Wednesday, January 16, 2019

GRAND THEFT HORSE by G. Neri, illustrated by Corban Wilkin

Grand Theft Horse
In GRAND THEFT HORSE G. Neri writes about his cousin Gail Ruffu and her battle in the courts of California to protect her beloved horse Urgent Envoy.

For as long as Gail could remember, she loved horses. Her dream of training horses to race came true, but once she was involved in the horse racing game, she learned about the often savage treatment of the beautiful animals who lived simply to run. Part owner of Urgent Envoy, she was given free reign to employ her non-violent, drugfree methods to train him. Unfortunately, the other owners wanted to see faster results and insisted that she force him to run even when he was injured. That's when Gail decided to take matters into her own hands.

On Christmas Day Gail "stole" her horse and took him to a hidden stable where she hoped he would have a chance to recover before he had to race again. What followed were years of legal battles and vile threats that led to Gail live out of her van in near poverty, yet she was still able to keep Urgent Envoy hidden and safe from the other owners.

G. Neri's fast-paced narrative and dialogue is brought to life by illustrator Corban Wilkin in this graphic novel that is sure to capture the hearts of horse lovers of any age. Gail Ruffu's heroic efforts to protect Urgent Envoy and champion the cause of humane treatment of racing horses is an inspiration to all.

TIME BOMB by Joelle Charbonneau

Time Bomb

Six high school students have a variety of reasons for being at the school before the official start of the school year. When the bombs start detonating, they are all in danger, but it is soon clear that one of them is responsible for the bombs and more could explode at any time.

Diana is the daughter of a U.S. Senator. Frankie is a popular football player. Tad is a freshman football player with a crush on Frankie. Cas admits she came to school that day with one thing on her mind - to die. Z is the tattooed bad guy with a crappy home life. Rashid is the stereotype of every Muslim seen as a potential terrorist.

As the building begins crumbling around them, they end up helping each other find safe places to wait for the first responders to rescue them. Unfortunately, it is clear as they look out the windows to the grounds around the school, there is no help coming. A brief radio announcement lets them know the bomber is still in the school and the danger of more blasts are keeping their rescuers from entering the school.

Told in alternating voices TIME BOMB by Joelle Charbonneau will keep readers guessing who is responsible. Each character has reason to be a suspect. Who can they trust to make the right decisions? Can they find a way to get out of the school to safety before another bomb goes off?

TIME BOMB is a different take on the school violence theme of many recent YA novels. Full of suspense and fast-paced action, this new release is sure to be a popular read for ages 13 and up.

Friday, January 11, 2019

THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS by Ann Braden

The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Zoey spends her time taking care of her three siblings, observing her mother's often disturbing relationship with Lenny, and trying to stay under the radar at school. Money is tight and she's learned what it's like to manage when the food stamps aren't enough to keep the refrigerator stocked.

The target of taunts because of her clothes and her trailer park life make it difficult to develop friendships. Zoey has Fuchsia, but ever since an argument between their mothers, they only see each other at school. Fuchsia has her own problems and usually maintains a tough front with little time for Zoey's troubles.

Zoey is used to stern looks from her teachers because doing projects and handing in homework is the last thing on her mind as she juggles to care for two toddlers and a baby while her mother works nights. She's perfected the schedule of picking up two of her siblings at the Head Start bus stop while balancing the baby on her hip and planning how they will avoid Lenny once they get back to the trailer he's been kind enough to share with them. Nearly every day Zoey witnesses the emotional abuse Lenny heaps on her mother as he belittles her and blames her for anything that doesn't go right in his life.

When one of her teachers recognizes Zoey's hidden potential and encourages her to join the after-school debate club, Zoey's world starts looking up. Debate gives her a new view of how her words and perspective can influence others. For the first time Zoey is speaking up and making a difference.

Author Ann Braden takes readers into a world where privilege is unfamiliar and sacrifice is the norm. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS will open the eyes of readers whose lives are comfortable and provide a voice for those who struggle.

Friday, January 4, 2019

WORDS WE DON'T SAY by K. J. Reilly

Words We Don't Say
Wow! WORDS WE DON'T SAY has amazing characters, spot-on dialogue, and a powerful message. High school junior Joel Higgins is struggling with the recent loss of his best friend Andy. Life just doesn't seem worth living, but Joel keeps keeping on, looking for meaning somewhere.

