Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Alchemy of Forever
by Avery Williams
Simon & Schuster
246 pages

see the official book trailer here

The striking cover image of a beautiful girl with other-worldly blue eyes--whose image is repeated but fades each time will draw teen readers to this stunning new novel, the first in the Incarnation series. Seraphina Ames has been alive for 600 years ever since she was a girl in London in 1349 and attended a masquerade ball where she danced with a stunning stranger. He takes her outside to a London street and she sees that it is Cyrus, the apothecary's handsome son. They are accosted by street thugs who knife Seraphina, but Cyrus brings her back to life with a serum his father created that gives eternal life. Since then, every few years Seraphina must find another young body to inhabit. That means someone has to die--each time she takes another host, the young woman dies.

She's disgusted by what she has become--a murderer of young and beautiful girls and she doesn't love Cyrus anymore; he is controlling and cruel. She makes up her mind to die for real this time, but she needs to get away from Cyrus in order to do so. He would never allow her to die and leave him alone in the world. Imagine living in an abusive relationship; now imagine doing it for 600 years!

When Sera tries to save a teen girl from jumping to her death, she just happens upon a car crash victim. The girl is dying and before Sera knows it, she inhabits the girl's body--she just can't help herself. When she awakens, she is 16-year old Kailey Morgan, a young girl whose future looks bright.

Sera is horrified that she's still alive and doesn't know how to act--it's been a long time since she was ever 16. High school is like another civilization in itself. Kailey (Sera) finds fitting in with her friends and acting like a "normal" teen is a full-time job. Having caring parents and a brother who loves her is weird, too. That, and the neighbor boy who is ridiculously hot and obviously in love with Kailey is another "problem" that Sera soon finds appealing.

Sera hates to disappear on this family, but she knows she can't stay Kailey forever and Cyrus is surely looking for her by now. When a new substitute teacher appears at her school, Sera is in serious trouble. Just how long can she keep up the masquerade?
How long before Cyrus finds her?

This is an interesting first book in what is destined to be a compelling series. I wish the character of Sera had been a little more defined. It is hard to feel compassion for a body snatcher, but I think teens who feel compassion for vampires, werewolves, and zombies will like the Incarnates. I thought the book opening with a masquerade ball was genius since Sera, Cyrus, and the other Incarnates are masquerading the rest of their lives.

Highly recommended grades 7-up. No language, no sex although Cyrus and Sera are partners for life. Also, in order to inhabit a new body, the Incarnate must "kiss" the life out of the other person. This means Sera has to "kiss" girls, but it is not a romantic kiss.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Graphic Pick: Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

Explorer: the Mystery Boxes
Edited by Kazu Kibuishi (creator of the Amulet series)
127 pages
Color illustrations (graphic novel)

Available March 1, 2012

Beautiful art and design and fantastic and imaginative tales will make any reader a graphic novel fan. Seven stories by very different artists all have one thing tying them together: a box. What could be in that box? It is human nature to wonder and worry about what is unknown, and it's human nature to open the box--remember the myth of Pandora's box?

"Spring Cleaning" is a light hearted story of a boy who happens upon a box and gets much more than he bargained for. "The Keeper's Treasure" is one of the most beautifully rendered artistic graphic stories I've ever seen. Kazu Kibuishi's story "The Escape Option" is beautifully designed and well-thought out; it is a thought-provoking lesson in humanity and ecology.

"The Soldier's Daughter" is an effective story about the trials and brutality of war and the ones who are left behind when a soldier dies in battle.

Other stories are "Under the Floorboards," "The Butter Thief," and "Whatzit." The collection is so diverse and the art so wonderfully different, that a teacher could spend entire lessons on effective art and design and how each story varies and why the artwork is different for a light-hearted story than it is for a darker tale like "The Soldier's Daughter."

Highly, highly recommended for all graphic novel collections and grades 6-up. Younger students may not understand the lesson of The Keeper's Treasure" or "The Escape Option" although they still may enjoy the art. No language, no sex.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Twisted Thriller: BZRK

by Michael Grant
386 pages

visit BZRK's webpage

Disturbing, distressing, gritty, grimy, and grim, BZRK is like no other book. This creepy page-turner will shock even the most jaded reader. The author says, "This is my promise: You have never read anything like BZRK" (letter included with the book mailing). He's right--this book is an amazing and compelling thrill-ride that will grab you up and not let go!

