Sunday, July 31, 2016


The Secret of the Scarab Beetle
*Thank you to Sleeping Bear Press for the opportunity to read THE SECRET OF THE SCARAB BEETLE by William Meyer.

Horace j. Edwards isn't particularly thrilled to be moving to Niles, Michigan. He has always loved visiting his grandparents' farm, but now that his grandfather is dead it just won't be the same.

With his parents busy dealing with Grandma and the farm, Horace tries to make the best of things at his new school. A bully named Seth sure doesn't make it easy, and being assigned a school project with Seth as a partner really stinks. But thanks to a mysterious gift from his grandfather, Horace may have the best project ever.

The gift of an Egyptian scarab beetle, a secret doorway that leads to another time and place, and learning that he is part of a secret order known as the Time Keepers just might make Horace one of the popular kids. That is if he can stay alive and rescue his new friends.

THE SECRET OF THE SCARAB BEETLE is Book #1 in Horace j. Edwards and the Time Keepers series. Author William Meyer combines his love of Ancient Egypt with non-stop adventure. This series is a sure winner for ages 8-12, especially boys.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

THE GIRL I USED TO BE by April Henry

The Girl I Used to Be
Author April Henry is a master of YA mystery. The action begins on page one and the suspense never quits. THE GIRL I USED TO BE is her latest novel.

Seventeen year old Olivia had grown up under the impression that it was her father who stabbed her mother nineteen times. When she hears that evidence has surfaced revealing her father most likely died that same winter day years ago, she knows she must find out the truth.

Olivia spent several brief years living with her grandmother before the woman's death of a heart attack. After that Olivia was shuffled from one foster home to another. Now an emancipated minor with her GED, Olivia is free to travel to Medford to track down the killer who robbed her of her parents.

Having long ago changed her name, Olivia discovers that she has also changed enough physically that she is able to return to the small town to begin looking for answers without anyone recognizing her. She settles in and immediately clues begin to surface.

THE GIRL I USED TO BE is a thrilling page-turner. April Henry's painstaking research and actual reenactments make the details of the Olivia's story totally believable. Henry's fans will love it, and she will make many new ones when readers check out THE GIRL I USED TO BE.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

THE TRAGIC AGE by Stephen Metcalfe

The Tragic Age: A Novel
*Copy courtesy of my neighbor and her great ability to win books from Goodreads!

Billy Kinsey doesn't remember much about life before his father won 37 million dollars in the California lottery. The winnings paid for a luxurious house and all the trimmings in a gated community, but it didn't win Billy a new guilt-free life.

What Billy does remember is his failed attempt to save his twin sister's life. It didn't matter that he was a terrific bone marrow match, Dorie died anyway. Now despite the fancy neighborhood and plenty of money, Billy can't seem to sleep more than an hour or two at a time in the fancy house because Dorie is haunting his dreams.

Billy's grades show him to be an average student, but he makes it a point to fly under the radar. A loner, he doesn't attend high school parties and has little interest in sporting events. He has found life is easier if he doesn't get involved.

Things change the day Billy meets Twom Twomey, pronounced "Tomb." Twom is a bit of a rebel who challenges Billy to come out of his shell. Soon Billy finds himself involved with Twom and his sexy girl friend Deliza and another misfit named Ephraim. Billy also reconnects with Dorie's best friend, Gretchen Quinn. Will joining forces with this crazy group encourage Billy to rejoin the living and have some fun, or will that fun take a tragic turn and plunge him even more deeply into guilt and despair?

THE TRAGIC AGE is the YA debut for author Stephen Metcalfe. His fully developed characters, smooth style, and intense plot are all reasons to keep an eye on what he might have to offer next. I know teens that are going to love this one.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

THE ENEMY ABOVE by Michael P. Spradlin

The Enemy Above: A Novel of World War II
*Review copy courtesy of the author.

THE ENEMY ABOVE takes readers into WW II as the Nazis attempt to clear the Jews out of Ukraine. Their plan is to access the rich farm land in the area to use in supplying the German army.

