Tuesday, July 30, 2013

45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) by K.A. Barson

45 POUND (MORE OR LESS) is a must read.  Not only is it an entertaining story, but it speaks to increasing concerns about body image and eating disorders.  Its message will come through loud and clear to those dealing with weight issues, and even extends to friends and family of those struggling with their weight.

Just like most of us, Ann has dieted many times, and usually ended up weighing more than when she started.  Inspired by an infomercial promising easy, quick results, Ann invests her entire savings in the Secrets 2 Success diet plan.  Simply follow their exercise program and eat their specially formulated meals and she is guaranteed to lose that weight.

Ann is also inspired by the fact that her aunt is getting married in several months and has asked her to be a bridesmaid.  The thought of trying on dresses terrifies her.  Hopefully, she can lose 45 pounds in time for the wedding.

Complicating matters for Ann is a mother obsessed with staying slim, a cute guy with dimples who keeps showing up at the mall where she works, and a stereotypical "mean" girl who works with her at The Twisted Pretzel.  Ann desperately wants to lose weight, but when she sees how her dieting obsession and her mother's fixation with weight is effecting her four year old sister, she decides to take matters into her own hands.

45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) is the debut novel of author K.A. Barson.  Her combination of humor, quirky characters, and insight into issues of weight and dieting make this a novel that should be read by all girls and their moms.  I can't wait to see what she has to offer next.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

EVIL BEHIND THAT DOOR by Barbara Fradkin

This is the other complimentary copy I received from the Rapid Reads collection at Orca Book Publishers.  Once again it offers a high interest/low level solution for older YA readers.

Cedric "Rick" O'Toole makes ends meet by working as a handyman.  When he is asked to help clean up an old farmhouse for a high school classmate recently released from prison, he has concerns about what he might be getting himself into.  Rick and Barry weren't exactly the best of friends, but Rick knows Barry is dealing with some heavy stuff at the moment so he agrees to do the work.

Several issues add to the mystery of EVIL BEHIND THAT DOOR.  First, Barry's parents have both mysteriously disappeared.  Searches have turned up nothing so Barry has inherited the family property and wants to sell it as soon as possible.  Another issue arises when Barry sees Rick trying to enter a locked room in the basement.  Barry immediately stops Rick telling him that there is evil behind that door and he should never open it.

As one would expect, Rick does open the door, and what he finds is indeed evil.  Readers will anxiously turn the pages to get the answers to what Rick finds and the mystery of Barry's missing parents. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Twelve year old Mila is looking forward to an adventure with her father.  Traveling from their home in London to visit her father's best friend in New York should provide something to brag about when she gets back home.  She promises her mother she will watch out for her absent-minded father and they depart.

The first disappointment comes when Mila discovers "New York" means a thinly populated area of upstate New York not the hustle and bustle of New York City.  The second unfortunate element of the trip happens when she and her father arrive at the home of Matthew and his wife Suzanne to find that Matthew has disappeared. 

Sensitive to the tension in their hosts' home, Mila begins to consider all sorts of scenarios involving the missing man.  He left behind his wife and young son as well as his loyal dog, all the while knowing his best friend had planned a visit.  Talk about strange! 

More details reveal that as son about Mila's age died in a car accident three years earlier.  Matthew was the driver of the car and had been prone to depression since the death of his son.  His wife Suzanne suggests that perhaps Matthew has gone to a cabin farther north so Mila and her father head off in that direction.

PICTURE ME GONE follows young Mila and her father as they attempt to solve the mystery of a missing friend.  Mila's unusual relationship with her father and her uncanny ability to interpret people and situations will keep readers on their toes as each new twist and turn is revealed.  This thought-provoking new novel by Meg Rosoff is due for release in October 2013.

Friday, July 26, 2013

THE BARRIO KINGS by William Kowalski

A big thank you to the publisher for providing THE BARRIO KINGS for review.  I have long been a fan of Orca Publishers and their high interest/low level offerings.  When I heard about Rapid Reads from Raven Books (an imprint of Orca) for older YA students in alternative ed programs, I really wanted to check one out for a new program my school is offering this fall.  One of the publisher reps kindly sent two my way.