The good guys--BZRK--a secret organization fighting for humanity's freedom and right to choose--and the bad guys--evil conjoined twins Benjamin and Charles Armstrong, American billionaires who run Armstong Fancy Gifts Corporation and secretly are planning world domination through nanobot technology are in a race for world power. The twins are grotesque fanatics who believe the entire world's population should be "one." They believe people are unhappy and need someone to guide them and keep them safe from themselves.

Sadie and Noah are two teens thrown together and trained by Vincent, the best fighter BZRK has. Noah goes along to settle the score--his older brother worked for BZRK but something terrifying happened and now he's a raving madman. Sadie's brother and father were killed in an airplane crash at the hands of the Armstrong twins. The two are now a team that BZRK has big plans for.

The plot takes place at the macro level--the human level, or our reality, and in the nano level where nanobots (Armstrong Corporation) and biots (invented by Sadie's father for medical use) battle each other "down in the meat."

When the twins decide to take out powerful heads of state of the world's strongest countries, Sadie and Noah are put into action without training. Their biots are designed using gene splicing and before they can even practice using them, they are in an intense and bloody battle with Armstong's twitchers.

This book is not a light read; it's intense, bloody, grotesque, dark, and chilling. In a world gone wrong, it's hard to tell who the good guys really are. Can the good be called "good" if they are murderers? And what if the bad guys are right? Maybe humanity does need saving.

Readers who liked Brain Jack and Little Brother will enjoy this compelling read. It is not for the light hearted or squeamish. It is bloody and gross, and when the fighting happens "down in the meat," readers may feel a little queasy.

Highly, highly recommended for reluctant readers grades 9-up. Language, violence, terrorism, mature situations.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book Giveaway: Cracked (Guy Pick)

Watch the book trailer here

I have 5 copies of this great new ya novel that speaks to bullies and victims everywhere. Bullies are merely victims of their upbringing in many cases. See the review of Cracked here.

Even though I called this "Guy Pick," girl readers will like the story, too. High school recommended; not for middle school readers.

Post a comment with your first name, city and state. Please include your email so I can notify you in case you win. Deadline for posting is March 1 at noon MST. I will notify winners after noon on that date. Please check your email. You have 24 hours to respond to my email with your mailing address. Books will ship from New York thanks to Simon & Schuster and Dawn! Good luck and start posting! Pamela

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Girl Pick: The Queen of Kentucky

The Queen of Kentucky
by Alecia Whitaker
375 pages

Captivating, cute, and quirky, Ricky Jo (who now wants everyone to call her Erika--it's much more grown up and she is going to high school now, after all...) Winstead is a farm girl. She can't wait to start high school and become instantly popular. She is tired of farming--it's hard work and the sun and humidity are brutal, the tobacco plants are huge and hard to harvest, and she's certainly not cut out to be a farmer anyway. She's short, doesn't even weigh 100 pounds, and is still waiting on puberty to hit her. She toils with her father and brothers and Luke and his dad from sun-up to sundown. High school will be a reprieve from hard labor.

The first day of school is a nightmare. Whoever knew that being the new girl could be so hard? All the rest of the kids grew up together in public schools. Only Erika (Ricki Jo) went to a private school and now she's way behind in the friendship department, the popularity contest, and the fitting in department. Luke is the only person she knows and he's more like a brother--certainly not dating material.

Then she spots Wolf--a cool athlete the girls go ga-ga over. Can a freshman girl with no friends and no clue possibly hope to catch his eye? Ricki Jo has just the plan. Convince her parents to let her try out for cheerleading--cheerleader status equals instant popularity and cool friends, right?

Teens will like spunky Ricki Jo and will probably guess that Luke will be the "right one"--not the overly conceited and arrogant Wolf, but it's fun reading about the trials and tribulations of young love.

