Sunday, December 28, 2014

DOUBLE EXPOSURE by Bridget Birdsall

Double Exposure"Aren't we all queer? Different?  Odd?  Peculiar?  Strange?  Freaky?  Weird?  Losers in our own way?"  It may have taken the first fifteen years of her life, but Alyx Atlas is coming to terms with who, or some may say, what she is.

Born intersexed, Alyx has both male and female genitalia.  This rare condition was explained to her parents by the doctor who suggested that surgery could be performed immediately to preserve her female organs and eliminate the male organs.  It was the decision made by most parents of newborns with this condition.  Alyx's forward thinking parents decided to leave things just as they were and give Alyx time to decide who he/she wanted to be. 

Since Alyx displayed true athletic talent, most considered her a boy, but from an early age she viewed herself as female.  According to doctors, she could begin taking female hormones so she could develop breasts and begin menstruating, but the advice was that she wait until she was eighteen to consider any final surgery.

All the advice was well and good, but since Alyx's feminine tracts dominated, she became the target for bullies, and after a number of vicious attacks, she began thinking death would be easier than living this double life.

After her father's death from cancer, Alyx and her mother relocated from California to her mother's hometown in Milwaukee.  Alyx took her mother's maiden name hoping to blend in at her new school.  She joined the girls' basketball team and began to live a life she thought would be normal. 

As most readers will soon guess, Alyx's past catches up with her and life once again becomes complicated.  Will she be able to deal with the challenges ahead?  Will she be able to come to terms with who she is despite the sidelong looks and discrimination of others?

Author Bridget Birdsall tackles a tough subject with sensitivity and grace.  Readers will fall in love with Alyx right from the start and cheer her on as she faces more than any teen should have to face.  Her unique situation will force readers to consider exactly what makes a person who they are both inside and out.  DOUBLE EXPOSURE is a must-read and should be on every high school library and classroom shelf.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

ONE DEATH NINE STORIES edited by Marc Aronson & Charles R. Smith Jr.

One Death, Nine StoriesONE DEATH NINE STORIES is a unique novel comprised of short stories that weave together the story of Kevin Nicholas.  Reports of Kevin's death connect his acquaintances as they tell their individual stories and how they are tied to the deceased nineteen year old.

His sister, his best friend, a passing relationship with a fellow community college student, and an ex-girlfriend are just a few of the contributing storytellers that give readers a glimpse into the intertwined relationships of those who knew Kevin.  Ghosts from Kevin's own past reveal that his relationships were not the positive ones that most would hope for in the life a young man about to begin his adult life.  From the nine different stories, readers will learn about the influences humans have on one another, whether good or bad, and how those experiences combine to shape the players.

This unique collection is the product of two amazing minds, Marc Aronson and Charles R. Smith Jr.*  They tapped nine of their contemporaries to participate in this literary experiment.  Authors Chris Barton, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Marina Budhos, Ellen Hopkins, A.S. King, Torrey Maldonado, Charles R. Smith Jr., Will Weaver, and Rita Williams-Garcia all played a part in creating the cast of characters connected to Kevin Nicholas.  In the Afterword Aronson explains the unique process of creating the individual stories and the resulting complex interaction that brought them together in this interesting format. 

*Aronson and Smith have another multi-author collaboration piece titled PICK-UP GAME.  (I just ordered it and can't wait to read it!)


Lies My Girlfriend Told MeNews of Swanee's death nearly derails Alix.  How can a healthy, running addicted young woman just collapse and die? 

Alix's parents never truly accepted Swanee as Alix's girlfriend.  The two spent more time together at Swanee's house or in her little pink Smartcar.  Swanee was a rebel who tried to bring out Alix's more daring side, and that isn't always welcome when your parents are on the conservative side.

When Alix finally gets the nerve to visit Swanee's family, she is greeted by their strange form of grief.  Alix asks to enter Swanee's bedroom in hopes of connecting one last time with the love they shared.  She runs across Swanee's phone and discovers a string of unanswered texts for a mysterious "LT."  The mystery caller doesn't seem to have received the message of Swanee's death, and the message suggests a romantic relationship that Alix can't seem to understand.

Alix becomes obsessed with finding this LT intending to break the news of their mutual friend's death.  As her search unfolds, it becomes obvious that Swanee was keeping secrets that involved both Alix and the texting stranger.  As the secrets are uncovered, both girls learn that Swanee was not the girlfriend either of them thought she was. 

Author Julie Anne Peters takes her readers on an adventure that twists and turns through the complicated lives of three young women.  Readers will come to admire the resilience of the two betrayed teens as they come to terms with the truth about their mutual lover's lies.  LIES MY GIRLFRIEND TOLD ME proves that life is not easy, but the challenges may be worth the struggle.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

THE RED PENCIL by Andrea Davis Pinkney

The Red PencilAuthor Andrea Davis Pinkney shares the horrors of the civil war in Darfur in THE RED PENCIL.  She traveled to Africa to research and interview refugees who have survived the brutal war and those who volunteer in refugee camps to provide humanitarian support.  The story of Amira is a combination of the stories Pinkney heard during her travels.

Amira is excited to be turning twelve.  She will now be able to wear a toob, a long piece of fabric Sudanese women wear wrapped around the head and body.  Wearing a toob signifies that Amira is approaching womanhood, and she will wear it with pride. 

Life in her small village is good.  She has a loving father, mother, and a tiny little sister.  Her sister was born with crippling birth defects, but with determination and grit, the little girl has strengthened her twisted body so she is able to walk and even play with the other village children.  Amira is proud of her family. 

Her only regret is that she is unable to attend school.  Her best friend moved from the village to attend the Gad Primary School where she will learn to read and write.  Amira's mother believes education for a girl is foolish.  She says Amira should be learning to care for a family not filling her head with nonsense.

When the Janjaweed attach Amira's village, her father is killed.  She and her mother and sister, along with any other survivors, are taken to Kalma where they live in crude tents and wait in long lines for small rations of water and food.  Mourning the loss of her beloved father, Amira struggles to find any hope in the terrible conditions.  The arrival of aid workers bringing meager supplies provides Amira with a gift that brightens her days.  She is given a red pencil and a precious yellow tablet.  With the help of Old Anwar, she begins to learn to read and write and express herself through drawings. 

Pinkney hopes that reading THE RED PENCIL will help young people understand the tragedy still unfolding in the Sudan and Darfur.  What we take for granted and often dismiss as trivial and annoying, the children of Darfur see as gifts that could change their lives forever.

Monday, December 22, 2014

DAWN OF HOPE by Peter Prichard

Dawn of HopeAuthor Peter Prichard invited me to join the blog tour of his book, DAWN OF HOPE.  Prichard has worked with high school students and adults for over 38 years.  He emphasizes the importance of goal setting and reaching those goals.  He won a Youth Advocate award in his hometown and says that the teen protagonist in DAWN OF HOPE is a combination of the hundreds of hardworking, courageous people he has worked with over the years.