THE BARRIO KINGS features a young man named Rosario Gomez facing the next challenge in his life, that of breadwinner and father.  Once a member of the Barrio Kings gang, Rosario has turned his life around.  He is about to earn his GED and get a well-deserved promotion at the grocery store where he works.  It couldn't come at a better time since his girl friend is about to deliver their first child. 

Just when it seems that everything is perfect for Rosario, an old friend is released from prison and makes contact with Rosario.  His old friend suggests that the two of them along with the Kings should seek revenge for what happened to Rosario's brother.  Should he ignore the promise he made to his girl friend or rejoin his old gang and help lead the fight?

THE BARRIO KINGS is slightly over 100 pages, reads quickly, and contains just the right combination of action and drama to interest reluctant readers.  With characters living in the adult world, there is definitely more appeal for alternative ed/adult ed readers attempting to improve reading skills.  I look forward to reading another Rapid Read selection.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

FREAKBOY by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

FREAKBOY by Kristin Elizabeth Clark follows three characters struggling with transgender issues.  Written in verse, it is a fast read that will speak to teens questioning their sexuality.  With a release date of 10/13, FREAKBOY handles a sensitive subject with care and compassion.

Brendan studies hard and has been a dedicated member of the wrestling team.  He thinks it is pretty cool that his girl friend is also a member of the team.  It gives them plenty of time together, but lately, Brendan has been struggling with something he can't share with her.  He loves Vanessa, but he sometimes finds himself being jealous of the fact that she is a girl.  Brendan sometimes pictures himself as a girl.  He even goes so far as to purchase a green, satin bra.  When he tries it on in the privacy of his room, he loves the curves it creates.  But Brendan is extremely frightened by the term transgender and isn't sure how to deal with his feelings.

Vanessa loves Brendan, but she is losing patience with his shifting moods.  One day he is the tough wrestler and doting boy friend, and the next day he claims he needs space and time alone.  She knows he has battled depression since his parents' divorce and his mother's remarriage to a jerk he doesn't like, but there is something else bugging him that he isn't willing to share. 

Angel meets Brendan when he shows up at the teen center one afternoon.  Despite a challenging childhood, Angel has come to terms with being transgender and works to help other struggling teens.  Not sure of what Brendan's problem involves, Angel gives him a phone number and offers to help any time.  Will he take advantage of the offer or can't he face his fears?

The three personalities intertwine to weave an inspirational story of facing fears and coming to terms with what makes each of us unique.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

THE F- LIST by Julie Halpern

I anticipate some will be offended by the title, but please don't let that stop you from picking up a copy of Julie Halpern's latest due out on Nov. 11, 2013. 

In this teenage take on the "bucket list," Halpern tackles such difficult topics as loss of a parent, illness of a friend, and young love.  She does it in a no-nonsense, sometimes gut-wrenching directness.

Alex is just getting used to the fact that her father is gone.  Killed in a taxi accident, he left behind teenage Alex, her twin brothers, and their mother.  It hasn't been a year yet since his death when Alex is jolted by another potential tragedy.  Becca, Alex's best friend since elementary school, announces that she has cancer.  Can Alex's quirky toughness get her through this latest challenge?

Alex is surprised when her friend reveals a bucket list she created and even more shocked when Becca asks Alex to help her complete each item on the list in case she doesn't survive.  The girls rename the list the F- It List and the adventure begins.  What Alex doesn't count on is dealing with feelings of guilt when she finds herself in a relationship with Leo Dietz who she has long worshipped from afar.

Although, the title, the language, and some of the sexual references might not be for the faint of heart, THE F- IT LIST takes readers on a heartfelt journey of what it means to be a true friend.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Imagine waking up on the floor of a cabin, tasting blood, realizing someone has pulled off several of your fingernails, and now they are talking about killing you.  If that isn't scary enough, add in the fact that you don't have a clue about where you are or even who you are.

Author April Henry's new thriller THE GIRL WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE takes readers on a frightening adventure as a teen tries to piece together events leading her to a backwoods cabin and two men who want her dead.  When she is able to escape, she takes off in an SUV belonging to one of the men in hopes of finding some answers. 