Girls who liked Ten Miles From Normal and The Sweetheart of Prosper County are sure to fall for this story. Luke is the likeable boy next door who Ricki Jo overlooks but not for long.

Recommended grades 9-up. Mentions normal body changes during puberty--onset of menses and breasts.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thrilling Mystery Pick: Ripper

by Stefan Pretrucha
432 pages

Available March 1, 2012

Thrilling, scandalous, scintillating, and highly engrossing, Ripper is a real page-turner for teens. Part mystery, part history, part crime novel, part detective story, and awesomely steampunk-y cool, this book will have tons of teen fans.

Set in New York in the late 1890's, Ripper tells the story of Carver Young, an orphan abandoned as an infant who grows up in Ellis Orphanage under the tutalege of Miss Petty. When he is fourteen, he picks the lock to the attic door and finds out what the files hold about his past. There are no papers other than a mysterious letter written by someone he thinks is his father. His mother died in childbirth, yet his father could still be alive...somewhere.

The orphanage has to find homes for the older children, including Carver. They hold a big party for notable citizens to get to know the orphans, hoping someone will adopt them. The police commissioner himself--Teddy Roosevelt--attends and Carver hopes to meet him. Carter wrote to Roosevelt asking him to find his father. Sadly, Roosevelt leaves before Carter can gather the courage to speak to him. Luckily, a chance encounter with another man secures Carver a "home."

Albert Hawking agrees to take in Carver and train him to be a great detective. Hawking used to work for the Pinkerton Agency and now has his own secret agency with grand inventions worthy of visionary Jules Verne. His company develops a subway, a horseless carriage, and an office periscope.

Carter is thrilled to be in the company of such a great mind and is even more excited to be tracking down his long lost father.

There is a killer on the loose in New York who is brutally murdering young women, leaving their mutilated bodies in his wake. Roosevelt is determined to find the macabre madman. Hawking and Carter are hot on the gruesome killer's heels. As the clues unfold, Carter gets closer to finding his father. Can they stop the killer from grabbing his next victim? Can they protect Roosevelt and his daughter?

Highly, highly recommended for reluctant male readers (and females who love mystery and detective novels) grades 7-up---even though page count is 432 pages, each chapter is short--2-6 pages--and each ends with the reader hopelessly immersed in the story and wanting to read on. I dare a teen not to read this voraciously! This novel is for fans of Sherlock Holmes and steampunk lit. No language, no sex, some gruesome details, mystery.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dystopian Pick: Fever (Book 2, The Chemical Garden Trilogy)

by Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster
352 pages

Available February 21, 2012

Watch the book trailer for Wither (book 1) here

Dark, dystopian, and disturbing, book 2 of The Chemical Garden is much darker than the first novel--Wither. In Wither we met Rhine, a young girl kidnapped, taken far from home, and forced into marriage with other sister- wives and we met Gabriel, a servant who works on the grounds of the fine mansion. Rhine hates it it the mansion; she doesn't want to be the wife of a man she doesn't love. She wants to go home and see her twin brother Rowen. Gabriel agrees to help Rhine escape and together they run.

Fever picks up where Wither left off. Gabriel and Rhine are on the run but with no plan, no money, no clothes, and no idea how to get to Manhattan and find Rowen. They see tents in the distance and hear laughter and party noise, so they think they can spend the night there, but they are taken prisoner by a strange madwoman who calls herself Madame. She runs a circus-like and macabre group of prostitutes with her hired muscle--brutal bodyguards who enforce her rules. Madame drugs Gabriel and Rhine with mindless opiates and plans to get top dollar for selling Rhine to the highest bidder.

Again, the two escape but are on the run again. They take Maddie, a malformed child of Lilac, a woman who helped them escape. The three flee and finally make it to Manhattan but are terrified when they find that Rhine's home is burned to ruins and Rowen cannot be found.

Rhine falls victim to an unexplanable fever and has strange memories of her parents and some long-held secret of her and Rowen's birth. Vaughn (Rhine's evil father-in-law) finds Rhine and takes her back to the mansion where he tells her he has been tracking her all along. Rhine is once again a helpless victim of his cruel experiments.

