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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Giveaway: Win a copy of Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac

I have 5 copies of this hot new title. Win one before you can buy one!

See what I said about this novel in an earlier review:

From my blog, "Finally...a paranormal book with bite that boys will like! No sappy romantic vampires or longing for unrequited love here, just a rollicking thrill-ride that will have both boys and girls turning pages long into the dark and stormy night.

The novel starts off in a typical paranormal fashion--a teenager who is a little different finds out what he truly is, what his destiny is, and how he can never be a normal teen...but then... just when the reader thinks the book will continue in paranormal fashion, it takes a sharp left turn into an action/adventure/espionage thriller."

These wolves are way cooler than Twilight! This title will fly off the shelves. Simply post a comment here. Be sure to include your email address so that I can contact you if you win. Also include city and state--I'm just nosy like that!

The publisher advises that she can only ship to U.S. addresses. Sorry, guys! You can post if you live elsewhere but you can't win...aw...don't cry. It'll be okay.

The deadline for posting is September 15 at noon MST.

Good luck, and start posting...

High School Pick: This Thing Called the Future

This Thing Called the Future
by J.L. Powers
Cinco Puntos Press
213 pages with glossary of Zulu words

Disturbing, yet compelling, heartbreaking, yet uplifting, anguishing, yet soaring, This Thing Called the Future paints a grim picture of post-apartheid South Africa, a country so ravished by AIDS and poverty that a whole generation of children is growing up without parents--their parents victims of the disease.

Khosi is a fourteen year old girl living with her grandmother Gogo and little sister Zi. Her mother works in a neighboring town but only makes it home occasionally. Their village is small, achingly poor, and squalid--full of people sick and dying. Many do not have access to medicine and they choose to visit the local sangoma, a traditional healer who uses herbs to treat maladies. Khosi grapples with the ideas of modern medicine and education and her grandmother's world of superstition, magic, and the "ancestors."

When Mama visits, Khosi notices she is frighteningly thin and realizes that Mama is hiding her illness. A neighbor carries a grudge against Mama and her entire family claiming that Khosi's mother stole her insurance money. She swears redemption and threatens ruin for the family. Khosi seeks help for her family and her own bad dreams from the sangoma. She goes through a ceremony to purify herself and their home. The sangoma cuts her skin behind her ears, on her ankles and her feet. She and her grandmother must go through this for five days in order to purify them from the neighbor's curse.

Khosi knows her Mama would never steal from someone else. As Mama gets sicker, she makes Khosi promise to keep a secret. There is money in a bank in the city. It is meant for Khosi to leave South Africa and take her little sister Zi with her to get an education, escaping this cycle of poverty and ignorance.

When Khosi questions why this disease is killing their people, Mama says, "Don't look at the past...It's there and will always be there and there is nothing you can do to change it. Now, now you must look ahead. There is only this thing called the future."

Khosi loves South Africa and can't bring herself to think about leaving her beloved homeland. When Mama dies, Khosi is finally able to let go the past and to look ahead to this thing called the future.

Recommended grades 9-up. Mature situations, violence.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the editor of the newspaper for a column review. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Gift Book Idea for Mom: The Smartest Woman I Know

The Smartest Woman I Know
by Ilene Beckerman
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
112 pages
Available September 27, 2011

A sweet little memoir wrought with pithy wittiness and poignant charm, The Smartest Woman I Know poetically sings the praises of Beckerman's Jewish grandmother Ettie Goldberg who settled in New York City and was wise beyond her third grade education. The author captures Etta's voice and mannerisms and the reader is transported to a tiny store on Madison Avenue brimming with colorful characters.

The Goldbergs opened a stationery store that sold office supplies, stationery, magazines, newspapers, and assorted sundries and they knew every customer and every customer's quirks. There was Mr. Arnold who always wore a straw boater hat, carried a cane, and was always in the company of a much younger man he called "darling." Ettie always made the pair feel welcome in her store saying that it wasn't her business to know what people do at home ( this was New York City circa 1930 or so).

A little book that bursts with humor, wise life lessons, quirky vignettes, and Jewish proverbs--as told by Etta. Its eloquent appeal makes me wish I had my own Jewish grandmother.

A great gift idea for anyone who knows a smart woman and anyone who has a Jewish mother or grandmother. For mavens, machers, and meshuggerners everywhere.

Recommended for gift giving and holidays.

Adult humor and wisdom. High school and up.