Dawn is seventeen and starting her senior year at a new high school.  It takes only one day at Fair Shore High School to learn that the privileged, popular kids are bullies and even sexual predators.  After experiencing unwelcome advances from a group of football stars, Dawn takes matters into her own hands by tripping one of her abusers and accidentally sending him to the hospital.  Naturally, her first day experience sets a negative tone with her fellow students, but Dawn is determined to prove that her treatment was not acceptable, and she vows to make a change in her new hometown.

Her business savvy mother is ready to help in any way she can.  It seems that the two have a past that has created a strong mother/daughter bond.  Unfortunately, as part of adjusting to their new town, Dawn's mother becomes involved in a relationship Dawn feels may be questionable so in addition to dealing with her problems at school, Dawn must keep a watchful eye on her mother.

Because of the permissive attitudes in the town of Fair Shore, Dawn is fighting an uphill battle.  She not only faces ridicule from both teens and adults, but she also faces truly dangerous physical threats that could cause her serious harm.  Can she defend herself and stop the prevalent abuse in her school and town, or will more powerful forces stop her before her job is finished?

Author Peter Prichard takes on quite a bit in this novel.  Teen readers might find it a bit overwhelming.  It includes more adult involvement and conflict than most YA novels.  This reviewer would suggest that DAWN OF HOPE might be described as a crossover type novel with appeal for more mature YA readers or those in the 30 and over age group.  Prichard does have a sequel finished titled DAWN OF THE TOBACCO WARS that is scheduled for release in 2015.


Death Coming Up the HillLife is a balancing act for Ashe whose parents have stayed together only because he was born.  Their conflicting opinions of the state of the world in 1968 have pulled them in opposite directions.  Ashe is definitely caught in the middle.

Each week Ashe's history teacher posts a number on the chalkboard.  It's a number all too familiar to Ashe - the U.S. casualty total from the fighting in Vietnam.  Ashe listens to news reports, watches his mother protest the war, and agrees that keeping up his grades so he can go to college and avoid the draft is the best plan.  In the midst of the war abroad, the race war is being fought here at home.  The events of 1968 include the Black Panther movement, the protests and assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. 

Ashe is pulled in yet another direction when he meets Angela.  Her brother is fighting in Vietnam but hasn't been heard from in months.  Ashe sees the strain it puts on Angela and her family as they wait to hear if he will be reported dead, a captured POW, or MIA.  He'd love to introduce Angela to his parents, but since racism is yet another divisive issue between his parents, he must keep his relationship with Angela to himself. 

Author Chris Crowe uses a unique and challenging format for his tale.  DEATH COMING UP THE HILL is told in narrative haiku.  The spare language is precise and powerful.  Readers should be sure to read the Historical and Author's Notes at the end to fully appreciate the complex challenge Crowe faced in creating this amazing work.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

EMPTY by K.M. Walton

EmptyWhen her father decided to abandon his family and her mother began to use pills to deal with their crumbling life, Dell's reaction was to turn to food.  She has put on 70 pounds in the past year.  Now her clothes don't fit, her mother constantly nags her about how much she eats, and her softball coach just told her he is kicking her off the team.  Dell knows her life is out of control, but what can she do? 

Her best friend Cara tries to get her involved with school activities including a party invitation that even the popular kids would envy.  Dell agrees to go but is sure she won't have any fun.  Cara pretty much deserts her once they arrive so Dell goes in search of a beer where she runs into Brandon.  She's always been attracted to him and cherishes the one time he complimented her on her batting skills.  When he asks her if she wants to see something upstairs, she can't believe her luck.

Dell becomes the victim of Brandon's drunkenness.  He gets her into a bedroom and after an astonishingly gentle kiss, her rapes her.  Dell can't believe what happens and has no idea how to tell anyone.  Her silence is the perfect cover for Brandon who immediately spreads the rumor that Dell raped him.

If life wasn't already difficult enough for Dell, she becomes an even bigger target for unwelcome jokes and taunts.  Wishing she could tell her mother or best friend, she suffers in silence and continues to use food to fill her emptiness.

Author K.M. Walton takes her readers into the depths of despair as she examines the consequences of bullying.  With no support system, Dell tries to deal with the disappointments of life, but things spiral out of control to a point of no return.  Powerful heart-breaking, EMPTY is a riveting read.

Monday, December 15, 2014


The Implosion of Aggie WinchesterMuch to her mother's shame and disgust, Aggie Winchester has followed her friend Sylvia to the dark side.  Aggie's Goth persona may be a form of rebellion against her principal mother, but it is also a way for her to step outside of herself when things get beyond her control.

Things have been pretty bumpy with boy friend Neil, and when he actually breaks up with Aggie, she can't seem to get over it.  If she is honest with herself, she should recognize that he was only interested in her for one thing, but she felt so complete when she was in his arms.  Now when she is hoping to confide in her best friend Sylvia, Sylvia has news of her own.  She is pregnant.

Maybe it's the pregnancy, or maybe it's the new girl, Beth, who has Sylvia acting so weird.  She stops calling Aggie and barely acknowledges her at school.  The real shock comes when Sylvia announces that she is running for junior prom queen.  When she tells Aggie it is because the father of her baby is up for prom king, Aggie tries to convince Sylvia that isn't the right way to get his attention and acceptance. 

Just when Aggie's relationships are all crashing, her mother announces she has cancer.  Aggie feels left in the dark by her parents and begins making even more questionable choices.  When the prom queen vote turns into a controversy, possibly involving Aggie's mother, she isn't sure where to turn.  It seems no matter what decisions Aggie makes, things get more complicated.

Author Lara Zielin deftly portrays the angry teenager.  She has created a sixteen year old struggling with self-expression and standing up for what she believes is right.  Readers will surely relate to the difficulties of balancing family loyalties with the pull of peer pressure.  I found Aggie to be both a refreshing and frustrating example of the teen spirit. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl DreamingThis National Book Award Finalist is definitely worth checking out.  Written in verse, it tells the story of the author's own childhood experiences.  Growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and eventually New York City during the years of the Civil Rights movement, Woodson shares what it was like to live in a non-traditional family situation, experience prejudice, and follow her dreams.

"Jackie" Woodson was a second child born to her parents in Columbus, Ohio.  Her parents' marriage was never stable, and when they split up, Jackie was still a babe in arms when her mother moved her and her brother to South Carolina to live with grandparents. 

Jackie immediately took to her grandfather "Daddy" and remained close to him until he died.  Her grandmother, a strict Jehovah's Witness, introduced Jackie to the Bible and taught her the ways of their often misunderstood faith. 

When Jackie's mother left South Carolina to search for a better life in New York City, Jackie and her brother stayed behind.  The love of their grandparents helped life seem normal even with their mother gone.  They still remained close and returned for visits even after their mother returned to retrieve them and take them to the big city. 

In BROWN GIRL DREAMING Woodson explains her love of words and writing.  Readers will follow Woodson through her childhood experiencing the happy memories, disappointments, and loves and losses that all combined to influence the amazing writer she would  later become.

FIRECRACKER by David Iserson

FirecrackerAstrid Krieger's life is about to change.  She has been kicked out of multiple private schools so her parents have decided she will be attending public school for the first time in her life.