Book 3 promises to answer all the story's questions: What experiments were Rhine's parents working on when they were killed? Who is behind their deaths? Why does everyone keep saying that Rhine is "special?" Where is Rowen? Will Gabriel and Rhine ever be re-united? Does Linden believe that his father (Vaughn) is experimenting on Rhine and the other women of the house?

Teens who love a well-written and scintillating story--action packed and chilling--will love Fever. It's cutting, caustic, and creepy--thrilling right to the satisfying last pages.

The shocking cliffhanger at the ending has me hooked--I will be first in line--fighting off teenagers--to get my hands on this book!

Highly, highly recommended grades 9-up. Very dark, dystopian fiction--not for the faint of heart-- and not a flowery romance. For mature readers only. Mentions genetics, the government wants to artificially inseminated girls as young as 10 to insure their race will survive, girls are forced into prostitution and marriages, girls are basically being used as breeders, one scene where Rhine narrowly escapes rape, shocking "medical" experiments, and children get killed if they are not genetically "correct."

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Guy Pick: Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse

Everything You Need To Survive the Apocalypse
by Lucas Klauss
Simon Pulse
403 pages

What happens when you don't know what you believe? Being raised by an atheist father and trying to heal a hole in his life from missing his dead mother, Phillip has just been abandoned by fellow geeks Mark and Asher. On top of that, he is being brutally bullied by a ruthless, heartless, sadistic track coach who dreams up demonic workouts that nearly kill him. That's when Phillip twists his ankle and meets Rebekah, a girl from his school who just happens to be an "unconventional" beauty.

When Rebekah invites him to her church for youth fellowship, Phillip tells his father he's going to a study group and sneaks off to the church to try to get to know Rebekah better. Wouldn't you know it? Ferret--the evil track coach--is a member of the congregation and helps with youth group. Phillip is feeling out of place not only because of the coach, but he's freaking out that Rebekah might actually like him, and he's not sure what to feel about religion. With all the unanswered questions in his life, Phillip isn't sure what to believe. After all, his mom "got" religion before she moved out into her own apartment. She said she'd be back and that her leaving the house was only temporary but then she died unexpectedly. What kind of God takes your mother from you?

Best friend Mark gets a new BMW for his birthday and that changes everything. What was supposed to be "their" car for the three friends to hang out and go places in is now Mark's car to go places with his two new friends from German class. Asher and Phillip feel betrayed.

Klauss balances just the right amount of teen angst, wit and irony with a large dose of sarcasm and snarky attitude. Readers will identify with Phillip as he struggles to decide what to believe in, and those teens who question their parents' beliefs--I think nearly every teen at one point--will appreciate a clever novel with a huge heart.

The cover art is appealing but doesn't do this book justice and the title and mention of stockpiling food and water doesn't really play into the story. Readers may be confused by the title, thinking this is a dystopian book, but the apocalypse is one of the heart--not one of society or the planet.

I wish the back cover had information about the story instead of quotes from other writers. Teens want to know a little about the book, not what other adult writers think of it, and the page count--403 pages--may be a little daunting for some readers.

Recommended grades 9-up. Language, alcohol, partying, mature situations, questioning of religion and the existence of God.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this novel from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Monday, February 13, 2012

High School Pick: Dead to You

Dead To You
by Lisa McMann
Simon Pulse
243 pages

Watch the book trailer here

From the author of the Wake trilogy, this novel will captivate teen readers. It is the sad story of Ethan--a boy stolen from his family at age 7 who miraculously returns home at age 16--safe and sound.

The awkward moments when first seeing his parents to long and silent family dinners give Ethan panic attacks; he doesn't know how to act, who to trust, how to interact with a family--he's never had one before, at least not that he can remember. His parents try their best to make Ethan feel welcome but his presence is trying on the entire family. Since his disappearance, his parents have grieved and then finally accepted that their son was lost to them forever and they even planned a "replacement" child, little sister Gracie. Younger brother Blake acts jealous and angry--ignoring Ethan and even lashing out at him physically.