Twelve year old Anton knows of the concentration camps and the mass execution of Jews, and he knows his father is off fighting with the Russians, but so far he and his grandmother and uncles have been safe. That is about to change.

Major Von Duesen is leading a group of gestapo soldiers through the area to capture and remove the remaining Jews. A vicious man, he is determined to make a name for himself by delivering all his prisoners to the General in hopes of earning a promotion.

Anton's family and neighbors have enough warning to leave their homes and escape through the wheat fields and woods to a cave some of the men have discovered. Young Anton and his friend Daniel spend some of their time exploring the cave for a second exit and a water source so the men don't have to scout for water outside the cave at night.

Von Duesen and the soldiers almost capture the water scouts one night. The Jews return to the cave to warn the others. Everyone except Anton, his grandmother and two others escape through the emergency exit. As Anton watches his grandmother facing the gestapo soldiers, he realizes she has remained behind as a distraction so the others can run farther from the cave.

Finding himself and his grandmother in German hands, will they be able to survive or will they meet the fate of so many of their people in the camps?

Author Michael P. Spradlin tells the story of the Ukrainian Jews and the frightening treatment they suffered at the hands of evil Nazis. Readers will experience the intense emotions of Anton as he follows his grandmother into danger as well as the hateful actions and desires of men like Major Von Duesen. THE ENEMY ABOVE is a great example of historical fiction that will have readers on the edge of their seats as they learn more about the complex events of WW II.

Friday, July 22, 2016

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR by Phil Bildner

Rookie of the Year
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR by Phil Bildner is Book #2 in the Rip & Red series. Mr. Acevedo's students are at it again.

Rip and Red welcome a new classmate, Tiki. Red is impressed, but Rip wants to reserve judgement, especially when Tiki threatens to take his position on the Clifton United basketball team.

Mr. Acevedo is still popular as a teacher. His daily Community Circle and anti-worksheet approach may seem unproductive to other staff members, but his students continue to thrive and become independent thinkers.

Financial problems continue to plague the school. An area of great concern to the students is the dismissal of the Lunch Bunch cafeteria ladies since the school has switched to a new food service complete with lunches that most kids don't think includes actual food. Rip and Red and friends come up with a plan to expose the awful food and the unfriendly new lunch workers. Tiki suggests the plan's name should be Operation Food Fight. It's risky, but the end result should be worth it.

Basketball also plays an important role in ROOKIE OF THE YEAR. Clifton United is determined to win all their games this year, and Mr. Acevedo has a new game plan to help make that happen.

Author Phil Bildner has another hit on his hands. Combining fast-paced action for young readers and school problems teachers can relate to, make ROOKIE OF THE YEAR a sure winner for students and classroom libraries. Be sure to check it out along with Book #1, A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

TROUBLE THE WATER by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Trouble the Water
TROUBLE THE WATER is set in Celeste, Kentucky, in 1953. The whites and the blacks get along as long as they know their place. Whites tolerate blacks using the front doors of town establishments, but the black children go to their own school and the town swimming pool is for whites only.

Eleven year old Callie doesn't think too much about the different treatment of blacks until the day she finds the old, yellow dog. That dog and an abandoned cabin in the woods bring her together with a white boy named Wendell. In an effort to find the owner of the dog and the rightful owner of the old cabin, the two become friends.

Callie writes stories for the black newspaper and is excited to do the detective work necessary to write a story about the dog and the cabin. Her curiosity and stubbornness lead her to better understand the separation that exists in her southern town. She vows to make a change, but will she be able to convince Wendell to see things her way?

Author Frances O'Roark Dowell has numerous books for middle grade readers, among them are DOVEY COE, THE SECOND LIFE OF ABIGAIL WALKER, and my favorite CHICKEN BOY.

Monday, July 18, 2016

THE SCULPTOR by Scott McCloud

The Sculptor
Graphic novels have my attention this summer. I've been collecting them for my classroom over the past year, and now I'm trying to catch up on reading them.

