Saturday, February 27, 2021



Stevie loves to read because she loves learning things. She writes down everything she learns in a big notebook. She's sure that when it is full she will have learned everything there is to learn.

There have been times when Stevie has been afraid. For one, she's afraid of the ocean, and her hope is that if she learns all there is to learn about fish and the ocean, she will no longer have anything to fear. She's not sure it's working, but she has learn that an octopus has three hearts, blue blood, and nine brains. How cool would it be to have blue blood and nine brains?

At school Stevie sits at a table with her long-time friend Andrew, Robert, and the fascinating Chloe. Chloe is totally amazing. She paints her fingernails a different color every week and she knows how to do the most awesome magic tricks. Stevie would like to know more about magic, and she would really like to know why she gets what she calls a "fizzy" feeling in her stomach whenever Chloe is near. 

When Stevie attempts to tell her mother about her feelings for Chloe, she doesn't think her mother's response is satisfactory. Stevie wants to know if what she feels for Chloe is the same as having a crush. Worried about being different and being told she is weird, Chloe sneaks off to the library, a place she is sure will have the answers she needs.

Author Meg Grehan explores love from the view of an eleven year old girl seeking support for the feelings she's having for another girl. Written for a middle grade audience, THE DEEPEST BREATH is a heartfelt novel in verse sure to connect with young readers with their own questions about sexuality and choices in love. Perfect for independent reading as well as reading aloud to encourage discussion and questions about how love can look.

GROUND ZERO by Alan Gratz


Headed toward the 20th anniversary of 9/11, this historical fiction recount of the terrible terrorist attack is a must-read. Author Alan Gratz provides a vivid and emotional account of that day from two unique points of view. Young readers who only know of the event from the stories and school lessons they've heard will better understand the tragedy, and readers from around the world who witnessed the event through actual experience or through the media will be taken back to memories of that day that will chill their souls.

Brandon made a poor choice at school resulting in a suspension. Raised by a single father, the suspension requires him to go to work with his dad rather than be unsupervised at home. He's been to the restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center before, but today he isn't particularly happy about it. Once he and his dad arrive at the top of the giant building, he makes a decision he knows could get him in more trouble, but he is determined to make up for his mistake at school.

Once his dad is busy at work, Brandon heads back down the building via a nearby elevator. His destination is the Sky Lobby shopping area on a lower level. Disaster strikes while Brandon is in the crowded elevator. He and its occupants have no idea what has happened, but they know they must escape the elevator, and Brandon is convinced he must return to the 107th floor to be with his father.  One hundred and two minutes later as Brandon runs from the complete ruin of the two towers, he knows his life has been changed forever.

Reshmina lives in a small mountain village in Afghanistan. It is September 11, 2019. She knows the dangers of living in a place where the Afghan National Army, the Taliban, and American troops fire on one another on an almost daily basis. When she finds a wounded American soldier and decides to help him, she knows the risk. Reshmina could be putting her entire family and village in danger. Her twin brother's anger has convinced him the only answer to the constant chaos in their lives is to join the Taliban for revenge. Despite Reshmina's pleas, he heads to the Taliban camp leaving Reshmina to brave the consequences of her actions.

Through alternating voices Alan Gratz tells two memorable stories whose paths intertwine as they educate readers about 9/11 and its impact on our country and the world. GROUND ZERO is the best YA historical fiction book I've read in quite some time. I highly recommend it!

Monday, February 22, 2021

MUTED by Tami Charles


Denver's dream has always of being a star. Raised with music always playing, she loves to sing and writes her own lyrics and tunes. Music meant sitting next to her father at the piano whenever he could be at home. With her doctor mother always at the hospital and her father off traveling as a commercial pilot, Denver is often more focused on music and her two best friends than on school work and a future college career.

Together with Dali and Shak, Denver is able to perform her songs. Known around school and the area, they sing together as much as they can. When they get a chance to sneak away to the city for a concert starring the R & B artist Sean "Mercury" Ellis, they believe it might be their chance to be discovered.

