Sunday, March 27, 2016

LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY by Ellen Wittlinger

Local Girl Swept Away
Review ARC courtesy of

Lorna was the ringleader of the their group.  Jackie, Finn, and Lucas followed her everywhere.  On the cold, rainy night they followed her onto the breakwater outside Provincetown, Lorna fell into the ocean and disappeared.  The headlines read LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY.

They attended the memorial service for their friend and tried to put their lives back together.  Jackie threw herself into her photography and artwork, Finn spent his time working at a local art gallery run by his mother, and Lucas escaped to spend the summer working at a hiking camp in the mountains. 

After a kiss gone wrong with Finn, Jackie discovers an attractive older guy working at the art gallery.  He is supportive of her talent and encourages her when Finn's mother arranges a one-woman show so Jackie can improve her portfolio for her college applications.  Despite all the excitement and distraction, Jackie still can't get Lorna out of her mind.  Questions arise about whether she really fell or did she jump or was she pushed. 

As the summer winds down, Lucas returns with news that stuns everyone.  He tells them that Lorna was pregnant, and despite the fact that Lorna and Finn had been sleeping together for some time, Lucas announces there's a chance he may have been the father.  Just when the friends should be joining together to support one another, they are being torn farther apart.

The suspense and intrigue continue when Jackie visits an old hangout and discovers Lorna alive and well.  Lorna begs for Jackie's help as she decides how to reveal that she is still alive and deal with her unexpected pregnancy.  Jackie struggles with her friend's betrayal and keeping the secret from a lovelorn Finn.

Author Ellen Wittlinger weaves her magic in her latest book, LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY, due for release in June 2016.  The complications of this suspenseful story build gradually through a series of twists and turns that are sure to thrill her many fans.  Wittlinger's personal connection to the Provincetown - Cape Cod area lend a genuine feel to the surroundings as her characters reveal their passion for this unique area.  I look forward to sharing Wittlinger's new novel with old fans and introduce her great writing to readers who will likely become new ones.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

SEEING EMILY by Joyce Lee Wong

Seeing Emily
*Book provided by

Most teens struggle to find a place in their family, with their friends, and in the world in general.  Emily Wu is in the midst of this struggle.

When she is not at school, Emily is busy helping out at the family's Chinese restaurant.  Her parents are strict about how she dresses and where she goes.  She longs to have the freedom that many of her fellow teens take for granted.

Just as Emily meets Nick, a seriously cute new student at her school, she is told that she will be expected to call Alex, the son of one of her mother's old college friend.  Emily has been volunteered by her mother to show Alex around and take him under her wing at school.  Why can't they ask her to hang out with Nick instead?

Emily begins to lie in order to join her friends at parties and sleepovers.  She invents stories so she can go on dates with Nick.  The lies bother her, but she doesn't see any way around it; her parents are too strict.  Can she keep her stories straight and continue this double life?

Expressing herself through her art allows Emily to escape the pressures from home to learn Chinese and be the perfect daughter.  As she learns who the real Nick is, she also finds out more about Alex when they find themselves working on a common project, a mural at school.  Who are her true friends, and are her family connections proving to be more important than fragile friendships?

SEEING EMILY is by Joyce Lee Wong.  Readers are exposed to the Chinese culture as Emily adjusts to what life is like as a young Chinese American.  Written in verse, Wong's narrative is descriptive and yet surprisingly direct. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

YUMMY: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
I would like to thank Never Counted Out and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo for my copy of this book.  It was part of a generous donation to the students in my Michigan classroom.

Robert "Yummy" Sandifer is a real person.  He lived and died in Chicago.  He was pictured on Time magazine and his life was written about after he shot and killed a young girl in his Southside Chicago neighborhood.

Yummy was only eleven years old and referred to by gang members in his area as a "shorty."  At home with his grandmother he was viewed as a sweet boy.  He even slept with a teddy bear.  Yummy got his nickname because of his passion for candy. 

On the streets of his neighborhood, Yummy wasn't sweet and innocent.  Because of his small size, a first glance revealed a little kid hanging out on the street, but in actuality he was just as dangerous as the older gang members who ran the Southside.  Since "shorties" were considered two young to put in jail, gangs used them in their business.  Yummy was a favorite because he was willing to do anything to be accepted.  He robbed people, distributed drugs, and even carried a gun.  No matter the crime, the only thing shorties had to fear was a stint in juvie with their record being cleared when they hit eighteen.