She winds up seeking help from a security guard at a nearby resort only to find out he plans to hold her prisoner in the back of his security vehicle until someone from a mental facility comes to pick her up.  She might not know much, but she does know she isn't this Katie person they claim committed assault and escaped from a loony bin.  Once again she takes off and looks for a place to hide until she can decide what to do next.

A mall parking lot looks like it might provide some protection, and a McDonald's restaurant will give her a place to clean up and get something to eat.  Exhausted, she dozes off and is awaken by the cute guy who waited on her.  When the two men show up looking for her, he offers to help.  Can he help her figure out who she is and keep her safe from the men who want her dead?

THE GIRL WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE is due out in August and promises to be a great end of summer read.  Keep an eye out for this one at your local library or bookstore!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

ZOM-B: ANGELS by Darren Shan

B has survived the zombie attacks.  Although, she was turned into a zombie, she was one of the lucky ones who revitalized which means even though she is dead, she still has her brain so she can think and reason.  Struggling to survive in her current state, she has encountered others of her kind, some simply surviving and others, like Mr. Dowling, interested only in evil.

Convinced that she only has a year and a half or two left before what's left of her body fails her, B is stumbling from place to place in hopes that she can make a difference.  When she begins noticing strange new signs around the city bearing red arrows, B decides to follow them.  She discovers a group of young revitalized like herself led by a man named Dr. Oystein.  He claims to have found ways to make their lives more comfortable and calls the young people who follow him his Angels.

When Dr. Oystein informs B that her life expectancy is actually several thousand years, she can hardly believe it.  The news is welcoming but frightening at the same time.  What is one to do for thousands of years when brains are the only food and sleep is impossible?

B doesn't see much choice in the matter.  She hopes Dr. Oystein will allow her to become one of his Angels and learn more about how his organization works.

ZOM-B: ANGELS is book #4 in Darren Shan's new series.  Different than his world of vampires, the ZOM-B books contain an interesting mix of creepy characters, gory details, in addition to some rather serious subjects.

Friday, July 19, 2013


I picked this one up courtesy of the publisher at ALA in Chicago.  My neighbor read it first and told me I must make it the next book on my TBR pile.  So glad I listened to her.

Set in 1963 in Mississippi, the main character is nine year old Starla Claudelle.  More than anything she wants to attend the Fourth of July fireworks, but having recently punched a local troublemaker in the nose, Starla is grounded.  Furious that her grandmother has spoiled everything, Starla decides to run away to Nashville where her mother is following her dream to be a country singer.

It doesn't take long for Starla to find herself in a real mess.  A kindly black woman named Eula offers her a ride.  When Starla asks questions about the white baby crying on the floor of Eula's pickup, Eula tells her she found him abandoned on the church steps. 

Starla winds up at Eula's house, and when the woman's huge husband arrives, he isn't at all pleased to find two white children.  When it is clear he means to kill Starla, Eula whacks him on the head with a skillet, killing him.  Now Eula and Starla are on the run.  Young Starla is confident that if they can just get to Nashville her mother will take them in and help Eula and the little baby boy.

Author Susan Crandall weaves an amazing adventure, but even more than that, the relationships she creates give readers a glimpse into the South and the heart of the Civil Rights movement.  Starla's innocent friendship with a black woman are in stark contrast with the prejudice and hate so prevalent in the South.  Compared to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and THE HELP, critics are predicting WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD will be a classic.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

PROXY by Alex London

PROXY is perfect for fans of the I AM NUMBER FOUR series and authors like Anthony Horowitz and Alexander Gordon Smith.  It is filled with non-stop action and an all too real depiction of the future.

Knox and Syd have never met, but they have been connected since both teens were young boys.  Syd is known as a proxy for Knox who is called his patron.  Whenever Knox has misbehaved, Syd has taken his punishment.  Each punishment translates into credits that Syd can use to purchase food, clothes, medical treatment, or anything else his meager existence in a ghetto called the Valve can't provide. 