Ethan is trying to fit in, but he doesn't remember anything from his childhood. Why can't he remember his house? Or his neighbors? Why can't he remember the day he got into the car with those two guys? He always thought that Eleanor kidnapped him. Did she pay two men to grab a little boy for her?

As brother Blake uncovers clues to Ethan's past, Ethan finally begins to feel at home. The unexpected and tragic ending will take readers by storm. McMann continues to write a highly readable book with a tortured teen hero--there is no happy ending for Ethan.

Highly recommended grades 9-up. Language, mature situations. Child kidnapping, prostitution.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book Giveaway: The Butterfly Clues

The Butterfly Clues
by Kate Ellison

A clever new debut that will take your breath away and leave you at the edge of your seat frantically turning the pages! I was hooked from the opening pages and could not put this one down.

Author Kate Ellison has written a teen tour de force with a quirky heroine who soon finds herself in way over her head when she sets out to solve a murder using the "butterfly clues." Someone is after Penelope (Lo) and she'll need to control her anxiety and compulsive behavior and keep her wits about her in order to stay alive!

You won't want to miss this must-read! and getting a FREE copy rocks!

Post a comment on this blog and include your email address so that I can notify you if you win. Also, please include your city and state since the publisher, the author and I want to see where our readers live.

Deadline for posting is February 23 at 12:00 noon MST. Winners will be chosen by Randomizer. I will notify winners on Feb. 23. Please check your email. You will have 24 hours to contact me with your mailing address information for the publisher. Books will ship from New York thanks to Katie and Egmont!

Start posting, and good luck!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Paranormal/Mythology Pick: A Beautiful Evil

A Beautiful Evil (sequel to Darkness Becomes Her)
by Kelly Keaton
Simon Pulse
304 pages

Available February 12, 2012

Having escaped Athena's dark prison (in Darkness Becomes Her), Ari returns home to New2 and begins to feel the power of Medusa growing in her and fears what she may some day become. Each day she trains at Presby, a special school for the sons and daughters of the Novem, three branches of paranormals: descendents of vampires, witches, shapeshifters and demi-gods. New2 is owned by the Novem, the richest families bought what was left of New Orleans and are now in control of it.

Ari lives with other unfortunate, young squatters--including hottie Sebastian--in an old Victorian in the GD (Garden District). So far, the Novem have left the GD alone, but it's only a matter of time before they begin inhabiting the old mansions and forcing the kids out.

As Ari learns to control her powers, Athena is playing games. Athena has long been the arch-enemy of the Novem--ever since she tried controlling them to do her bidding in an ancient war among the gods. The Novem came together in an alliance against Athena--now Ari, with her Gorgon powers, is the one Athena fears the most. Athena, who turned Ari's ancestor Medusa into a Gorgon in the first place out of petty jealousy because of her beauty, had stupidly created a god-killer, and Medusa's descendants would be equally as dangerous to Athena's very being.

Sebastian and Ari enter the Novem's library to seek the answers they need to defeat Athena, and Ari ventures into Pandora's Box, which really isn't a box after all, but a giant jar filled with all the Novem's history and secrets. Ari finds a way to enter Athena's den and takes her friends along for the war games. Nothing good can come from breaking and entering the goddess of war's realm--Ari and Sebastian soon find out. Breakneck storytelling and non-stop action at this point will leave teen readers breathless and as they finish this page-turner in one sitting.

Girls will love hot Sebastian and swoon in terror when he's tortured and taken hostage by Athena; they will cheer when the good guys win--wait a minute, vampires and a gorgon are good guys? My favorite line from the book is when Ari says to Sebastian, "Just a myth...says the warlock vampire to the gorgon?"

Highly, highly recommended grades 7-up with a warning. The word for human excrement is used a number of times and there is some vampire torture--but nothing that can't be seen on the CW Channel.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not received monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Food Junkie Pick: Guy Fieri Food: Cookin' It, Livin' It, Lovin' It

Guy Fieri Food: Cookin' It, Livin' It, Lovin' It
Guy Fieri with Ann Volkwein
William Morrow (Imprint HarperCollins)
407 pages

Every teen foodie and fans of Guy Fieri will love Guy's latest cookbook--part biography, part family story, part photo album, and all things food, this huge book is as big, bold, colorful, and wickedly entertaining as Mr. Big Bite Guy Fieri. Guy has several shows on the Food Network and prime time television. He is known for his bold food, his fusion recipes and restaurants--Tex Wasabi's and Johnny Garlic's--and for bringing a cool rock-n-roll vibe to a network that needed an infusion of youthful fun.