Raised in a wealthy family with the best of everything, Astrid is spoiled and insists on breaking every rule she can.  When her parents decide her punishment is to attend public school, she responds by telling them she is moving out.  Since she has no independent source of income, and her parents remind her that her older sister is already living in the guest house, Astrid moves into a prototype of a rocket ship in the backyard. 

Living in a rocket ship will definitely be a topic for small talk at her new school, but will Astrid fit in and be able to adjust to life with "regular" people? 

FIRECRACKER by David Iserson has been compared to John Green's LOOKING FOR ALASKA.  Given the fact that Iserson has written for shows like NBC's Up All Night and Saturday Night Live, readers are in for a fun ride as they follow Astrid in her adventures.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


The Bridge From Me to YouLisa Schroeder's new novel combines prose and verse in a touching story about friendship, love, and believing in yourself.

Lauren has moved in with her uncle and aunt and their three young children.  Lauren is still reeling from the fact that when things got tough with her mother, the woman who gave birth to her sent her away.  Now she is starting her senior year at a new school with no friends and not knowing if she will ever see her little brother again.

Colby's mother died years ago so he has been used to living with his dad.  Recently, his grandparents moved in, partly to make things easier for Grandpa who has MS, but also because Gram wants to lend a hand in taking care of Colby and his dad.  Right now football is consuming Colby's free time.  The team is hoping to make the state playoffs this year, and Colby's talent has attracted a number of college scouts.  His dad is excited about helping his son select the best scholarship offer, but Colby has other ideas.  Unfortunately, breaking the news about not wanting to play football in college is not going to be the news his dad wants to hear.

When Colby stops in at the town's bookstore to pick up a book he ordered, Lauren's uncle, the store's owner, asks Colby a favor.  Since Lauren is new in town, he is hoping Colby will introduce her around and help her make friends. 

A quick stop at the nearby convenience store results in a chance meeting between Colby and Lauren.  He is immediately captivated by the pretty girl and her quick humor. 

As the story unfolds, Lauren and Colby both face problems that threaten to derail their growing friendship.  Readers will cheer them on as they face these challenges and attempt to beat the odds to maintain a successful relationship. 

Author Lisa Schroeder's fans will be pleased by this latest offering, and it is a great way to introduce her to potential new fans.  I can't wait to get it in the hands of the teen readers I know.

Friday, November 28, 2014

DONUT DAYS by Lara Zielin

Donut DaysWhat do you get when you combine Crispy Dream donuts, the Living Word Redeemer church, and a Harley motorcycle gang?  You get a fast-paced story about a cheeky teen named Emma who is on a soul-searching mission to find where she fits in her family, her church, and her community.

Both of Emma's parents are pastors at the Living Word Redeemer church, and for as long as she can remember, she just hasn't fit in.  When everyone else is having visions and speaking in tongues, she is sitting on the sidelines wondering when God is going to speak to her. 

When the science teacher presents the unit on evolution, Emma doesn't jump up to protest like several of her classmates from the church.  Instead, she wants to listen and learn and compare the facts to what she hears her parents preach.  She also wants to warn her best friend Nat about the guy she wants to date, even though Nat tells her she needs to mind her own business. 

Emma knows there is a controversy brewing in the church, but her parents don't seem willing to share the details.  Since they are busy with church business, Emma decides to use her time trying to win a scholarship offered by a new local business.  Crispy Dream Donuts is opening a new store in the area, and in addition to other amazing prizes, they are offering a college scholarship to the young journalist who writes the best article for the local newspaper.  Emma sees the opportunity as a way to earn acceptance to the college of her choice rather than the Christian college her parents have said they want her to attend.

Torn between her parents troubles and her desire to win the scholarship, Emma camps out at the donut camp in the days before the grand opening.  Her experience not only broadens her view of what faith means to some people, but also helps her develop a deeper understanding of just what might be her future path in life.  From crooked businessmen to born again bikers, Emma observes a cross-section of humanity that renews her faith and brings her closer to her family than ever before.

Author Lara Zielin's character Emma is sure to capture the hearts of readers.  Zielin's novel speaks to the questions we all have about right and wrong and our place in the universe.  DONUT DAYS provides an entertaining story with a positive message for readers.

IN A HANDFUL OF DUST by Mindy McGinnis

In a Handful of DustIN A HANDFUL OF DUST is the sequel to NOT A DROP TO DRINK by Mindy McGinnis.  This second novel returns to Ohio and reunites with Lynn, Lucy, Vera, and Stebbs.  They are dealing with a new threat to their fragile existence - an outbreak of polio.

Vera and Stebbs are the lucky ones having been immunized against polio when they were young.  The generations since the Shortage were not as lucky.  With more people living in the area of Lynn's pond, the disease has claimed many, including Lucy's best friend.  Vera is working hard to determine the source of the outbreak, hoping to save the lives of those still remaining.

Lucy has learned much from Lynn since the loss of her mother and Eli.  She now considers Lynn her mother, but they often don't see eye-to-eye on what's best.  Lucy has also met Carson.  A love interest is quickly blossoming and both are planning a future together.  Unfortunately, Vera's discovery is about to ruin everything.  She believes that Carson is the carrier of the polio virus.  It might even be possible that Lucy is a carrier.

When Lucy learns the bad news, she is devastated and decides to accept Lynn's invitation to leave the safety of their pond and head to California and a settlement rumored to be the only place where things resemble the world before the Shortage.  Together they head off on a perilous journey hoping to find safe water along the way and avoid the other dangers sure to cross their paths.

Author Mindy McGinnis presents a completely new set of challenges for her characters that are sure to fascinate fans of NOT A DROP TO DRINK.  What could Lynn and Lucy possibly encounter as they attempt to cross the country from Ohio to California?  Get your hands on a copy of IN A HANDFUL OF DUST and find out.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

RANDOM by Tom Leveen

RandomTori is known as one of the Canyon Seven, a group of teens whose malicious online comments may have caused the death of one of their classmates.  It is the night before her trial begins, and she is busy hating everything about her life.  She hates her parents who removed the computer from her room and took away her iPhone, leaving her with a crappy, old flip phone.  She hates her brother who stopped talking to her when she was arrested.  She hates the reporters who keep pounding on the door wanting her to make a statement.

When the piece of crap phone she's being forced to rely on rings, Tori assumes it is someone calling to harass her about the trial.  Great, a crank call, just when all she wants to do is sleep until this whole thing is over.

Tori doesn't recognize the voice at the other end of the line.  When the male voice identifies itself as someone named Andy, Tori still doesn't have a clue who he is.  It turns out this Andy fellow has punched in her number at random.  At least that's what he tells her.  He then tells her he is planning to commit suicide.  He describes how he is in his car parked at the top of a mountain road, and unless she can convince him that life is worth living, he plans to drive his car off the cliff.

Can Tori convince Andy not to end his life?  Will talking to him help her make sense of the mess she is in and the potentially life-changing trial she faces in a few short hours? 

Author Tom Leveen presents a powerful story with a plot so real, readers will be gripped from the very first page.  With all the attention on bullying and the connection to social media, RANDOM strikes just the right tone and its message will resonate with teens.  RANDOM is a must read for teens and anyone with the power to influence young people.

Friday, November 7, 2014



Click here to check out a great new book review blog!