Syd, an orphan, lives in the back of a shop and considers the shopkeeper the closest thing to a father he has ever had.  While Syd barely scraps by with what he can earn fixing tech devices for other unfortunates who live in the ghetto, Knox lives a life of luxury.  His mother died leaving him to live with a father who cares more about his business than his son.  Despite his mostly absent father, Knox has the best of everything and, like most teens in the City, he doesn't appreciate it.

One night Knox takes his father's car for a joyride and crashes after losing control.  He wakes up in the hospital to discover his injuries, though serious, are not life-threatening thanks to the high tech medical procedures his father is able to afford.  Unfortunately, his female passenger didn't fare as well.  She's dead.  This latest "mistake" of Knox's results in a drastic and potentially deadly punishment for Syd.

An important rule regarding a patron and proxy is that the two never meet, however, circumstances arise that place both Knox and Syd at the same wild party.  The two find themselves face to face and the adventure that follows could change life for everyone.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

SIX INNINGS by James Preller

SIX INNINGS by James Preller is not your typical baseball novel.  Yes, there is spot-on play-by-play action and accurate details about little league baseball, but there is a lot more.  Preller brings life to his characters that create much stronger connections for readers than simple sporting fun.

It is the championship game.  The young players on both teams and their coaches are hoping for a win in this final game of the season.  Each player seems to have a different reason for playing.  Some are dedicated to the game and picture themselves playing long into their futures.  Others are just as happy that this is the end of the season and also the end of their baseball careers. 

Sam Reiser is at the center of all the action, but not because he is the star player.  Sam is the announcer for the game.  He longs to be on the field in the thick of things, but as the story unfolds, readers learn that Sam has cancer and isn't able to handle the rigors of actual play.  As long as he can stay focused on the action and narrate it for the fans, he is able to deal with the physical exhaustion, the nausea, the hair loss, and the fact that he may never play again.

With each successive inning, readers learn about the key players and their motivation on and off the field.  Preller's unique presentation of the game will enable readers to relate to players whose attitudes about baseball might reflect their own.  There is a little something for everyone in this one of a kind sports thriller.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

THEN by Morris Gleitzman

Always on the lookout for interesting accounts of the Holocaust, I picked this one up a few weeks ago.  It wasn't until I got it home that I discovered it is book #2 of a trilogy.  Last night I decided to go ahead and dive into the middle of things and just see what happened.  Well, I'm finished and off to order the other two books!

Felix is ten and Zelda is six.  Felix is Jewish and Zelda is Catholic.  They are both witnesses to the horror and violence of the Nazis.  Having escaped from a prison camp train, they are on the run.  Felix's goal is to find them a safe place and someone to protect them.  He tells stories and tries to get Zelda to imagine the kindly farmer he hopes they will find to take them in and keep them well-fed and safe. 

Their mad dash through the woods is fraught with danger.  They never know when they will be discovered by someone out to rid the world of Jews or someone hoping to turn them in for some meager reward. 

The two children are stopped by a horrifying sight - a huge hole filled with the bodies of other children shot to death by the Nazis.  When a gruff woman meets up with Felix and Zelda, the children fear for their lives, but she takes them to her farm and convinces them she means no harm.  Genia becomes the parent the two desperately need.  However, even her good intentions can't guarantee their safety. 

Having only read one of the three books, I still think this trilogy will pair well with Holocaust stories like NIGHT and DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


According to author Jo Knowles, fans of her book JUMPING OFF SWINGS wanted to know what happened to Josh.  LIVING WITH JACKIE CHAN provides the answer.

Josh needs to get away so he moves in with his uncle.  Larry teaches karate at the YMCA and offers to have Josh live with him and complete his senior year at the local high school.  Josh just wants to go to school and work hard to raise his grades so he can get into college and get started on his future.

Helping Larry with the karate classes, Josh meets Stella.  A friendship forms that has Josh hoping he can put his past aside and have a decent senior year.  However, when school starts, he quickly realizes Stella's friendship doesn't include hanging out at school.  A jealous boyfriend holds Stella's attention leaving Josh doubting the sincerity of her friendship.