THE SCULPTOR by Scott McCloud comes in at a hefty 488 pages, and due to the higher quality paper used for many graphic novels, it is definitely "hefty." I found it a quick read because McCloud grabbed my attention in the first handful of pages and kept things rolling at a perfect pace.

David Smith wants nothing more than to be a famous sculptor. Growing up around art and artistic people, he developed his talent but it seems his work in never in the right place at the right time. His obsession with being famous and remembered for years to come drives him to make a deal with Death. David is given 200 days to leave his mark on the art world. Death gives him the ability to form sculptures with his bare hands but tells him his life will end whether or not he achieves his goal in 200 days.

Down on his luck financially, things are difficult for David. Meeting a beautiful young woman named Meg takes David's focus away from his art. Although she encourages him in his goal, his love for her threatens to derail his plans for fame.

Author Scott McCloud's powerful artwork combined with imaginative dialogue making THE SCULPTOR a fascinating read. I would offer a bit of caution that this graphic novel is best suited for age 16 and up due to sexually suggestive content.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

TOWERS FALLING by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Towers Falling
This is the second book about 9/11 I have read in recent weeks. The first was NINE, TEN. Both offer excellent ways to introduce the world changing tragedy into the curriculum of elementary and middle schools. Thank you to two talented authors interested in sharing history with readers who were not even born on September 11, 2001.

According to Deja, her family has always been poor, but they have hit a new low. Living accommodations provided by Avalon Family Residence shelter is about as low as it can get. Because her father can't hold a job, her family of five is now squeezed into one room, and Deja is faced with starting the year at a new school.

Her new teacher Mrs. Garcia announces they will be participating in something called an integrated curriculum. Deja has no idea what to expect, but at least she makes two fast friends, Ben and Sabeen. Ben is originally from Arizona and Sabeen's family are Turkish immigrants. Both Ben and Sabeen seem to know more about NYC than native Deja, but that soon changes as the new class curriculum is revealed.

Author Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly tells the story of three young Americans fifteen years after the tragedy of 9/11. In heartbreaking clarity, Rhodes explains that Deja's father suffers from PTSD as a survivor of the World Trade Center collapse. All three students learn the importance of history in the shaping of their personal lives, the country, and even the world. Every library and classroom should have at least one copy of TOWERS FALLING.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Justin #1
Welcome to a new series - BLACK TOP! At just under 150 pages and priced at $6.99, JUSTIN is the first book in this fast-paced basketball series. Book #2, JANAE, is also available with book #3 due out in January.

Justin lives with his mom and stepdad. Not a bad kid, he is easily influenced by the tough guys in his less than desirable neighborhood. Watching the pickup games at Bushrod, Justin dreams of playing on his own team.

Tall and lean, Justin looks like a basketball player and he thinks like a player, unfortunately, he doesn't really have the moves of a player. He is sure that if he practices and has the right team around him, he could be good.

When news that the infamous Ghosttown team might be looking for a game, Justin is determined to find enough players to fill out a team. He convinces his friend Frank to join him in the search. They end up with Adrian, White Mike, and surprisingly, a girl named Janae. Now the game is on. Will they win or will Ghosttown wipe up the court with the inexperienced, young team?

Debut author LJ Alonge uses his own experience to inspire the games and characters described in his new BLACK TOP series. Perfect for reluctant readers as well as basketball fans, each book ends in a cliffhanger that leads into the next exciting story.

Friday, July 15, 2016


Every Exquisite Thing
Matthew Quick's unique message comes through clearly in his newest book, EVERY EXQUISITE THING. Quick's books never disappoint me, and this one is no exception.

Nanette O'Hare is every parent's dream. Good grades, star soccer player with college scholarship potential, and not into high school partying or at-risk behavior. Life seems to be steaming along just fine for everyone but Nanette.

A bit unsure about her place in the world, Nanette often spends her lunches with a favorite teacher hoping to gain some insight into what her future holds. When the teacher hands her a worn copy of a strange, out-of-print book called The Bubblegum Reaper, her life begins to make a sort of mixed up sense.