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

Monday, August 29, 2011

Paranormal Thriller: Wolf Mark

Wolf Mark
by Joseph Bruchac
Lee & Low
392 pages
Available September 2011

Finally...a paranormal book with bite that boys will like! No sappy romantic vampires or longing for unrequited love here just a rollicking thrill ride that will have both boys and girls turning pages long into the dark and stormy night.

The novel starts off in a typical paranormal fashion--a teenager who is a little different finds out what he truly is, what his destiny is, and how he can never be a normal teen...but then... just when the reader thinks the book will continue in paranormal fashion, it takes a sharp left turn into an action/adventure/espionage thriller.

Lucas King is tired of moving around. He and his father have moved countless times in the past couple of years and Lucas has had it. Why can't they just stay in one place? Why can't they put down roots? He is starting to get comfortable at RHS and has a good friend Renzo and an "almost" girlfriend Meena, but something is just not right. There's the sunglass mafia that seem to be following him around, spying on him. They are Russian-born kids in town since their fathers work at one of the multi-national firms. There's something weird about them; Lucas can sense it.

Then Lucas's father disappears. Before he does, he calls Lucas and tells him through code words--not to go home, EVER, and that he has been taken by someone--an enemy, and to go to their secret message site for more insturctions. Lucas knows the code, he knows how to track, how to hide, how to live off the land, hand-to-hand combat, some martial arts and covert techniques. You see, Lucas has been trained to become what he must: a shadow-walker or werewolf.

The sunglass mafia grabs his friend Renzo to convince Luke to work with them. They are after the people who kidnapped Luke's father, too. Their must destroy the factory that is attempting to use "special" people like themselves to develop a super-soldier. Vampires and wolves will have to work together in order to survive.

Lucas is a cool wolf--way cooler than the typical howl-at-the-moon werewolf. Author Joseph Bruchac developed the wolves in Wolf Mark to be more human than wolf. They are capable of speech and can use their paws--which look and function like human hands. They are not full of bloodlust but capable of human thought and planning.

I loved this paranormal turned action-packed adventure novel. This one is sure to please fans of paranormal and adventure novels. Wolf Mark will have wide appeal among both male and female readers. Bruchac drew on his Abenaki culture and Slavic roots to develop his characters. This novel is unique enough that I think Hollywood may soon be knocking on Bruchac's door!

Highly, highly recommended grades 7-up. No sex, no language. Some violence.

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

Austin Teen Book Festival October 1, 2011

The third annual Austin Teen Book Festival is right around the corner! We have 29 authors of YA lit booked to present on panels and sign books! Scott Westerfeld will be the keynote speaker. Many ya authors will speak and sign for teens Saturday, October 1.

Please help spread the word to other middle & high school librarians in your district and to all of your tweens and teens.Please post the event on your web sites, blogs, school list-serves, tweet you peeps, and talk it up to your students. Hope to see you there!

Festival web site: www.austinteenbookfestival.com

Friday, August 26, 2011

High School Pick: And Then Things Fall Apart

And Then Things Fall Apart
by Arlaina Tibensky
Simon Pulse
272 pages

Gritty, complex, snarky, self-effacing, smart, and poignant And Then Things Fall Apart will grab the reader and likely remain with the reader days and weeks after the novel is finished.

Keek is stuck in her grandmother's hot attic room suffering from chicken pox and troubled by her lecherous father who couldn't keep his hands off a young waitress who worked at his restaurant. The trouble is Keek and Amanda were friends and Keek is furious and hurt that her dad and her FRIEND would have an affair right under everyone's noses. Keek's mother took the money and ran. Just when her daughter needs her the most, she is miles away both figuratively and literally. So Keek finds herself alone, lonely, and sick with no one for company other than a copy of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and an old-fashioned typewriter.

After fighting with her boyfriend Matt and getting the pox, Keek had to stay at her grandmother's without any connection to the outside world. There is no Internet and she can't contact Matt. Left to her own devices, Keek ranges from hysterical to maniacal. Of course, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar is not the most uplifting of fiction!

And Then Things Fall Apart is about a dysfunctional family, its sins of the past, and a dreary future. Girls who like teen angst and adolescent ennui will revel in the story. Fans of Sylvia Plath will like Keek's love of Esther Greenwood.

Recommended grades 9-up. Mature themes, language, lots of talk of virginity and Keek struggles over the issue, sex.

