Tuesday, June 25, 2019

BELLY UP by Eva Darrows

I fell in love with Serendipity "Sara" before the end of chapter one. Sara, half Swedish, half Hispanic, has a sharp wit and a sharp tongue. She is headed to her senior year with dreams of an Ivy League college and an amazing life. One night in the back of a pickup may just change things forever.

Sara runs into her ex at a party. Although he has still been texting her occasionally, he looks pretty interested in Samantha, his new girl friend. It's more than Sara can take, and after a few too many drinks, she hooks up with a cute guy named Jack. He's hot and fun, and sex in the back of his truck isn't bad either.

When Sara's best friend Devi learns about the hookup and the fact that condoms were absent, she nags Sara about going to the clinic to get tested for STDs. Unfortunately, life gets busy and Sara puts off the clinic visit. A few months later it's obvious that something is going on, but being pregnant was not on Sara's radar at all.

BELLY UP takes readers on Sara's pregnancy journey. Telling her mother isn't nearly as difficult as telling Mormor, her grandmother, but both are support as they wait for Sara to decide her course of action. Her decision to keep the baby is again met with support and acceptance. In addition to the news of becoming a mother, Sara is also faced with moving to a new school district, adjusting to life with her eccentric grandmother, and making new friends who will accept her situation. 

Author Eva Darrows doesn't sugar-coat Sara's pregnancy. She presents both the good and the bad using Sara's quick wit, determination, and humor. Darrows is also the author of DEAD LITTLE MEAN GIRL, another book I'll be added to my TBR list.

Friday, June 21, 2019


A huge thank you to a friend who suggested this wonderful book! And an even bigger thank you to author Dan Gemeinhart for writing it!!

Five years ago Coyote's two sisters and her mother were killed in an accident. Since then Coyote and her father who calls himself Rodeo, have been traveling the country in an old school bus. Rodeo and Coyote have made a promise to look only to the future and never mention the tragedy of their past. Coyote, now twelve years old, sometimes wishes she could talk about the past and the memories she has tucked away, but she respects her father's need to forget.

The two travelers have crisscrossed the country numerous times. Coyote loves to read and learns what she needs in a sort of homeschool situation. It's just been Coyote and Rodeo until one day during a gas stop, Coyote finds a kitten. She sneaks the tiny thing onto the bus and manages to keep it a secret for several days. She names him Ivan after a character in her favorite book. Keeping a secret really isn't possible in their tight living quarters so Rodeo eventually meets Ivan. The kitten passes the 500 mile test and becomes a part of the family.

Their usual calm life changes when Coyote checks in with her grandmother only to learn that the park in her hometown is scheduled to be demolished. In a few short days bulldozers will be leveling the pretty park where she and her sisters and mother spent many happy times. Coyote is determined to return to the park to rescue the memory box they buried there just before the tragic accident took the lives of Rose, Ava, and their mother. There's only one problem - Rodeo has made it clear he never, ever wants to return home.

Author Dan Gemeinhart deftly combines humor, determination, and heartbreak in this beautiful story. Readers will immediately connect with the clever Coyote and her hippie father. Other quirky characters join them on their cross country journey. Gemeinhart reminds readers that there are still kind and caring people in the world. I do suggest keeping a tissue handy as you read.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Shane Burcaw's new collection of essays continues to follow Shane's adventures as he shares what it's like to live with SMA. He is the successful creator of a non-profit organization that provides specialized equipment for people with disabilities. He is also the host of a blog called Laughing At My Nightmare, and the author of a book by the same name. At age 25 he has accomplished more than most people twice his age.

I became a fan of Shane's after reading his first book and then sharing it with my 11th grade English students. They had just read Mitch Albom's TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE in which Albom highlights the positive attitude of his old college professor suffering from ALS. Shane Burcaw shares the same positive attitude and includes just the right amount of irreverence to capture the attention of teen readers. 

Shane's new book reviews a bit of his previous material, but it mostly picks up where he left off. Many of his new experiences involve the love of his life, Hannah. Their relationship has developed to the point of moving in together in Hannah's hometown in Minnesota. Shane exhibits his laugh out loud brand of humor as he relates road trips to Buffalo and Manhattan, his work with contractors as he has an elevator installed so he can have his own living space in his parents' basement, talk about sex and how things work with a steady girlfriend, and much more.

I always feel like I've had a breath of fresh air and a healthy dose of positivity after reading Shane's books. His upbeat attitude and his never flagging determination are an inspiration. (Sorry, Shane. I know you wouldn't like the "inspiration" reference, but it's true.)

Saturday, June 15, 2019


Nick and his buddies love playing baseball. The ball field where they play has a unique location - right next to the Milwaukee Zoo, and specifically, next to the rhino's enclosure. Nick is less than talented when it comes to catching fly balls making him very familiar with the rhino. Scaling the fence and entering the rhino's territory to retrieve baseballs, Nick discovers he can actually outrun the 2,580 pound beast.