In search of her true self, Nanette locates the author of the mysterious book, Nigel Booker. Booker gives her much to think about and also introduces her to Alex. Alex is also fascinated with Booker's novel, and the two teens bond over the unique piece of fiction. Inspired by the book, they experiment in rebellious behavior that takes them far from the straight and narrow of their normal lives.

In EVERY EXQUISITE THING author Matthew Quick lets teen readers know that there aren't always pat answers for the questions that threaten to overwhelm them. Nanette's rocky journey reveals that following the expected path isn't always the most satisfying, but it takes a brave soul to decide to head into uncharted territory.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

CAMO GIRL by Kekla Magoon

Camo Girl
THE ROCK AND THE RIVER by Kekla Magoon is one of my favorite books. I recently have seen readers mentioning CAMO GIRL and decided to check it out.

Ella, Z, and Millie were close friends in elementary school. Things have changed recently for Z, and Ella finds herself his sole friend. As seventh grade begins, Millie starts steering clear of Ella and Z. She sits next to Ella on the bus, but once they arrive at school, Millie joins another circle of friends.

Ella has always been Z's defender. He refers to Ella as Milady and himself as a knight. His fantasy world has taken over his daily life causing his classmates to endlessly tease and taunt him.

At the same time Ella has her own problems. She lives with her mother and grandmother, although, her mother's job only allows her to be home three days out of every seven. A skin condition involving the pigment of Ella's skin makes her the target for almost as much teasing as Z. The nickname Camo Girl haunts her every day.

When new kid Bailey James arrives, Ella rejoices that she will no longer be the only black kid in the school. Discovering that he also lives nearby, makes life even better. Unfortunately, Z doesn't understand the new friendship developing between Ella and Bailey. Will Ella be forced to choose or can she find a way to help Z feel comfortable around Bailey? It may be a problem that she can't solve on her own.

CAMO GIRL is perfect for middle grade readers. There are many opportunities for great group discussion as readers learn about Ella's troubles.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen (Signed Book)
The first time I heard of Jazz Jennings was when I saw previews for the TLC reality show featuring her family. I decided to tune in and ended up watching each episode. As I watched, I thought, what a courageous young woman. I am glad to now have her book so I can share it with my students and others interested in learning more about transgender issues.

Jazz Jennings writes this book from the heart. She presents her story for the most part chronologically, beginning with her earliest memories of knowing she was really a girl. Unusual, because most transgender individuals don't recognize their differences and desires at such a young age. Jazz's very loving family has given her the necessary support to identify and live as her true self.

As Jazz tells her story, she speaks clearly about how she hopes her experience and advocacy will help others to understand and educate themselves about what it means to be transgender. She credits her supportive family for making her transition as easy as possible which has allowed her to live happily for most of her young life. Not that everything has been perfect, of course. Experiencing depression, learning to deal with strangers' looks and comments, and navigating the world of puberty and hormones while living an extremely public life has had its challenges, but Jazz and her family have done their best to learn what they can and pass that knowledge on to others.

BEING JAZZ is a powerful, inspiring, and meaningful book that should be readily available for readers everywhere. Its message will encourage readers to understand that we are all just people and should be accepted for we are.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


Still a Work in Progress
I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in the ARC tour for STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS! This is the best book I've read in quite some time.

Navigating middle school is difficult enough, and Noah is doing his best despite the fact that his sister Emma is struggling with a health issue that threatens to derail his entire family. His days are filled with typical 7th grade hormonal and emotional disasters. His best friend is involved with a girl complete with holding hands and kissing with tongue. There's the first dance jitters to contend with. Should he ask a girl to dance or sit safely on the sidelines? Each day ends with an often uncomfortable carpool ride that takes him home to homework and chores.

Noah's small school has its perks. Classes are small and most of the kids have been together forever. Teachers take the time to get to know their students and offer positive support whenever necessary. There's even a school cat - a hairless feline who wanders the halls and classrooms wearing jaunty little vests to keep his rather creepy little figure toasty and warm.