Yummy's life changed one night when he shot at a rival gang member and hit and killed young Shavon Dean.  Now on the run, Yummy got help from some of the gang, but the neighborhood climate soon became too heated for even the fiercest gang members.  Yummy's would-be protectors sent two Disciples to pick him up.  Yummy was shot dead in a railroad tunnel. 

Author G. Neri and illustrator Randy DuBurke teamed up to create this powerful story.  Based on true events, the graphic novel narrates Yummy's tale through the eyes of Roger, a neighborhood friend of Yummy's.  The drawings add action to the stark tale and the insightful lesson to be learned about gang violence in today's society.

TRU & NELLE by G. Neri

Tru and Nelle
If you are a fan of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Harper Lee, you will want to get your hands on a copy of TRU & NELLE by G. Neri.  Reading it is like going back into the world of Scout and Dill and learning even more about their crazy adventures.

True fans of MOCKINGBIRD know that the Scout character is Harper Lee as a young girl, but some may not know that the character of Dill was modeled after Lee's own childhood friend, the famous actor and writer, Truman Capote.  Truman (Tru) is quite a bit like Dill.  His parents are absent most of the time so he lives with several aunts and an uncle in Harper (Nelle) Lee's neighborhood.  He has great adventures to tell about from his time in New Orleans and on riverboats with his father who tried unsuccessfully to amass a fortune to please his fancy wife.

Author G. Neri fictionalizes the friendship by creating adventures and mysteries for Tru and Nelle to solve together.  The creative pair take on the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Watson to investigate crimes in Monroeville, Alabama.  They have a grand time, although their shenanigans are not always popular with family, friends, and townsfolk.

TRU & NELLE is well worth the read and will entertain old fans and spark an interest in new ones.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

THE DOGS by Allan Stratton

The Dogs
Cameron Weaver's bags are packed.  He and his mother are moving again.  This time they end up out in the middle of nowhere in a rundown old farmhouse.  Cameron will soon be riding the school bus to his new school that is also out in the middle of nowhere.

Memories of his mom and dad fighting ended when Cameron's mom decided they needed to leave.  Ever since she made that decision, the two of them have been on the run from his dad.  They never stay anywhere too long because Cameron's mom is always worried that her ex-husband will find them.  According to her, he is crazy and definitely not safe to be around.

It doesn't take long for Cameron to figure out something isn't quite right about their new home.  From the taunting and teasing on the school bus to rumors of a pack of killer dogs, Cameron knows he has to keep his eyes open and his senses sharp.  A conversation with their landlord, Mr. Sinclair, has convinced Cameron that he is hearing the voice of Jacky, the son of the farm's former resident.  He knows his mother won't like it, but Cameron is determined to find out what happened to Jacky and Jacky's mother.  He is sure it involves foul play and a pack of ferocious dogs.

THE DOGS by Allan Stratton is a mystery/ghost story that is sure to keep readers up at night.  Stratton offers killer dogs, the restless spirit of a young boy, a bully, and a crazy great-grandmother to help keep the pages turning. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

WHAT WE SAW by Aaron Hartzler

What We Saw
"Imagine being so dedicated to finding the truth about something that you're willing to go against the prevailing thought of everyone around you, and become an outcast."  When Kate hears this comment by her geology teacher, she is focused on the subject of his lecture, a geologist named Alfred Wegener and his theory of continental drift.  She never dreamed that the quote would apply to her in the near future.

WHAT WE SAW begins with a high school party.  Lots of alcohol, loud music, and everything that goes with teens at an unsupervised event.  Kate is staggering drunk by 10:30.  Fortunately, her friend Ben helps her get to her truck, drives it and her home, and helps her inside before her parents find out. 

In the days after the party several things become clear to a now sober Kate.  Number one: something terrible happened to a girl named Stacey and some of the school's most popular kids may have been involved.  Number two: Kate's childhood friend, Ben, is now asking her to the Spring Fling.

Kate is reeling from the thrill of learning that Ben is interested in her as more than a friend.  She has had a crush on him since their days on the soccer field in elementary school.  Now her life is full of his amazing smile, stolen kisses by the senior stairs, and make out sessions that leave them both panting.  Ben is kind and gentle and treats her with respect. 

As the events of the earlier party become the focus of news media across the country, Kate becomes concerned that her fellow classmates and even her father seem to want to shove aside the fact that a girl was allegedly raped.  The basketball team is on the verge of winning the state championship, and the principal and coach are determined to hide the facts to "protect" the guilty.  The more Kate learns, the more she realizes that even though she will be everyone's enemy, she must step forward to reveal what she knows.