This cookbook is beautifully designed, the artwork meticulously rendered by illustrator Joe Leonard ( a well-known tattoo artist). Each section has breath-taking art and photos of the cast and crew of each of Fieri's shows. It is satisfying to see the pictures of all the "behind the scenes" people who help make a half hour show possible.

Nearly every page with recipes has a photo of the finished product and the results are mouth-watering! Any reader who can thumb through this book without being hungry just doesn't care anything about food. Fieri has thoughtfully included sections for the novice in the kitchen: what to stock in the pantry, what spices to have on hand, how each vegetable is used and when it's freshest, the best way to prepare vegetables; there is even a section devoted solely to the various types of peppers from jalapeno to anaheim to serrano.

Sections include tasty treats like sauces, rubs and marinades, sandwiches, vegetables, appetizers, and Guy's signature cocktails. The Mai Tai Sorbet is sinfully appealing.

Fieri's food is bold and a little dangerous. His guacamole has beer as an ingredient--who else would have thought to try beer in guacamole?-- and Banana Pepper Sauerkraut may just be the next condiment craze--good on sandwiches, salads, hot and cold foods.

Recipes have fun (punny) names like "Good Pho You," a Fieri nod to Vietnamese soup and "Texas Hold 'Em" for a sandwich that has the meats and other ingredients baked right into the loaf jelly-roll style so you can eat your sandwich with one hand and still play your favorite card game.

The book is dedicated to Fieri's beloved sister Morgan who died earlier last year from cancer. It is a fitting tribute to someone who had such an influence on so many people including her famous brother. Namaste.

Guy Fieri Food is serious entertainment and it's a cookbook that will appeal to fans of Fieri's television shows and anyone who loves food. The novice cook would love to have a copy, too. This isn't your mama's cookbook--this is off-the-hook fun (a nod to Guy).

Highly, highly recommended grades 6-up. There are recipes for a few drinks containing alcohol but most students are probably not interested in that. They are going to pick this book up for the Guy Fieri appeal and Food Network appeal. The cover exudes all things Guy Fieri--fun and big energy, and the bold, colorful title jumps off the shelf.

I could go on and on--being a foodie and Guy-fan myself--but I have to get in the kitchen and try some of this stuff!

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I saw a copy of it at my local warehouse store and knew that I wanted to review a copy. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Guy Pick: Somebody: Please Tell Me Who I Am

Somebody:Please Tell Me Who I Am
by Harry Mazer & Peter Lerangis
Simon & Schuster
160 pages

Available February 7, 2012

Realistic, believable, poignant, and uplifting, this new guy read by seasoned writers Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis will appeal to teen readers who have a father, brother, sister, mother, or friend in the military and to readers who have a family member who is deployed.

Ben Bright (the last name is so fitting!) is a senior in high school and loves acting in school plays, and he's talented--so talented, in fact, that his drama teacher thinks he has a real chance on Broadway, but Ben feels a higher calling. He wants to join the military, to do what's right, to protect America and Americans. His family, best friend Niko and girlfriend Ariela are all against it, so he keeps it secret until right before he has to report.

As he says good-bye to Ariela at Penn Station, he gives her a diamond engagement ring--he's borrowed money from his parents and worked to afford it. Ben ends up in Iraq and is only able to email home once in awhile. His emails are full of spelling mistakes--he's trying to type at warp speed because each soldier only has a couple of minutes to send something to their families. It's a new strange world, but Ben likes it.

Ben is nicknamed Broadway once the other soldiers figure out he can sing. The company has the usual military repartee, joking with each other, teasing each other--sometimes almost cruelly. Ben likes his new assignment and doesn't mind the duty. The soldiers are told to walk beside their vehicle as much as possible--to let the neutrals--civilians--see that they are "likeable" and "human." This is a war to win hearts and minds and the command wants the soldiers to look friendly.