One of my 9th grade English students is quite a reader, and she was inspired to begin blogging about some of her favorite books.  She is doing an incredible job!  Please take a minute to stop by and give her a comment or two.


Read Between the LinesI'm so honored to be part of the READ BETWEEN THE LINES ARC Tour!  Thanks, Jo Knowles, for trusting me with your fabulous book.

Knowles' previous books JUMPING OFF SWINGS and LIVING WITH JACKIE CHAN have been very popular in my classroom so I'm thrilled to be able to let my students know she will have a new book coming out in March of 2015.

READ BETWEEN THE LINES is filled with an intriguing group of characters.  Their lives are artfully woven together, and their stories will draw readers into and through the book.  Each chapter allows the reader step into the life of a featured character.  The sense that their experiences and lives will be connected is present from the start.  The simple, yet crude gesture of an extended middle finger becomes a symbol that helps connect these small town personalities.

As the stories evolve, readers meet the cheerleader, the popular athlete, the closeted gay teen, the misunderstood teacher, the father and son, just to name a few.  Judgments are made, lines are crossed, hearts are broken, and tempers flair.  One thing that becomes crystal clear is that no one can know what lives in the mind of one's fellow man.  No matter how hard we try or how much we imagine, the hidden thoughts of others remain a private, hidden world.  Knowles deftly intertwines the lives of her characters and makes us care about them, making READ BETWEEN THE LINES a fascinating read.

Over the next several months this book will be in the hands of very capable reviewers.  Watch for their wise words on blogs, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and more; then look for your own copy of READ BETWEEN THE LINES at your favorite bookstore in March 2015.

Monday, November 3, 2014


The Boy in the Black SuitI was soooo excited to win an ARC of THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT when I attended the ConTroll YA author conference in Adrian, Michigan.  I didn't even know Jason Reynolds had a new book due for release in January until I saw it lying there on the giveaway table.  My students and I really enjoyed WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST so when my ticket was drawn, I knew just what I wanted.

Matt is starting his senior year a bit late.  The delay is because his mother just died.  He and his father are trying to get used to her absence, but it won't be easy.  She was the glue that held the family together.  Matt misses her steady presence and the fun times they had when she was teaching him to cook.  His father, a recovering alcoholic, needs her inspiration to stay sober. 

When Matt is offered a job at a neighbor's funeral home, he tentatively accepts the offer not sure of what to expect.  Will he have to touch and dead bodies?  Exactly what does working in a funeral home entail?

Soon Matt is wearing a black suit while he sets up chairs, organizes after-funeral dinners, and even acts as a pallbearer on occasion.  Oddly enough, what he enjoys the most is sitting in on the funerals and watching the mourners.  Seeing them grieve helps him deal with his own sadness. 

An accident that critically injures his father and an attractive girl named Love add additional complications for Matt to handle.  Readers will be drawn to Matt's likeable nature immediately and marvel at his ability to carry on as he deals with his grief.  His determination to move on but not forget the woman who influenced him is admirable.

If you haven't discovered author Jason Reynolds yet, be sure to check out THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT as well as his earlier book, WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST.

Monday, October 27, 2014

SURROUNDED BY SHARKS by Michael Northrop

Surrounded By SharksDavey and his family just arrived on the tiny island off Florida's Key West.  After spending their first night in the hotel, Davey wakes up early and decides to explore the island.  He grabs his book and heads off to find a quiet place to read. 

After traipsing through the hotel lobby and checking out the dock, Davey finds a tiny, deserted beach that looks interesting.  He notices the faded No Swimming sign, but he puts down his book, slips off his glasses, and wades into the warm ocean water.  The gentle waves gradually lure him  away from the shore until the water is up to his chest.  Before he realizes it, he is being pulled away from the beach by the current.

As the rest of Davey's family awakens back at the hotel and comes to the realization that he is missing, Davey begins a struggle to survive miles from shore. 

He is a swimmer, but when exhaustion hits, knowing how to swim really doesn't matter.  When he sees the first shark, he knows his life depends on his family back on the island and whether or not they will figure out where he is in time to send a rescue boat.

Author Michael Northrop has created the perfect suspense thriller.  The action alternates between Davey lost at sea and his frantically searching parents and younger brother.  Northrop teases the reader with glimpses of the sharks as they circle and contemplate the floating boy.  SURROUNDED BY SHARKS will grab readers immediately and keep them gasping until the last page. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander

The CrossoverJosh and Jordan are twins, raised on basketball by their father, a former star player in the European League.  For them success has been measured on the court.  Josh is referred to as a phenom with huge potential.

The two brothers have always been headed in the same direction, but when Jordan becomes more interested in a pretty girl than in the action on the court, Josh is confused.  The confusion turns to anger and he finds himself sitting the bench just when his team needs him the most.

Worried about their own personal issues, the shocking news of their father's health crisis hits them hard.  Their father had been too stubborn to heed his wife's warnings to see a doctor, and now Josh and Jordan may lose their mentor.  Each young man faces the crisis in his own way and each must determine how best to honor the father they love and respect.

Author Kwame Alexander uses verse to create this hard-hitting, fast paced story.  The basketball action, the rivalry between brothers, and the discovery of what holds a family together all combine to provide an interesting read for a wide ranging YA audience.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

WELCOME TO DARK HOUSE by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Welcome to the Dark HouseNightmare Elf's e-Newsletter reads "NIGHTMARES BE GONE CONTEST."  According to the rules, if you write about your worst nightmare (one thousand words or less), you just might win a chance to meet a famous movie director and get a sneak peek at his latest horror film. 

That's the contest eighteen year old Ivy Jensen entered.  She wants to win the awesome prize, not to meet the famous director, but because of the promise associated with the contest - the promise that your terrible nightmare would disappear.  Ivy hasn't even seen a Justin Blake movie, but she has a nightmare that plagues her sleep and even haunts her every waking moment.  When she learns about the contest, she enters hoping that winning will free her from the horror she experienced back when she was twelve.

Seven teens have entered the contest each hoping for something different.  A few are like Ivy, hoping to be rid of their nightmares, while others have different dreams for the weekend at the Dark House.  Most are true movie fans and meeting Justin Blake and some of his famous characters are worth whatever it takes.  At least that's what they think as the weekend begins.

When they discover the weekend entertainment includes an amusement park and real life reenactments of their horrible nightmares, winning doesn't seem to matter anymore.  A graveyard, vicious black eels, and the disappearance of one of the contestants are just the beginning for Ivy and the others.  Can she survive and will it be worth the peace she hopes to find?

Author Laurie Faria Stolarz is well-known for her BLUE IS FOR NIGHTMARE series, BLEED, and PROJECT 17.  Her latest, WELCOME TO THE DARK HOUSE, is sure to please her loyal fans and win her many new ones.  Told through the alternating voices of the teen contest winners, Stolarz takes readers into the frightened minds of characters whose nightmares will remind us of some of our very own fears.  Get your hands on a copy today, but be sure to sleep with the light on when you finish reading.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

INSOMNIA by J.R. Johansson

InsomniaAfter years of virtual sleeplessness, Parker doesn't believe he has much time left.  He is known as a Watcher.  This means he spends the night hours experiencing the dreams of the last person he makes eye contact with. 