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ashes author Ilsa J. Bick Visits Texas

Ilsa J. Bick will travel to Texas in September! meet Ilsa at one of her appearances across the Lone Star State (sadly west Texas misses out, sigh...)
If you're nearby, please post her scheduled dates. Let's try to get our ya readers out to meet Ilsa! She is visiting lots of military bases since Ashes has a military back-story. Here is her schedule:

September 14th 7 pm:
Blue Willow Bookshop
14532 Memorial Drive
Houston, TX 77079

September 15th 1-3 pm:
Lackland Air Force Base
2180 Reese St # 1385
Lackland AFB, TX

September 16th:
Randolph AFB 11 am- 1 pm
407 C St Randolph Air Force Base
Universal City, TX 78148

Costco 5-7 pm
1201 N. Loop 1604 East
San Antonio, Texas 78232-1322

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chick Pick: My Life Undecided

My Life Undecided
by Jessica Brody
RR Donnelley & Sons Company (Farrar Straus Giroux)
299 pages
(Amazon has it listed as 320 pages, but my copy has 299)

Blogger's Note: I find the idea of a teen using a personal blog to make her decisions quite quirky and wish I had thought of this idea!)

Funny, quirky, comic, quick-witted, and over-the-top melodramatic Brooklyn Pierce is a character girls will love. She is so confused and in so much trouble, she turns to the "people" of the Internet to make her life's decisions for her. Since she burned down her mom's model home and faces arson charges and tons of community service hours in a local nursing home, she knows the decisions she has been making on her own just aren't good ones. She feels genetically pre-disposed and blames her DNA for making bad decision.

So Brooklyn posts her blog "My Life Undecided" and asks readers to choose for her. Their job is to choose which book she should read for English--The Grapes of Wrath or The Old Man and the Sea. Their second vote is whether she should sit alone in the cafeteria like a leper or hide out in the library like a wimp. A total of eleven people find her blog and decide she should read The Grapes of Wrath and have lunch in the cafeteria. Brooklyn is true to her blog readers and follows their directions.

Brooklyn sits alone at lunch and tries to eat quickly so she can escape, but as luck would have it, she begins choking on canteloupe. Lucky for her, someone grabs her from behind and wraps arms around her waist causing the canteloupe to dislodge. Her savior is a boy from her English class--Brian Harris. She's never noticed him before probably because she used to hang out with only the most popular people and Brian is just a quiet guy. Brooklyn soon nicknames Brian "Heimlich" on her blog and hot guy Hunter becomes Rhett Butler--in one comic moment, Brooklyn originally names him "Red" Butler, but her blog readers correct her and tell her the name is actually "Rhett."

When "Rhett" invites Brooklyn to a funky downtown club that his father has just opened, she knows it's off limits. Her parents would never allow her to go. She dearly wants to go and hang with Hunter, "Rhett," but leaves the choice to her blog followers. The majority assures her to stay away; it will only get her in trouble. Brooklyn follows them again and goes to dinner with her parents just blocks away from the club.

Performing community service in a nursing home is no laughing matter, but Brooklyn meets a crotchety old lady named Mrs. Moody who allows her to read to her. Soon Brooklyn actually looks forward to her visits and decides maybe old people aren't so bad after all, especially moody Mrs. Moody.

Brooklyn pines over Hunter, "Rhett" and can't see the good guy standing right in front of her Brian "Heimlich." It takes her blog readers to spell it out for her. In a cute twist, Brooklyn finds out Heimlich has been following her blog for weeks! Readers who like girl-y picks with plenty of comedy and drama will love My Life Undecided.

Highly recommended grades 7-up. No language, no sex, but mention of underage drinking and a "party." No more details mentioned other than that there was a party and people were drinking.

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

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Giveaway: Dystopian Pick: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

I have five copies of this hot new ya title to give away. The book is set to hit the shelves on September 6. Be the first to read this teen dystopian novel. It's the best of the year! I think this one will likely make it to the Tayshas (Texas high school best of the best list) and YALSA's Top Ten for 2011. This is book one of a planned trilogy. I can't wait for books two and three!

Simply post a comment here and include your email contact and your city and state. Deadline for posts is August 31 at noon MST. Copies will ship from New York on September 1. Good luck! See my review of the novel below...

Dystopian Pick: Ashes

by Ilsa J. Bick
480 pages

Available September 6, 2011

(Blogger's Note: I read this novel in one day and passed it on to my husband who is retired ex-military and who loves survival, zombie, and military books. He couldn't put it down either. This is the BEST dystopian book I've read this year. Don't miss it!)

Gritty, grim, grotesque, gruesome, gratifying and ultimately deeply satisfying, Ashes is this year's best ya dystopian novel. It will have crossover appeal into the adult market and is, in fact, being marketed heavily on military bases and sci-fi, zombie fan,teen blogs and websites.