A lucky break brings them into contact with Merc himself. Impressed by their sound, he invites them backstage after the concert and their dream begins to become a reality. Can the girls stay together to make music their dream? Will their parents understand that music can take them where nothing else can?

Written in verse through the voice of Denver, readers will hear the story of trickery and deceit that could threaten the very lives of these young girls. Author Tami Charles illustrates how easily star-struck fans can be drawn into a dangerous situation with promises of making it big in the cutthroat music biz. Readers who loved GROWN by Tiffany D. Jackson will want to give this one a try.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

SHEETS by Brenna Thummler


Things haven't been the same since Marjorie Glatt's mother died. Marjorie's dad rarely comes out of his room so everything is left for Marjorie to do. She must keep up with her school work, take care of her little brother, and run the family laundry business. With all that to keep her busy, she still feels like she's invisible and totally alone.

Between customer demands and crazy Mr. Saubertuck the local yoga instructor, things are not looking good for Glatt's Laundry. If only Marjorie's dad would help with the business and figure out if they should accept Mr. Saubertuck's offer to turn the laundry into a spa and yoga retreat. Marjorie doesn't want to give up the business, but the way things are going, accepting the offer might be best for everyone.

Marjorie isn't the only one struggling and feeling alone. A little ghost named Wendell is trying to adjust to the world of the dead. When his fellow ghosts discover the laundry is the perfect nighttime place to gather for fun and games, Wendell meets Marjorie. After he convinces her that she shouldn't fear him just because he is a ghost, he may actually have the answer to her failing business problems.

A fun story combined with fabulous artwork make this graphic novel by Brenna Thummler a sure winner. I was thrilled to discover that Marjorie and Wendell are returning in a sequel called  DELICATES due out in March!

Friday, February 19, 2021

I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga


Jazz's father has been in prison for four years, but that doesn't mean the small town of Lobo's Nod has forgotten him. It is difficult to ignore the fact that the man was a serial killer with victims in the triple digits. Jazz tries to forget every day, but when a dead body is discovered nearby, everything Jazz has tried to forget resurfaces.

Jazz and his best friend Howie sneak into the morgue and head out to the crime scene in hopes of finding clues. Jazz knows he'll be criticized by the local sheriff G. William Tanner, but he is sure if he studies the evidence he will be able to prove another serial killer is in their midst.

When more bodies are reported including a beloved teacher from the local high school, Jazz is even more determined to find the killer. In fact, he and his buddy almost catch the guy in the act, but are too late to save the teacher. By this time the sheriff is willing to take any advice and information Jazz can contribute. Will it be too late to stop more deaths? Is Jazz's father somehow involved from his prison cell?

Author Barry Lyga writes chilling tales for YA readers. I HUNT KILLERS is disturbingly detailed and intriguingly riveting. Readers who find it a fascinating read will be glad to hear it is the first of several books featuring Jazz and his determination to hunt killers rather than be one.

Sunday, February 14, 2021



Middle and YA author Jordan Sonnenblick shares some personal childhood experiences with his fans in his newest book THE BOY WHO FAILED SHOW AND TELL. I've long been a fan of Sonnenblick's books ever since reading DRUM, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE, and now I know the inspiration for his some of his great stories.

Growing up on Staten Island in NYC, Jordan has a unique and humorous view of his childhood. He wasn't particularly athletic, but always gave it a good try. His vision was aided somewhat by thick glasses, but he tells that by the time his yearly eye exam time rolled around, he was usually desperate for that new prescription. Often the target of bullies, when Jordan attempted to defend himself, he was usually the one who ended up in trouble.

School wasn't always a success story for Jordan, although, he was a fine reader and loved to write and record information despite criticism that his handwriting was deplorable. Jordan was lucky that an unfortunate incident with his fourth grade teacher didn't sour him on the educational system forever. A change of schools and a new, more understanding teacher turned things around.