Parker's mother believes he has a secret drug habit and drags him to the doctor.  The physician's prognosis verifies the research Parker has done that sleep deprived people can't survive indefinitely.  Feeling that his days are numbered, Parker is simply going through the motions as he carefully avoids eye contact with anyone guaranteed to full his nights with discomfort or even terror.  He hates the helpless feeling he has when some dreams having him witnessing events beyond his control.

He wears sunglasses hoping to avoid eye contact with random people or those he has already learned have disturbing dreams.  His relationships are strained, and he knows he is on the verge of losing his best friend and most likely his spot on the school's championship soccer team.  His sleepless life has become a nightmare.

When Parker meets the new girl, Mia, he doesn't make a very good first impression, but he discovers eye contact with her appears to provide just what he needs - sleep.  Mia's dreams are soothing and refreshing.  Parker is able to enter her dreams and find his own peaceful rest.  He is soon obsessed with making eye contact with Mia his daily goal. 

Just when Parker thinks he might be able to live with being a Watcher, he discovers Mia's life may be in danger.  Although, her opinion of Parker isn't the greatest, he is feeling a strong connection to her beyond her comforting dreams.  What will it take to protect someone who doesn't seem to want protection?

Author J.R. Johansson has crafted a unique thriller perfect for readers looking for a fast-paced, paranormal adventure.  Parker's vulnerability and charm are sure to appeal to female readers, while his tough determination will earn him male fans as well.  INSOMNIA is book #1 in the Night Walkers series.


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Eric will be the first to admit that living in Dust, Texas, isn't exactly exciting, but that is about to change. 

Life for Eric is not the greatest.  As a target for every bully in Dust, Eric is fairly miserable.  The fact that he claims to see phantoms of some kind have earned him the nickname Crazy Train. 

Eric may finally have found a friend when a new kid in town, Kyle, comes to his defense.  Not used to having someone stand up for him, Eric is inspired enough by Kyle's display of friendship to confide in him.  When Kyle accepts Eric's talk of phantoms and even seems interested in investigating the phenomenon, Eric is cautious yet thrilled. 

What follows is the beginning of an incredible adventure.  The two friends start by researching the mysterious mass deaths of some early townspeople of Dust and end up traveling to what might be described as another dimension.  It might help explain Eric's visions, but it might also be more dangerous than they can imagine.

Author Shea Norwood sends readers on an adventure as they follow Eric and Kyle.  VANISHED FROM DUST is book #1 of what promises to be a popular series for middle grade and YA readers.  Norwood paints a vivid picture of Eric's visions and provides enough action to grab and capture her readers' interest.

This reviewer gives VANISHED FROM DUST 4 stars.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


There Will Be BearsTyson is a crack shot when it involves hunting in video games, and he'd love to try it in real life.  For as long as he can remember, Gramps has promised to take him on his first elk hunt, and the time has finally come.  Or has it?

Several events are threatening to derail the promised hunting trip.  #1 - Attacks by a grizzly bear are popping up all over the news.  One victim lost an arm, and worse yet, an Ohio couple was killed.  Tyson's parents aren't thrilled about the idea of sending their son into the claws or jaws of a grizzly.  #2 - Something is up with Gramps.  Tyson's parents are keeping a secret about why Gramps has to leave their home and move hours away to live in a nursing home.  They are insisting that Gramps is in no condition to go on horseback into the wilderness to hunt anything.

Not only is Tyson trying to figure out what is going on with Gramps, but he is also trying to salvage a dissolving relationship with his best friend Brighton who seems to suddenly be part of the popular crowd.  Tyson and his odd obsession with Taylor Swift and his constant talk of hunting elk and maybe even grizzly bear, have turned him into the butt of all the jokes from Brighton's jock friends.  When Tyson meets the new girl at school who has actual elk hunting experience, he is inspired to defy his parents and plan a top-secret hunting adventure that may prove to be the last hunt for Gramps.

Author Ryan Gebhart keeps the action rolling in THERE WILL BE BEARS.  Readers will root for Tyson as he learns family secrets, defends his reputation, and strives to achieve his lifelong dream of big game hunting.  There is plenty of tension, adventure, and humor to satisfy even the most picky reader.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

RUMBLE by Ellen Hopkins

RumbleAs a longtime fan of Ellen Hopkins, I've always chosen IDENTICAL as my favorite book by the well-known YA author.  I now have a new favorite, RUMBLE.  Personally, I think it is her best yet.

Life has a habit of letting down Matthew Turner.  He may be a senior with decent grades, and he may have a hot girlfriend, but just about everything else in his life is a mess.  When his younger brother committed suicide, Matthew's fragile faith in any possibility of a higher power was hopelessly crushed.  Since his brother's death, Matthew has witnessed his parents' lives implode.  His mother is drinking but still clings to her religion.  His father, always more dedicated to the high school team he coaches than his family, has rekindled a love affair with a former girl friend. 

Just when Matthew needs the love and support of his own girl friend, she is withdrawing from their relationship and focusing on a new youth pastor hired at her church.  Matthew's therapist tries to provide helpful advice, but Matthew is just going through the motions. 

When a bold girl named Alexa offers to listen and also admits that she hopes he will leave Hayden for her, Matthew begins to rely on her friendship and is surprised to find himself physically attracted to her as well.  Maybe her freshness is just what he needs to be able to come to terms with his brother's death and his broken family.  Whether or not he buys into the ideas of religion, faith, and prayer, he must find some way to forgive himself and the others who have let him down.

Hopkins explores many topics in her latest release.  RUMBLE examines the role of spirituality, sexuality, and morality, as well as the politics and cold hard facts that rule much of our lives.  RUMBLE will please her many fans and no doubt earn her many new ones.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

WAIT TILL HELEN COMES by Mary Downing Hahn

Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost StorySince their father left, life has changed for Molly and Michael, and things are about to get even more crazy.  Their mother and step-father have decided to move the family to the country.  Their new home is an old, countryside church that will be turned into an art studio for their parents.  Another change is the addition of Heather, a six year old step-sister.

Molly is uncomfortable in her new surroundings.  Not only will she be sharing a room with Heather who is unpleasant at best, but Molly also learns there is a creepy, old cemetery behind the church.  When Heather finds a hidden grave beneath an ancient tree in the cemetery and begins insisting that she can talk to a ghost named Helen, Molly is convinced that something evil is connected to their new home.

Molly and Michael have tried to accept their new sibling, but Heather doesn't make it easy.  When Heather was just three years old, her mother died in a terrible fire.  Heather managed to escape the burning house but not the nightmares and panic attacks that have plagued her ever since.  Now she spends her time accusing Molly and Michael's mother of stealing her father's love, and every chance she gets, she tattles on Molly and Michael saying they pick on her.  Her latest threats involve the ghost of Helen and what she will do to her step-brother and sister when she returns.

Author Mary Downing Hahn is a master of mystery.  She takes her readers into the frightening world of the unknown that will have them jumping at shadows and imagined footsteps on creaky floors.  WAIT TILL HELEN COMES portrays a world in which the children must convince preoccupied parents that the ghost is real and lives may be in danger.  It is perfect for middle grade fans in search of a good ghost story.