Along with the perks come decided disadvantages. Everyone knows everyone else's business, and when Noah's sister relapses, the real stress begins. Talkative friends become suddenly silent, and teachers become nosey question askers. As Noah's feelings of guilt and anger increase, all he wants is to be left alone.

Author Jo Knowles takes on the task of illustrating how an eating disorder effects a family. Noah and his parents completely change their lives to accommodate Emma as she tries to deal with her illness, but despite carefully expressed feelings and craftily prepared meals, she reverts to old habits and ends up back in rehab. Noah misses her and must learn that life goes on even though he hears his parents crying and arguing nightly as he tries to come to terms with his own role in the family's situation.

I don't mean to make this book sound like a depressing, downer of a read. It is filled with warmth and humor that will have readers smiling, chuckling, and sighing pleasantly time and time again. Knowles's middle grade humor matches that of authors Jordan Sonnenblick, David Lubar, and Brent Crawford, making it a sure winner with boys as well as girls.

There has been recent criticism of books written for middle grade readers involving topics such as heroine addiction, gender issues, and autism. Some argue that these are topics that should not be introduced in fiction for readers of this age. I completely disagree! Books like STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS can provide just what kids need to better understand what may be going on in their own lives or the lives of someone close to them. We need this kind of diversity in children's and adolescent literature now more than ever.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Gaijin: American Prisoner of War
Thank you to for their generous donation of this book.

Author Matt Faulkner's graphic novel GAIJIN: AMERICAN PRISONER OF WAR gives readers a unique view of America's version of the WWII concentration camp.

It is 1941 and the Japanese have just attacked Pearl Harbor. Living in San Francisco, Koji Miyamoto learns that being the son of a Japanese father and a white mother comes with a cost. As emotions build in the U.S. after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese Americans are rounded up and sent to internment camps supposedly for their "protection."

Koji and his mother are sent to the Alameda Downs Assembly Center. It is an abandoned horse-racing track turned into a camp housing over 8,000 Japanese Americans. Conditions are poor for everyone, but life is especially difficult for Koji as he is teased and taunted for being "gaijin" or "half-caste."

Using simple, direct dialogue and his detailed, colorful artwork, author Matt Faulkner takes readers back to WWII to illustrate its powerful impact right here in the United States. With so much focus on German concentration camps, many teens don't realize the horrors visited on U.S. citizens who never left our own country. GAIJIN is a must have for any library or classroom collection.

AIR by Ryan Gattis

Grey Monroe finds himself suddenly transplanted from Colorado to Baltimore, Maryland. After witnessing his own mother's death, Grey is separated from his siblings and shipped off to live with his Aunt Blue.

Quickly befriended by a dare devil named Kurtis, Grey becomes part of a risk-taking group of Baltimore teens. When he's not following his aunt's strict rules and keeping his grades up at school, Grey is learning to ride dirt bikes with Kurtis and his gang. Already an accomplished BMX rider, dirt bike riding and stunting comes easily to Grey, and before he knows it, he has the nickname "Air" and his stunt videos are breaking viewing records on YouTube.

Although it is tough to stay in his aunt's good graces and ride with his new friends without getting caught by the cops, Grey seems to make it work. However, as the dare devils attempt more dangerous stunts, the cops are determined to shut them down. One wild ride ends with the death of a young rider named Akil. Grey and his friends are sure that Akil's death is the fault of the cops who supposedly have a "no chase" policy. As a way to honor their friend's tragic death, Grey and Kurtis vow to perform stunt videos to raise money to better the lives of the kids of Baltimore.

Grey knows his aunt will not approve of the dangerous tricks he and Kurtis are planning. But more important than staying out of trouble with his aunt, will Grey even survive the death-defying stunts?

Author Ryan Gattis combines wild dirt bike adventure with the struggle of inner city teens trying to make a name for themselves and remember their friend. Filled with emotion and daring, AIR's fast pace is sure to entertain teen readers. Gattis uses short chapters and a good mix of physical action and intense character interaction to grab readers and keep them turning pages to the exciting conclusion.