Looking friendly also puts the soldiers out in the open and in danger. When their vehicle runs over a doll in the road, everything changes. The doll was an explosive and Ben is hurt.

His parents get that terrifying phone call--the one that all parents dread. Their son was hit and medivaced out of the war zone. They have to be at Walter Reed (hospital) where he is being taken. Ariela leaves college to rush to Ben's bedside with Niko, Ben's best friend.

Ben has injuries that affected his brain. The doctors don't know if he'll speak again or if his memory will come back. Ariela is noticeably frightened and a bit sickened by her boyfriend's appearance. How will Ariela cope if her boyfriend is never the same? Will Ben recover from his injuries? He can't even say his name--what if he can never communicate?

This book will speak to those families who have endured a loved one at war or who have battled through a combat injury.

Recommended grades 9-up. Mature situations, graphic details about the explosion. Grade 8 students may be able to handle this novel, but for most middle school collections, it may be questionable.

Available February 7, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Guy Pick: Cracked

by K.M. Walton
Simon Pulse
312 pages

A bully and his target are on a collision course with destiny. Victor and Bull (William) go to the same school and Bull has harrassed Victor since grade school. He goes out of his way to call him names, bump into him, smashes his face in his cafeteria food, pantsed him in front of the entire p.e. class, including the girls, and beats on him nearly daily. Victor hates Bull--he wishes he would die--that some parent in a big SUV would run him down on the way to school.

What Victor doesn't know is that Bull is bullied, too--by his drunken mother and his mean, abusive grandpa who uses his fists to do his talking. Not that it would matter; Victor is bullied at home, too--only verbally. His parents say demeaning things to him, they never compliment him, only berate him for his stupidity, telling him that they never planned for him, wishing he wasn't ever born. His beautiful "perfect" family goes to church every Sunday and appears the picture of "happy" family, yet Victor knows that no one has ever loved him except his toy poodle Jazzy.

Everyone has a breaking point and both boys are nearing theirs. When Bull has finally had enough and won't take his Pop's beatings anymore and when Victor finds his beloved poodle Jazzy dead of old age, the two boys break.

As luck would have it, they both end up in a psych ward of the local hospital...wait for roommates!

For Bull, being around other kids with problems is helpful. He gains some insight into others' lives and wonders why he can't talk about his feelings like some of the other kids. He is even jealous of Victor who tells a girl about Jazzy dying. He keeps getting lunch bags with snacks in them and one time a nice note and a poem about hope from Frank, the grounds-keeper at the cemetary where he used to go when he ditched school, sitting under a tree and reading books. He didn't know that Frank ever even saw him, but now Frank is leaving him uplifting notes. He wonders why a poem can mean so much.

Readers will empathize with Victor and Bull--both boys have rotten lives and awful parents. Even though Victor grows up in the "lap of luxury," he is unloved. He feels like "nothing." He feels invisible. Bull remembers the last time he had a piece of fruit--3rd grade! Bull's mother is a pitiful alcoholic who spends their food money on booze; there's never anything--and I mean nothing--to eat in their home.

The hospital staff and nurses help and the group sessions make both boys see the others have pain, too. Victor finally finds his voice and really tells Bull off in a venomous, but cathartic, rant. Bull realizes his actions have impacted another human being.

I found myself crying a few times while reading this novel. Both boys endure horrible childhoods, but there is hope for both when they leave the hospital. Have the tissues ready; you're going to cry! Even though I titled this "Guy Pick," sensitive girls will enjoy this novel as well.

Highly, highly recommended grades 9-up. Language, petting, alcoholism, child abuse, mature situations.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not received monetary compensation for this review.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

High School Pick: This One Time With Julia

This One Time With Julia
by David Lampson
256 pages

Available February 2, 2012

Poignant, puzzling, and sometimes disturbingly painful, This One Time With Julia tells the sad tale of Joe, twin brother of Alvin and younger brother of Marcus. Joe is the slow brother and Alvin has always preferred him that way. The boys were orphaned young and older brother Marcus found a long lost uncle who would sign the proper papers and become their guardian. The boys basically parented themselves with Alvin acting as Joe's "parent." He loves the fact that Joe will believe anything that you tell him and that he accepts everything at face value. If Alvin tells him only to eat hamburgers, he does. In fact, Joe only eats hamburgers and guacamole his whole life.