HIT by Lorie Ann Grover

HitRelease date: October 7, 2014

Life can change in an instant.  One moment on a rain morning changes everything for Sarah and Haddings. 

Sarah, a senior in high school with a full-ride scholarship at her fingertips, heads to catch the bus.  A poem is tucked in her pocket expressing her true feelings to a young college student practice teaching in her poetry class.  When that poem slips to the ground, she steps off the curb to retrieve it and she is struck by an oncoming car.

Friends and family follow Sarah to the hospital as she fights for her life.  The police investigate the accident and question the driver who happens to be the young man Sarah's poem addresses.  Haddings tells the police he didn't see Sarah in the rain, but he must come to terms with the fact that he had taken his eyes off the road for a moment and may have ended the life of a truly gifted student. 

HIT takes readers into the minds of Sarah and Haddings as they deal with the tragic results of the accident.  Sarah's parents and friends sit by her side as she undergoes surgery and grapples with her injuries.  Haddings struggles to decide his best course of action after the accident.  Should he face Sarah and her parents and apologize or should he stay away and give them time to heal?

Lorie Ann Grover's newest book HIT deals with forgiveness and recovery.  When a trusted someone makes a horrible mistake should they be forgiven or forgotten?  Grover takes her readers on an emotional journey in which two people must come to terms with a shared tragedy and figure out how best to carry on. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

DEMON DERBY by Carrie Harris

Demon DerbyCasey has always liked to kick ass.  Her hobbies are skateboarding, freerunning, and martial arts.  She has devoted her life to taking risks and making her mark. Unfortunately, instead of becoming renown for her accomplishments in one of her chosen sports, she has become known as the girl who survived cancer.

Having won her battle with leukemia, Casey is ready to resume normal life and reconnecting with her dare devil friends.  Not being at her peak physically is causing some tension as she attempts to rejoin the gang.  When a few of her stunts fall short of the mark, everyone rushes to her rescue, cautions that maybe she isn't ready, and some even question if she should be participating at all.

Upon her return to the dojo, Casey connects with Darcy.  Never really close before, Darcy's excitement about Casey's return is encouraging.  As they chat, Darcy mentions the upcoming tryouts for a local roller derby team.  She begs Casey to join her in trying to nab the two openings on the team.  Darcy sees it as her chance to get back her edge and becomes excited about the prospect of reinventing her rough and tumble life.

As tryouts get underway, Casey is not surprised by how difficult it is physically, but she is concerned about the negative attitude several of the team members have toward her efforts to make the team.  Maybe it has something to do with the incredibly attractive coach named Michael and his obvious interest in her.  She wants to become a part of the group for the thrill of skating, but a powerful attraction to Michael also has her inspired to make the team.  Michael becomes even more attentive after Casey has an unusual encounter with a strange man outside the practice facility.  It is evident that some power beyond Casey's comprehension is at work pulling the two of them together.

Author Carrie Harris's snarky, sarcastic tone is perfect for this fast-paced paranormal adventure.  Although the paranormal nature of the piece has Casey battling demons, she is also fighting the very real fears of overprotective friends and family, as well as her own fears that she didn't deserve to beat a disease that usually claims the lives of so many.  The experience of reading DEMON DERBY has me eager to check out Carrie Harris's other books soon.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

THE WAITING SKY by Lara Zielin

The Waiting SkyJane's life revolves around her mother.  Her mother is an alcoholic, but definitely not the kind of alcoholic who admits the problem and attends AA in an attempt to lead a normal life in hopes of holding a job and supporting a family.  Nope, Jane is the one who must to hold it all together by paying the bills with whatever money she can earn babysitting and whatever she can grab before her mother drinks it away.

This is the only life Jane has known for years.  She does have vague memories of a time when her father was still part of the picture and when her older brother was still around, but it's been years since her life included happy memories.  She knows things need to change, but it isn't until the day her mother gets behind the wheel drunk and almost kills Jane and her best friend Cat, that Jane realizes it's time to act.

When her brother Ethan invites her to spend the summer with him as he and the Tornado Brothers chase storms in the Midwest, she jumps at the chance.  Although she is excited, she also harbors incredible guilt about leaving her mother alone.  Ethan assures her their mother is not her problem, and that she needs to break away and live her own life.  He even suggests that she could stay with him after the storm season and finish her last year of high school while living with him in Oklahoma.

Jane is assigned the job of official photographer for the Torbros.  As she joins them in the van following storms, she learns the ins and outs of storm chasing and just how dangerous it can be.  Along the way she meets Max, an intern from another chase team.  He is beyond cute and seems to be as interested in her as she is in him.  But no matter how involved she becomes in the adventure of storm chasing, she is constantly worried about the problems she has left back in Minnesota.  Can her mother survive without her?  Are the bills getting paid?  Is her mother even hanging onto her job?

THE WAITING SKY by Lara Zielin offers readers a variety of story lines.  The excitement of following killer tornadoes, the frustration of dealing with an alcoholic parent, and a budding romance all combine to form a real page turner.  Jane is a strong female character determined to handle whatever comes her way.  She may not always make the best decisions, but she pushes on and deals with whatever life tosses her way.  Head to your library or local bookstore today and get your hands on a copy!

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Fat Boy vs. the CheerleadersWith a nickname like Chunk, you can imagine what life is like for Gabe Johnson.  Gabe's weight problem began when his mother left.  His father sunk into a deep depression, and Gabe's life began to revolve around watching TV and eating junk food with his dad in an attempt to keep him from giving up.  Gabe packed on the pounds, his father continued to mope, and his mother didn't even call or write.

The only thing that keeps Gabe going is playing his trombone in the Minnekota Lake High School band.  The band director Mr. Shaver has influenced a lot of kids like Gabe, in other words, the geeks of MLHS.  The marching band is a huge success thanks to proceeds from the pop machine located in the school cafeteria.  Gabe is one of the pop machine's biggest supporters which doesn't exactly help his weight problem.  A minimum of four Code Red Mountain Dews is what gets him through the day.

When Gabe and his fellow band members see the sign on the pop machine announcing that the money raised will now be going to support the cheerleaders' dance team, they can't believe it.  Who made that decision?  The next announcement angers them even more - no money means no marching band camp!

Gabe suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of leader as he organizes a protest to reinstate funding for the band and come to the aid of the band director who is arrested for drunk driving after learning that his program is may be cut.  Can Gabe help the band and at the same time deal with a depressed father, a health conscious/workout freak of a grandfather, and the fact that he just might be in love with the school's only Goth girl?

Author Geoff Herbach, known for his STUPID FAST series, has created another great teen character.  FAT BOY VS THE CHEERLEADERS is the perfect read for teens who love to root for the underdog and have a laugh or two at the same time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Andre the Giant: Life and LegendBeginning in Molien, France, in 1958, this graphic novel* traces the wrestling career of Andre Roussimoff.  Over seven feet tall and weighing in at 600 pounds, the man was truly a giant. 