Even though Josh truly appreciates Larry's kindness and attention, he is constantly reminded of the past when the baby in the upstairs apartment cries.  The late night cries have Josh dreaming of Ellie and the baby he saw for only moments before she gave it away.  Deep inside he knows it was the right thing to do, but the guilt he feels about the one night he spent with Ellie is eating him alive.

Fans of JUMPING OFF SWINGS should be satisfied with this continuing story.  It clears illustrates the aftermath of a life-changing mistake.  Josh learns that he may never forget the painful past, but he may be able to grow from the experience.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


For Hayley Kincain life has been filled with loss.  Her mother died, her grandmother died, Trish her "stepmother" left, and her father left for several tours of duty in the Middle East.  Now Hayley is seventeen and heading back to public school after years of homeschooling on the road with her father.  She isn't planning on making many connections with her teachers or fellow students.  The goal is to put in her time and try to hold things together at home.

When her father returned from his last tour, he brought with him a leg injury, a purple heart, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  An addiction to alcohol and nights interrupted by nightmares of the battlefield have kept him from holding a job.  He finally decided to try long haul trucking which resulted in Hayley traveling along for several years. 

As Hayley's senior year approached, her father made plans to move into the house where he grew up so she can attend a regular school and get the credits required to apply for college.  Hayley doesn't have high hopes for how all this will work out.  She knows her dad doesn't take his medication and most of the time refuses to kept his doctor's appointments.  Keeping an eye on him and dealing with the consequences when his PTSD takes control doesn't leave her with much energy to concentrate on school.  With the help of Gracie, a childhood friend, and an unexpected relationship with a boy named Finn, Hayley is able to muddle through her days. 

The unpredictable nature of PTSD is clearly evident in the roller coaster lifestyle of Hayley and her father.  The incredible talent of author Laurie Halse Anderson enables readers to understand the life facing many returning veterans and their families today.  She uniquely combines the devastation caused by war and the resiliency of the human spirit in her latest novel THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY available in 2014.  (Review copy provided by Penguin Publishers at ALA 2013.)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

THE CHAMBER OF FIVE by Michael Harmon

Jason Weatherby goes to Lambert School for the Gifted.  His father is a U.S. Congressman and expects his son to follow him in some sort of political career and going to the elite school is part of that plan.

Lambert is controlled by a group known as the Chamber of Five.  Jason has just become part of the group, but now that he is one of the insiders, he is learning about the corrupt dealings of this secret group.  The leader of the Chamber assigns Jason the task of having a certain freshman removed from the school. 

The more Jason learns, the more he realizes that something must be done to shut down the Chamber and return to control of the school to the truly gifted students instead of the power-hungry bullies.  When his father gets wind of Jason's plan, his temper flairs.  Fed up with his father's abusive behavior, Jason continues on with his plan because he knows it is the right thing to do.

Author Michael Harmon takes readers into the inner workings of the secret society within a private school.  Jason proves that it is possible to stand up to corrupt forces to change things for his fellow classmates.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

BYSTANDER by James Preller

Many readers will be able to relate to the main character in James Preller's BYSTANDER.  Moving from Ohio to Bellport, Long Island, has made Eric the new kid on the block, and being the new seventh grader has put fear into the hearts of even the most well-adjusted kids.

Eric witnesses a terrified, ketchup-covered boy running from a group of kids.  The boy escapes and Eric is left to confront his tormentors.  One boy named Griffin appears to be the leader of the group.  Griffin tries to intimidate Eric, but Eric is able to stand his ground.  Hopefully, not all the kids in Bellport are like this Griffin character.

When school starts, Eric quickly learns that Griffin is a bully but not a typical one.  He seems to have many adults convinced that he is a polite, well-behaved kid.  He operates by gaining the confidence of his followers and then getting them to do his dirty work.  Eric falls victim to Griffin's cunning ways.  It takes several unfortunate events and Eric being accused of having a weapon in his locker before Eric realizes exactly how much trouble Griffin can cause.

Author James Preller deftly handles a current adolescent concern - bullying.  By breaking the stereotype of the rough, tough bully, and revealing a more devious variety, Preller's story will make readers consider their own role in bullying situations.