Readers of THE BOY WHO FAILED SHOW AND TELL will be entertained by snake adventures, as well as exploits involving melted crayons, drum lessons, and ketchup filled paper airplanes. These are just a few of the fun times Jordan experiences during this rollicking early autobiography of a boy who would later be an inspiring author. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021



THIS IS MY BRAIN IN LOVE by I.W. Gregorio is a unique combination of love story and mental health issues. Will and Jocelyn meet when Will applies for a job opening at Jocelyn's family's Chinese restaurant. Worry about the restaurant's financial situation prompted Jocelyn to seek out help with marketing the business.

The two hit it off as they brainstorm ways to promote A-Plus Chinese Garden. Will is welcomed as part of the business until Jocelyn's father catches the two kissing after a movie date. Both the teens are disappointed that their budding romance is derailed, but it could be for the best as they both discover they each have anxiety/depression issues that might cause future problems.

Will has been in therapy for years and has a fairly good handle on his anxiety. He hasn't had a panic attack for quite some time. His feelings do seem to be accelerated by his desires for Jocelyn and his need to do his job well and increase business for the restaurant. 

Jocelyn's mental health has taken second place in her desire to please her family and not bring shame on her Asian immigrants. When Will wants her to face her depression, she withdraws leaving them both questioning their relationship.

Author I.W. Gregorio shares her own mental health struggles in comments at the conclusion of Will and Jocelyn's story. Many other books end with hotline numbers to call, but Gregorio goes a step further to provide what she calls "warmline" services and a connection to sources that deal with cultural attitudes toward mental health. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

BECOMING MUHAMMAD ALI by James Patterson & Kwame Alexander


Two authors team up to bring readers this enlightening history of the early life of Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali. Using a unique combination of prose and verse, readers will learn about the great fighter's early life from his best friend Lucky (prose sections) and the boxer himself (verse sections).

My parents were avid watchers of Wide World of Sports and other televised sporting events, so I recall watching some of Ali's fights and hearing about his success. I also knew about his later years and his battle with Parkinson's disease. I didn't know about his start in boxing and his childhood until picking up this wonderful book.

Cassius Clay was always a confident kid. His supportive family encouraged his various interests but didn't always approve of his casual approach to school. Cassius, or Gee-Gee as he was called by family and friends, knew early on that school would not be his ticket to success.

Cassius spent hours in the gym training with the goal of winning the Golden Gloves Championship and eventually an Olympic gold medal. I enjoyed reading about his childhood exploits, his friendships, and his family stories as he described working out and gradually attaining his lifelong goals. He didn't always win but looked at each defeat as a way to learn for better results the next time.

Fans of the great Ali will enjoy the stories of the young Cassius Clay, and the Kwame/Patterson team are sure to interest readers new to the life story of this incredible fighter.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

A BREATH TOO LATE by Rocky Callen


First of all, thank you to Henry Holt Publishing for donating books to NCTE/ALAN 2020. I am so glad I got this in my book box. Secondly, what a beautiful cover!

Ellie, age seventeen, shares her story in the form of letters to Momma, August, Father, Depression, and more. Ellie is already gone. She committed suicide, and she uses the letters to explain why and to also make sense of her actions to herself.

Life with Momma didn't used to include her father. Ellie didn't think anything was lacking. She and her mother shared good times and adventures she still remembers. Then one day his car was in the driveway. That's when life took a dark turn.

After he arrived, Ellie remembers nights with her head hidden under her pillow to block out the slaps and the sobs her mother tried to drown out with the sound of the shower. The next morning Momma would apply makeup to cover the bruises before she left for work. That night would repeat like Groundhog's Day.

The only thing that makes life bearable is August. His smile and kind words and attention give Ellie a reason to carry on. That is until the day Ellie realizes she may never be able to escape.

Author Rocky Callen writes a sad yet courageous novel about Ellie's struggle and eventual end. Though her journey ends, she inspires a simple courage in those left behind.