Author Aaron Hartzler tackles a subject that stirs up passionate emotions.  Why is it that if those involved are perceived as important or popular, the rules that apply to most aren't enforced?  Why are people afraid to speak up even when the facts are made clear?  Hartzler doesn't hesitate to hit this subject hard and drive home what is right and just.  He also lets readers know that the decision to do the right thing is not easy and sacrifices may be required.  Excellent book!

Friday, March 4, 2016

LIAR & SPY by Rebecca Stead

Liar and Spy
When Georges's father lost his job and the family had to leave their house and move into an apartment, Georges is sure he won't make any new friends, but things get interesting on their first trip to the basement to put the packing paper in the recycling.  Georges sees a sign posted on a door that reads, "Spy Club Meeting - TODAY." 

At the Spy Club Meeting Georges meets Safer and Candy, a brother and sister who live in the apartment building.  According to Safer, a mysterious Mr. X, another building resident, always dresses in black and carries suitcases to and from his apartment.  Safer is convinced that the suitcases probably hold the chopped up bodies of his victims.  He says with Georges's help they can spy on Mr. X and prevent any further crimes.

Georges enjoys his time with Safer and is happy to have found a friend.  At school his former best friend has started eating with the cool kids at lunch and barely even glances at Georges in the hall.  Picked on by the class bullies, Georges time at school is pretty miserable, but he doesn't want to bother his father with his problems since his dad is busy trying to find new clients for his business and keeping things together at home while Georges's mother works long shifts at the hospital. 

Author Rebecca Stead combines quirky characters, suspense, and humor to entertain middle grade readers in LIAR & SPY.  There are just enough twists and turns to keep the plot exciting and the pages turning.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

SAME BUT DIFFERENT: Teen Life on the Autism Express by Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, and RJ Peete

Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express
After a heartbreaking diagnosis of autism for one of their young twins, Holly Robinson Peete and her husband, former NFL player, Rodney Peete became dedicated advocates for their son RJ.  When the twins, Ryan Elizabeth and RJ were ten, mother and daughter wrote a picture book titled MY BROTHER CHARLIE that detailed the experiences of having a brother with autism.  Now that the twins are teens, the two have teamed up with their mother to create SAME BUT DIFFERENT about what it's like to experience autism as teenagers.

This captivating fictionalized version of their experience begins with "Charlie" and Callie starting their second year in high school.  Callie is concerned about Charlie because he is repeating ninth grade, and she is worried that she will not be with him as much and unable to stand up for him and protect him.  Charlie on the other hand is not all that upset that he will be on his own, not having to listen to the nagging of his sometimes annoying sister.

The story is written in the alternating voices of Charlie and Callie.  The concerns of Mom and Dad are also expressed as the twins struggle with typical teen problems that are often complicated by Charlie's autism issues.  As a family, they interact and cope with school problems, personal issues, and vacation complications that any family might face, but families with a child diagnosed on the autism spectrum will find the situations that are described especially helpful and inspiring.

SAME BUT DIFFERENT is an interesting and entertaining read for both teens and adults even if autism is not a part of their experience.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

NONE OF THE ABOVE by I.W. Gregorio

None of the Above
A great boyfriend, a track star with a college scholarship, and voted Homecoming Queen - Kristin Lattimer's life was going well.  A painful sexual experience with her boyfriend ended in a doctor's appointment that changed everything.

When a pelvic exam showed some abnormalities, the doctor ordered  further tests.  Her diagnosis was AIS - androgen insensitivity syndrome.  Kristin was suddenly being told she was intersexed.  She had no uterus, an underdeveloped vagina, and the worst news of all, small testicles in her lower belly. 

Kristin's world had fallen apart.  Her father dove into researching her condition just like he researched cancer treatment when her mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer years ago.  With her mother gone, Kristin had to rely on support from her father and her aunt, and she hoped her friends would understand. 

When she was voted Homecoming Queen, Kristin's best friend Vee was a poor loser.  The resulting jealousy caused Vee to spread the word about Kristin's physical condition.  It soon felt like everyone had turned against Kristin, including her boyfriend who broke things off and refused to even look at her.

With the help of a therapist and members of an AIS support group, Kristin learned she was not alone.  The road to acceptance would not be easy, but with time and adjustments, Kristin did have a normal life ahead of her.

Author and physician I.W. Gregorio takes on a difficult subject.  Misunderstood by many, intersex individuals find acceptance challenging, but a book like NONE OF THE ABOVE is sure to help readers understand this complicated issue.