Following Eli's example, I'm going to make a list of some of the awesome things in this book.

Joel's imperfect, but yet perfect, parents.
Joel's tender love for his younger brother, Jace.
Does God exist? Maybe...
Being two inches shorter than the girl you're crushing on.
Benj, the new kid who may have killed his parents.
The tough, yet kind-hearted Mrs. T at the soup kitchen.
"Stealing" eggs and asparagus.
The silent veteran dubbed Rooster by Joel and Eli.
Hilarious "what-if" conversations in the drivers' ed car.
The seniors pranking Mr. Stanley the drivers' ed instructor.
Banned books.
Endless text messages saved to the draft folder.

I could go on and on because debut author K. J. Reilly grabbed me on the first page and never let go. I didn't want to say goodbye to Joel and his gang. They will be with me for a long time. WORDS WE DON'T SAY is joining my limited list of best books ever!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

HOME OF THE BRAVE by Katherine Applegate

Home of the Brave

Having recently read WISHTREE and being a lover of THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, I picked up a copy of one of Katherine Applegate's older books. Published in 2007, HOME OF THE BRAVE is a perfect read for our current state of affairs. Kek is a refugee from Africa. He lost his father and older brother in the fighting there and has no idea if his mother has made it to safety.

Now in America, Kek doesn't understand the language, the food, or the culture. Thrust into the world of a Minnesota winter, Kek sees snow for the first time. He and his cousin Ganwar explore Kek's new surroundings. With the help of his ESL teacher, he begins to understand the language enough to deal with the bullies and make a few friends.

What Kek misses most about Africa is the herd of cattle he helped his father tended. When he is introduced to an old woman who lives on a small farm a bus ride from Kek's new home, he is thrilled to see she has one old cow and a few other stray farm animals. Scratching the cow he names Gol behind the ears gives not only the cow pleasure, but also Kek.

Author Katherine Applegate captures the spirit of the immigrant perfectly. HOME OF THE BRAVE is written in verse making it an easy read with characters that are sure to tug readers' heart strings.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

SPEECHLESS by Adam P. Schmitt

Speechless

Thirteen year old Jimmy is told he is expected to give a speech at the funeral of his cousin Patrick. What do you say if your cousin has caused nothing but trouble for you, and to be honest, you couldn't stand to be around him?

The funeral is the next day. Jimmy has never even attended a funeral let alone given the eulogy. His introduction to death is Patrick's wake. Dressed in a suit with dress pants so small he is afraid the button will pop leading to injury and embarrassment. As he tries to find a quiet place to write the dreaded speech, Jimmy observes those who attend the wake.

Jimmy is surprised by who comes to pay their respects. (He isn't really sure what "paying respects" even entails.) He is surprised by how the various mourners act and what they say. Some walk quietly by Patrick's body and then embrace Patrick's parents expressing their condolences. Others avoid the casket and simply visit in the vicinity of his cousin as they chat about their own lives and activities. Yet others whisper about the mystery of how Patrick died in the way folks would gossip over a backyard fence. Jimmy takes it all in as his mind wrestles with memories of Patrick and what he could possibly say in his speech.

Author Adam P. Schmitt vividly captures the first time wake/funeral experience. Those who have already had the misfortune of attending this kind of sad event will relate to the sights, sounds, and uncomfortable feelings. Those who haven't, may be better prepared should the time come. SPEECHLESS deftly combines reality and humor and is perfect for readers middle grade and up.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

FIG PUDDING by Ralph Fletcher

Fig Pudding

Clifford "Cliff" Abernathy III is one of six children in the Abernathy family. Being the oldest of his siblings, Cliff has many responsibilities. Sometimes he enjoys being a role model for the younger kids, but other times it isn't easy.

FIG PUDDING is a collection of stories about Cliff's life in a large family. Each member of the family has their own unique personality, and the stories do a great job explaining how everything works, and sometimes doesn't work.

Readers will enjoy hearing how family members learn to understand little Josh's needs and wants, Teddy's sometimes wild behavior, Brad's mostly quiet, calm attitude, and what it's like to be Cyn as the only girl in the clan.

Author Ralph Fletcher hits the highs, lows, and humor of living in a large family. As an only child, I enjoyed reading about Cliff and the gang. The short story format makes FIG PUDDING perfect as a read-aloud for elementary and middle grades.