different beliefs. 

Ozge dreamed of a life that involved the sea and traveling with the famous Jacques Cousteau.  Early in her childhood, she remembers spending summer vacation at the beach, but later money spent on summer fun was spent on summer study classes so her sister could score well enough on tests to gain entrance to an excellent university.  When it came time for Ozge to attend these classes, she didn't do as well as her sister.  Much to her father's disappointment, her scores earned her a place in a mediocre college where she would only study math not engineering.

College was stressful for Ozge.  Studying as hard as she could, she still failed many courses.  She tells of the struggle between following her dream and disappointing her family. 

Teen readers will easily relate to her tale and find encouragement in the success she eventually achieves.  In DARE TO DISAPPOINT, readers are introduced to life growing up in a country with different customs and beliefs, but they may be surprised to see similarities when it comes to the wishes and dreams of teens much like themselves.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

SHADE ME by Jennifer Brown

Shade Me
SHADE ME is by author Jennifer Brown, also known for HATE LIST, TORN AWAY, BITTER END, and more.  Her fans will enjoy this new book with its mystery, edgy subject matter, and usual Jennifer Brown flair.

Nikki Kill has a condition called synesthesia.  Everything Nikki sees is connected to color.  Emotions, sounds, smells, even numbers and letters have their own unique color.  This means that Nikki is bombarded by color and sensation that are often dizzying and overwhelming.

When Nikki gets a mysterious phone call from the emergency room asking her to come and identify a beating victim, her world begins to spin out of control.  The viciously beaten girl in the hospital bed is none other than Peyton Hollis, daughter of Hollywood mogul Bill Hollis.  Why is a rich girl bloody and bruised, lying unconscious in the ER?  Even more important, why isn't her family there to identify her?

Nikki goes to school with Peyton, but she definitely doesn't run with the same crowd.  Nikki is barely able to keep her grades at a level that will guarantee her graduation.  Since her mother was murdered, she has found it even harder to concentrate and think beyond the constantly swirling colors that invade her mind every waking moment.  Her father does his best to understand, but he is still grieving and trying to keep up with his own career.

Some strange attraction pulls Nikki into the mystery surrounding Peyton's attack.  The girl's family seems only mildly concerned so Nikki begins to investigate.  It isn't long before Nikki finds herself in the middle of a dangerous world involving an escort service, Peyton's attractive older brother, and their crazy half-sister Luna.  Nikki's own parentage comes into question as she digs to find out who wants Peyton dead.

SHADE ME is the first of a series of suspense novels featuring Nikki Kill.  Perfect for teens looking for a real thrill ride.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Ascending the Boneyard
Caleb Tosh has a solution when life gets too "real."  He dives into the gaming world in a game called The Boneyard.  In the game he participates in missions that help him feel in control when the rest of his life is crashing around him.

Caleb blames himself for the accident that ended normal life for his little brother Devin.  The same accident that split his already fragile family in two.  His dad was always tough on everyone, but now he's even tougher,  and watching his mother drive away with Stan the pest control man is the last straw for Caleb.

All life's disappointments combine to force Caleb into the game.  Separating real life from the challenges of The Boneyard begins to be more and more difficult.  Ascending to the next level to become Worthy absorbs Caleb to the point that even his best friend Haze doesn't understand.

 Caleb's life is filled with the UpperWorld, the UnderWorld, swarms of cockroaches, mysterious text messages, and impossible to find on-ramps.  Can he find his mother and can he rise above the guilt that he feels for everything that's gone wrong in his world?

Author C. G. Watson captures the online game world to a T.  I know teens whose lives outside my classroom are filled with game strategies, controllers, and hours upon hours of screen time.  ASCENDING THE BONEYARD is just the book to convince some of them that an equally amazing world can be found between the pages if they give Caleb and The Boneyard a chance. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016


House Arrest
Stealing the credit card was a spur of the moment impulse for twelve year old Timothy.  Now he is on probation, and to avoid a stint in juvie, he is under house arrest for one year.

Timothy didn't steal the credit card for himself.  He stole it so he could use it to pay for his brother's medications.  That card made it easy to get a month's worth of life-saving meds for Levi.  Timothy was only hoping to make things easier for his mother and better for his little brother.

Baby Levi was born with subglottic stenosis which causes a constricted airway requiring a trach tube so he can breathe.  Taking care of Levi is expensive and requires full-time assistance.  Since their mother has to work, much of Levi's care falls to Timothy.  Even with lots of overtime, it is hard for her to scrape together enough money to pay for in home care, medications, and the frequent hospital stays involved with Levi's condition.

After the credit card incident, Timothy spends time with James, his court-ordered probation officer, and Mrs. B, a court-ordered therapist.  The judge orders Timothy to write in a journal and share it weekly.  James wants him to write about how he promises not to steal anything ever again, and Mrs. B. wants him to write about his feelings.  Timothy reluctantly begins, but over time, he finds the writing provides a great way to vent. 

Author K.A. Holt tells Timothy's story through his journal entries over the course of one year.  In straight forward free verse, Holt is able to capture Timothy's frustrations, humor, and tremendous love for the little brother who has changed everyone's life.  Holt's own experience with a critically ill child gives HOUSE ARREST an authenticity that will grab readers and keep them thinking about Timothy and Levi long after the last page is turned.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold

A choice of breakfast at Denny's or breakfast at Friendly's changed the course of Mary "Mim" Iris Malone's life.  If she had chosen Friendly's instead of Denny's, her father would not have met Kathy the waitress, and her parents might not have gotten a divorce.  Mim definitely wouldn't have been uprooted from Cleveland and moved all the way to Mississippi where her only contact with her mother came through letters that mysteriously stopped weeks ago.

Waiting outside the principal's office while her father and step-mother talk about her latest transgression, Mim overhears that her mother is sick.  Considering the fact that over the last several weeks, Mim's mother's fairly regular letters from Cleveland have stopped, Mim panics.  Leaving her current legal guardians in conversation with the principal, Mim heads for home where she packs her backpack and steals the Hills Bros. coffee can with roughly $800 of her step-mother's savings and then boards a Greyhound bound for Cleveland.

Labor Day holds significant memories for Mim, and her mother is a pivotal part of those memories.  Getting to her becomes the major focus of Mim's life.  She'll do whatever it takes to travel the 947 miles from Mississippi to Cleveland.  Ignoring the almost constant ringtone of her step-mother's phone calls, Mim finds a seat on the bus and settles in for a two day ride.

What follows is a unique adventure.  Mim encounters a quirky assortment of characters both good and bad as she ventures northward.  When she is not writing revealing letters in her journal, she visits with a woman named Arlene, gets to know the bus driver Carl, and succeeds in creating a devastating and disgusting flood when she accidently clogs up the toilet in the back of the bus. 

Mim's travels take her not only to new geographical places, but also to new locations in her mind.  She makes discoveries about herself and her family that explain much of what has made her who she is today.  Her journey isn't an easy one, but the physical and emotional difficulties may very well pave the way for her future happiness and fulfillment.

MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold is a fascinating read full of humor, pain, family, and friendship.  Arnold's characters are memorable, his dialogue crisp, and his storyline riveting.