Author Box Brown captures the true flavor of professional wrestling as he chronicles Andre's life in and out of the ring.  Life in the spotlight led to heavy drinking and at times a vulgar lifestyle.  Brown explains that the stressful and physically taxing life of a wrestler would have been hard enough, but it was even more devastating for Andre since his huge bulk was due to a condition known as acromegaly.  Guaranteed, because of the condition, to have a shorter than normal lifespan, Andre made the most of his fame and traveled the world to perform for his fans.

Brown also lets readers into the inner world of pro-wrestling.  He describes the roles of hero and "heel" as the wrestlers get the crowd geared up before the fights.  In Andre's career he played both roles well.  Readers also learn some of the secrets of how moves are faked to create the theatrical performance well-known in the sport.

ANDRE THE GIANT portrays the man behind the legend in startling detail.  His personal life, his appearances in movies, as well as his professional career are clearly written and illustrated within the graphic format.

*One note of caution - considering the graphic novel style might attract younger readers, this reviewer cautions some of the language and innuendo are more suited to mature readers.

Friday, August 15, 2014

FAR, FAR AWAY by Tom McNeal

Far Far AwayFAR, FAR AWAY begins and ends with "the strange and fateful tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost."  The boy is Jeremy Johnson Johnson.  The girl is Jeremy's new found friend, Ginger.  The ghost is Jacob Grimm of the famous Grimm's brothers.

Jeremy and his father live in the Two Book Bookstore inherited from Jeremy's grandfather.  Considering that the store only carries copies of just two books (the two volumes of Jeremy's grandfather's autobiography) business is not exactly booming.  Jeremy's father is also suffering from depression and hasn't left the store, which is also their home, in years.  Since they are unable to pay the mortgage on the store, father and son may be out on the streets in a few short weeks.

Both Jeremy and his small town have some unusual quirks.  First, Jeremy has grown up hearing a voice that identified itself as Jacob Grimm.  Because of a tragic event that hasn't allowed Jacob to rest peacefully, his spirit has remained behind for centuries and his ghost currently speaks through and shares his famous tales with this lonely teen living in the town of Never Better. 

Never Better is home to a popular bakery.  Whenever the residents observe a mysterious green smoke coming from the bakery chimney, they know the baker is making some of his famous Prince Cakes.  The cakes supposedly possess magical qualities no one can explain. 

Another mystery in Never Better is the disappearance of several of its young citizens.  The police chief believes the disappearances are simply cases of run away kids, but Jeremy and Ginger begin to suspect otherwise.  The real adventure begins when Jeremy and Ginger become the next two missing teens.

Author Tom McNeal has cleverly created a modern day tale with the tone and flavor mimicking the fairy tales of old.  FAR, FAR AWAY will captivate fans of fantasy as well as those who usually prefer more realistic tales.  This reviewer believes there is a little something for everyone.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon

How It Went Down
Review ARC courtesy of
Release date: October 2014

It is a case of violence in the hood.  A would-be teen gang member is shot and killed as he leaves a neighborhood store.  Did he have a gun or was it a Snickers candy bar clutched in his hand?

Tariq didn't have the best reputation, but that doesn't excuse the tragedy that ended his life.  He was running an errand for his mother and was shot leaving the store.  When a white man with a gun observed a black teen in a hoodie running from the store with the store owner hot on his heels, the white man opened fire and fatally shot Tariq.  What no one stopped to investigate was that the shop owner was simply trying to get Tariq's attention because he had forgotten to pick up his change.

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon is proof that every witness has a different view of the event and every person has a different opinion about the victim.  The story records the nine days following Tariq's death.  Multiple points of view are presented taking readers into life on the streets of Tariq's neighborhood.  The emotional impact on Tariq's mother, grandmother, sister, and best friend are only a few of the many voices present in the novel.  Both friends and enemies as well as random participants in the events surrounding Tariq's death share their thoughts and reactions to the violence that is an unfortunate part of their daily routines.

Similar to recent real life events, HOW IT WENT DOWN definitely speaks to the racism, inner city violence, and how justice  is viewed by many today. 

TO THIS DAY: For the Bullied and Beautiful by Shane Koyczan

To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful
Review ARC courtesy of
Release date: September 2014

Maybe some of you readers have already witnessed this amazing piece of material.  Author and poet Shane Koyczan first performed TO THIS DAY as a spoken word poem on stage.  From there it became a hit on You Tube, first as a recording of his performance and later as a video highlighted by the work of visual artists.  Now TO THIS DAY can be found in book form complete with Koyczan's poem, art from select graphic artists, and a detailed background of the history of the piece and the message Koyczan hopes to convey to the world about bullying.

TO THIS DAY expresses the conflicting feelings of an individual growing up in a vicious, intolerant world.  Whether suffering emotional or physical attacks, the victim of bullying struggles with how to carry on as each day presents what feels like insurmountable challenges.  As Koyczan explains, "Sticks and stones may hurt your bones, but words can never hurt you," are words that offer empty comfort to a child facing torment from his peers.  The power of the bully is overwhelming for those under attack.

Koyczan hopes his poem will speak to victims, perpetrators, and bystanders alike.  The power of his words combined with eye-catching and emotional artwork should ensure that his message touches anyone who turns the pages of this brilliant piece.  Those who have suffered at the hands of a bully will no doubt be able to see themselves at some point in the poem, and hopefully, rejoice that Shane Koyczan has been able to present their feelings for the world to see.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

ZOM-B CLANS by Darren Shan

Zom-B Clans (Zom-B Series #8)What's next for B?  When readers left her last, she had just begun battling the Klanners whose goal wasn't just to attack the zombies, but mostly to eliminate anyone who didn't fit their racist views. 

It would seem that with the world overrun with zombies anyone still alive would ban together no matter their race or ethnic background.  B and her fellow Angels are shocked to realize that these Ku Klux Klan crazies are intent on destroying the living or the dead if they represent some minority.  B thought she left those prejudices behind when she escaped her racist father.

To complicate matters, Dan-Dan has returned.  The fat man dressed in the sailor costume is guilty of killing children, and all B wants to do is rip him to pieces, but instead she finds she must protect him if there is any chance that she can rescue her best friend Vinyl and other Angels being held captive by the Owl Man.

The action and excitement continue as B takes daring chances in her attempt to return control of the world to the living.  Fans of Darren Shan's ZOM-B series won't have to wait long for book #8, ZOM-B FAMILY, due for release in October.

Monday, August 4, 2014

DARIUS & TWIG by Walter Dean Myers

Darius & TwigWhat a loss for the world of YA!  Walter Dean Myers's books offered the best in YA lit for the guys, especially the reluctant reader.  DARIUS & TWIG is one of his titles I hadn't read so when I saw it at the bookstore, I grabbed it for my classroom.

Set in Myers's infamous 145th Street neighborhood, the story tells of two friends hoping to escape the life of the inner city through college scholarships.  Darius is a writer being encouraged to edit a story he submitted for possible publication.  If he can tweak it as advised, it will be in print and potentially be his ticket to a better life.
Twig is a runner.  If he competes and performs at his peak, college scouts will be knocking at his door.