Alvin shows up out of the blue--he had run off to Tennessee with a hot new girlfriend but now he's back in L.A. He asks Joe to meet him at a restaurant. He shows Joe a bag of money he has and tells him that he wants to disappear and sail around the world. He asks Joe to check the motel parking lot and to tell him if anyone is around. Joe spots a man sitting in a car, but forgets to tell Alvin. The next day, Joe is disappointed that Alvin has vanished and left to sail around the world without him. The hotel manager tells Joe to get rid of the girl who is hanging out waiting for Alvin. Enter Julia, the girlfriend from Tennessee.

Joe makes Julia laugh and he begins falling in love with her; of course, Joe is gullible, has no background in relationships, and is naive; Julia seems to actually like Joe's company and she takes him back home to meet her brother Houston who offers him a job. Joe stays in Tennessee working for Houston and living with Julia; he meets their strange mother who tells him all sorts of deep, dark, demented family secrets: that Julia's father is a criminal, that Houston is their adopted son, that Houston is in love with his sister Julia.

Joe begins to realize that his brother Alvin didn't run away to sail around the world; he remembers seeing the man in the car at the motel, and realizes that he should have told Alvin about him. As the mystery unravels, Joe comes to the conclusion that Julia is not in love with him and that Houston is using him to keep tabs on him. Where is Alvin anyway?

A shocking and explosive ending leaves the reader wondering what will happen to Joe--he is abandoned, alone, and penniless. This is not a "feel good" ending.

Recommended grades 9-up. The publisher says ages 12 and up, grades 7-up, but Julia and Joe are sleeping together, there are at least two murders, and terrible family secrets; I say high school only.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Book Giveaway: Love? Maybe. Just in time for Valentine's Day!

I have 2 signed copies of this fantastic new young adult romance to give away. Heather herself will sign the 2 copies for each winner. Read my review of Love, Maybe. here

Grand Prize:

A signed copy of Love? Maybe. Sweet treats to share with friends, including candy heart-shaped balloons, Conversation Hearts candies, Ring Pops and much more…

Runner up: A signed copy of Love? Maybe..

From the cover of The Cupcake Queen:

A confection of a novel, combining big city sophistication with small town charm.

When her mother moves them from the city to a small town to open up a cupcake bakery, Penny's life isn't what she expected. Her father has stayed behind, and Mom isn't talking about what the future holds for their family. And then there's Charity, the girl who plays mean pranks almost daily. There are also bright spots in Hog's Hollow—like Tally, an expert in Rock Paper Scissors, and Marcus, the boy who is always running on the beach. But just when it looks as though Penny is settling in, her parents ask her to make a choice that will turn everything upside down again. A sweet novel about love, creativity, and accepting life's unexpected turns.

From the cover of Love? Maybe:

Just because Piper's birthday is on Valentine's Day does not mean she's a romantic. In fact, after watching her father and then her stepfather leave, she's pretty sure she doesn't believe in love at all. Then her friends concoct a plan to find them all Valentine's dates, and somehow Piper finds herself with the most popular guy in school. But true love never follows a plan, and a string of heartfelt gifts from a secret admirer has Piper wondering if she might be with the wrong guy.

In this heartwarming romance, true love is more than a maybe - and it might be closer than you think.

Simply post a comment on my blog and include your email address so that I can be sure and get in touch with you when you win! Please include city and state, too, since the publisher, Heather and I love to see where our readers live. Winners will be chosen by Randomizer. Deadline is Feb. 8 at noon MST. Winners will be notified by email and have 24 hours to respond to my congratulatory email. If winners do not respond within the time limit, the signed copy will go to the next winner chosen by Randomizer. Books will ship out courtesy of the author, Heather Hepler. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. Now get busy posting!