On Saturdays Nick works in his father's hat shop. That's where his met Mr. Joe Daggett. Mr. Daggett is the new owner of the Milwaukee Mudpuppies. While getting his shoes shined by Nick's father, Nick hears about a contest to choose a ball boy for the team. The winner will be a Mudpuppy for the day. The only catch is the contest is going to be held on Saturday.

What follows is a series of elaborate lies that end with Nick competing in the contest and actually winning. The story is filled with crazy antics and humor that will have readers laughing out loud.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

HONOR GIRL by Maggie Thrash

This isn't Maggie's first summer at Camp Bellflower for Girls. She has been coming to the summer camp for years. She is in for a number of surprises that are sure to make this summer memorable.

This year Maggie chooses shooting as one of her activities. She appears to be a natural. She finds the focus necessary to hit the bullseye is a perfect distraction from all her conflicting feelings. By the end of the summer, Maggie has earned her D.E. - Distinguished Expert status. 

Some of the feelings she tries to escape with her shooting involve the feelings she has come to have for an older counselor in the junior camp. Erin has been slipping away to spend time with Maggie. Camp rules are probably being broken considering Maggie is only 15 and Erin is 19. Maggie is left questioning if she might be a lesbian and is eager for Erin to act on intimate moments that might promise a kiss.

A final unexpected surprise is when Maggie is given the Honor Girl award in the final ceremony. She has seen the award given to very special girls over the years and isn't sure she is truly deserving of the honor. What she has experienced throughout the summer leaves her with much to consider as she returns home with her mother. Time will tell just exactly what the future holds for Maggie.

HONOR GIRL is a graphic memoir by Maggie Thrash. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

BAN THIS BOOK by Alan Gratz

Amy Anne Ollinger is in fourth grade at Shelbourne Elementary. She loves to read. Her favorite book is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Amy Anne's world turns upside down the day she discovers this awesome book missing from the school library. 

Librarian, Mrs. Jones, has bad news for Amy Anne. The book she's read countless times has been removed from the shelf and banned from the school. That isn't the only book. There's a list of more than eleven books a parent has demanded the school board remove as she considers them unfit for elementary students to read.

Amy Anne is upset, but isn't sure how to express herself. When she tries to tell her parents, the chaos of having two younger sisters, two dogs, and two busy parents makes it impossible. Several of her friends are just as shocked as she is about the removal of some of their favorite books. Danny and Rebecca, and soon a few others, team up to get their hands on copies of the banned books, and soon Amy Anne becomes the official librarian of the B.B.L.L. - Banned Book Locker Library.

When it is discovered that students throughout the school are reading the banned books because of Amy Anne's locker library, the school administration takes action. Mrs. Jones the librarian is fired and Amy Anne is suspended. 

Author Alan Gratz shows how a few determined students can change the course of events in one elementary school. BAN THIS BOOK is a delight. It is filled with mentions of great children's books that readers are sure to recognize. I can't wait to share this with readers.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

BAY BOY: Stories of a Childhood in Point Clear, Alabama by Watt Key

Imagine living life without smart phones, apps, and video games. Most people would claim it's impossible. BAY BOY by Watt Key gives readers a chance to imagine the impossible. Key takes readers on a journey into his childhood growing up on Mobile Bay in Alabama.

BAY BOY is comprised of 32 essays with titles like The Longest Day of the Year, Hurricanes, The Ghost of Zundel's Wharf, and I'llNeeda. In the essays author Watt Key tells of wild adventures, family and friends, and what it's like to live in and around nature. 

Key, the oldest of seven, tells about fishing on the bay and stomping through the local swamps. He entertains with stories about crazy pets like Sally the possum, Smokey the gray squirrel, and the craziest - wild pigs. There are fishing stories about shrimping and catching sheepshead, called convicts in and around Point Clear. 

Included in the essays are tales about road trips in the family's green station wagon that are sure to stun readers used to seatbelts and airbags. I laughed out loud when I read about Key's clever sibling loosening a bolt on the church pew that resulted in a loud crash and the entire Key clan sliding down the broken bench. I wasn't surprised when I read that Key eventually became frustrated with his chaotic family and at age sixteen decided to head into the surrounding wilderness and live on his own. He was surprised at his mother's calm reaction and condoning behavior, and after a few short days, he decided to return home.

For me the most fascinating essay was I'llNeeda. The title caught my attention as I scanned the table of contents. In it, Key tells about a homeless woman who came to live nearby. When certain household items and food came up missing, it was discovered that Key's younger brother was taking them to the woman. The young boy had simply responded to the woman's statements, "I need a …"

Author Watt Key is well known for his young adult and middle grade novels such as ALABAMA MOON, DIRT ROAD HOME, TERROR AT BOTTLE CREEK, and DEEP WATER. This entertaining collection of personal essays will be available in October 2019.