Both teens have the opportunity to live out their dreams, but family members and the hostile environment that surrounds them threaten to derail their plans.  Street violence, including robberies and shootings, create distractions that have Darius and Twig defending family and friends.  Within their families where support for their dreams would be expected, there is reluctance they find difficult to explain. 

In DARIUS & TWIG Myers is at his best.  Through the writing of Darius it is easy to imagine a young Myers fighting his own fight to improve his life and make a difference in the lives of so many others in the process.  If you somehow haven't discovered the amazing books by this awarding winning author, please jot down his name and head to your local library or bookstore today.

Friday, July 25, 2014

NEW BOY by Julian Houston

New BoyNEW BOY, set in the 1950's, is the story of a Southern high school student whose chance to attend a boarding school in Connecticut is an eye-opening experience.  Rob Garrett understands that the opportunity to enroll as the only black student at Draper has the potential to open doors for him that continuing to attend his local high school in Virginia will not.  He knows he should be grateful, but he is also incredibly nervous.

The administration at Draper makes Rob feel welcome, and classes are interesting and challenging.  Living in a dorm with all white students is a bit unsettling.  Rob treads lightly during the early days at the new school especially when he witnesses the blatant discrimination aimed at a fellow student unlucky enough to be an Italian with chronic acne.  Rob befriends the outcast, but as the challenge of his studies and maintaining a spot on the honor roll consumes his time, he finds it is difficult to be the attentive friend he knows he should be.

As Rob keeps in touch with friends in Virginia and visits home during holidays, he learns of the increasing fight to end segregation in the South.  Becoming used to the more free way of life for blacks in the North, he vows to help his Southern friends fight despite the risks and his parents' fears for his safety. 

Torn between life in two very different worlds, Rob's story gives a personal touch to the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950's.  NEW BOY by Julian Houston is an excellent novel for readers interests in seeing a different view of the fight to end segregation in America.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY by Karen Harrington

Sure Signs of CrazyWhen people learn who Sarah Nelson's mother is, Sarah and her father have to move.  That means Sarah is used to being the new kid at school, making new friends, and living in rental houses.  Sarah understands the reason for the many moves, but it doesn't mean she has to like it.

She doesn't know the details of what happened very well because she was only two at the time.  What she does know is that her mother went crazy and tried to drown Sarah and her twin brother Simon.  Sarah survived, but Simon did not.  There was a trial, actually two trials Sarah will remind you.  One trial ended with a guilty verdict for her mother who was sent to a mental facility.  The other trial was for Sarah's father who was found not guilty on charges of endangering his children.  When news gets out about the family's identity, it is just easier to move than deal with the consequences.

There are only a few weeks left of Sarah's sixth grade year.  She has two worries about the approaching summer.  1) Like every other summer, she will be sent to stay with her grandparents because her father has to work and doesn't like to leave her home alone.  2) If she survives the summer with her grandparents, Sarah dreads the fact that she will be in seventh grade because she knows she will be required to complete the Family Tree Project assigned to all seventh graders in Garland, Texas.  How will she be able to hide the truth about her mother then?

One thing that gives Sarah some comfort is the challenge her teacher gives the class on the last day.  In an effort to keep the students writing over the summer, Mr. Wistler suggests that everyone write something, either a story, a book of poetry, or something.  Sarah begins writing letters to her favorite character in her favorite book - Atticus Finch.  She has read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD multiple times and even highlighted the passages she loves.  She believes Atticus is the perfect father, and since her father drinks too much and doesn't even remember her birthday, she turns to Atticus when she needs to confide in someone.

As readers follow Sarah's summer adventures, they will enjoy her spunk, appreciate her dedication, and learn her family's secrets.  Author Karen Harrington words and images are sure to leave a lasting impression.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Love Letters to the DeadWhen Laurel's English teacher requires everyone to write a letter to a dead person, Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain.  He was her choice because her sister May was one of his biggest fans.  Both Kurt and May died young so Laurel is hoping to find some answers or at least comfort as she writes the letter.

What is interesting is that Laurel doesn't stop with her assigned letter to Kurt.  She continues writing her thoughts and feelings and addressing them to other dead people.  Judy Garland, Amelia Earhart, Janis Joplin, River Phoenix, and even Allen Lane, the voice of the famous talking horse Mr. Ed, are just a few of the dead people to whom Laurel pours out her feelings.

Laurel splits her time between living with her father and her aunt.  Her parents divorced shortly before her sister's death and her mother left soon after.  Laurel hoped that changing schools would soften the impact of missing her sister, but making friends proves to be challenging until she meets Natalie and Hannah and then the mysterious Sky.  Not the best influences, they may be leading her astray, but Laurel welcomes the distractions they offer since she doesn't seem able to face the truth about the painful secret she carries with her.  Sky has his own secrets and attempts to get Laurel to open up to him, but she isn't sure she is ready to trust anyone just yet.

LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD is the debut novel of author Ava Dellaira.  The use of letters provides a unique approach in the telling of Laurel's story.  Dellaira captures the essence of both past and present through Laurel's heartfelt words to people no longer of the earth.

Friday, July 18, 2014

FAT CHANCE by Leslea Newman

Fat ChanceAlthough published in 1994, FAT CHANCE by Leslea Newman still rings true today, in fact, with the increased prevalence of eating disorders, its message may be even more important today.

As an eighth grader, Judi dreams of having a boyfriend and going on exciting dates, but she is convinced that can only happen if she loses weight.  Her mother insists she is a "growing girl" who needs to eat three nutritious meals a day.  Judi is sure that isn't the path to happiness.  It doesn't help that Judi's classmates are typical kids who tease and taunt about any perceived physical flaws with little regard for the feelings they hurt or the self-esteem they damage.

When Ms. Roth, the new English teacher, requires each student to keep a diary, Judi uses the assignment to pour out her feelings as she records her attempts at weight loss and relationship difficulties.  She learns tricks to avoid eating breakfast, consumes only diet Coke for lunch, and tries to get away with eating as little as possible of her mother's home-cooked dinners.  She is able to shed a few pounds, but is frustrated by the need to binge when she is feeling stressed.

The answer to all her problems seems to appear the day she stumbles across popular girl and future model, Nancy Pratt, vomiting in the restroom.  When Nancy explains that vomiting is her secret to weight control success, Judi is disgusted at first, but as she becomes more desperate to be thin, she gives it a try.  It is easier than she ever imagined.  Now she can eat enough to keep her mother from nagging and lose weight at the same time.

Keeping her secret is difficult, and when Nancy ends up in the hospital as a result of her bulimia, Judi begins to have second thoughts.  Losing weight has some positives, but the strain it has created in the relationships with her best friend and her mother involve more negatives than she may be willing to endure.

In FAT CHANCE author Leslea Newman captures the emotional turmoil created in those suffering from eating disorders.  Through Judi's obsession to lose what to some may seem an insignificant amount of weight, it becomes clear that the mind of a person with bulimia is far from normal and their body image issues produce increasingly irrational arguments most of us would never understand.  Newman's message that eating disorders require outside intervention and commitment on the part of the struggling individual makes this novel instructional as well as entertaining.  Unlike more recent books written about the same subject, FAT CHANCE does not dwell on the horror and debilitation of the eating disorders, however, it still provides an important view worth reading.