From the first pages, Ashes grabs the reader, shakes her awake, and takes her on a relentless journey through disaster and ruin, and doesn't let go her go even after the very last word is read and processed. I found myself thinking about this novel for days afterwards wondering, "what if...?" Ashes is the first book in a planned trilogy and the ending leaves you wanting more. Readers will plan to read all three books if the next two are anywhere near as entertaining and compelling as Ashes.

Alex leaves her aunt's home near Chicago to venture into the Waucamaw Wilderness near Lake Superior. She is on an odyssey to save herself and free herself from the "monster," an inoperable brain tumor that will likely kill her soon. Orphaned at age fifteen when her parents were killed in a horrific accident, Alex has learned to be fiercely independent and caustic to strangers she meets. Hiking on the mountain, she runs into a friendly dog, a feisty nine year old with a real attitude and a sweet old grandfatherly type.

An electomagnetic pulse hits and Jack, the grandfather, dies instantly. Alex is knocked to the ground and her brain feels like its on fire. The world has fallen apart and Alex is left to deal with an orphaned nine year old and her dog.

The trio soon find out that nothing is the same. The pulse has changed animals and people, too. They are attacked by a madman who attempts to kill them with his bare hands until a shot rings out, saving Alex. When she wakes two days later, she is introduced to Tom, the man who saved her. Tom is home on leave from Afghanistan and has demons of his own. Tom and Alex figure that a mass of EMP's have been set off to destroy all communications and everything that runs on a battery. The sun turns red and the moon is green at night.

As the foursome try to make it north, they soon realize there's not just one madman, everyone over age 21 has changed into zombie-like creatures. Only the very young and the very old are spared. It makes no sense. Why didn't the blast affect the old people? Why are the children saved? And why is Alex not affected...yet?

When they are separated, Alex escapes death only because dogs now seem to LOVE her. The dogs seem to know who has "changed" or who is "changing." Yet, they embrace Alex as their pack leader. The town of Rule takes her in hoping that her "skills" will help them overcome the zombie hordes. But things are not always as they seem; sometimes those in the right turn out to be horribly wrong...

Part survival novel, part zombie wars, part romance, part dystopian, part sci-fi, part realistic fiction, Ashes is a thrilling read. This book will garner a lot of attention among readers and will likely be on YALSA's (Young Adult Library Services Association) list of Teens' Top Ten for 2011. This is book one of a planned trilogy. I can't wait for books two and three!

Highly, highly recommended grades 8 and up. No sex but lots of gore. Violence. Zombie fans and dystopian fans will eat (pun intended) this up!

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

Friday, August 19, 2011

Making Short Movies using Zimmer Twins

I used a new website called Zimmer Twins to create a cool, kid-friendly movie announcing my blog. You can join for free and make your animations! Pretty easy to use and kids will love creating movies! Make an animated movie in minutes. Easy for kids to use and no training necessary!

Click on Zimmer Twins

Monday, August 15, 2011

Uncommon Criminals

Uncommon Criminals (A Heist Society Novel)
by Ally Carter
Disney (Hyperion)
298 pages

Vibrant, exciting, clever, quirky, and fun, Uncommon Criminals once again finds Katarina (Kat) Bishop deep in the world of white collar thievery. Her family, you see, has always been known as the best art thieves in the world. When a Rembrandt is rifled or a Picasso is pinched, Kat's family is likely to be the brains behind that nefarious business.

When an elderly widow contacts Kat with a strange request, Kat's interest is piqued. She will need to break into a super-secure building with the latest in CIA cameras and ex-CIA agents as security guards and steal the most infamous jewel in the world, the Cleopatra emerald--97 karats of sublime beauty, but a jewel with such perfect beauty comes with a cursed history. Everyone who has possessed it has died soon after.

Hale, Kat's best male friend and "almost" boyfriend and wealthy partner in crime is adamant; Kat cannot take this "job" without him and Gabrielle, Kat's beautiful and bewitching cousin. The three teens brainstorm and "case the joint"--which means--for all you novice crime fans--check out the security and day-to-day, minute-to-minute operations of the auction house where the emerald will arrive.

Next the teens are boarding a jet for a quick globe-trotting trip to the Alps to pick up a fake emerald from an estranged, and quite strange, even beyond eccentric, Uncle Charlie, the best art forger in all the world who just so happens to have a perfect fake of the Cleopatra gem. Back in New York, Uncle Charlie's twin brother, Uncle Eddie shows up and not only warns Kat that the Cleopatra is cursed, it is forbidden. None of this is enough to stop a determined teen-age art thief from stealing the rock and returning it to its home country of Egypt and making an old widow's wishes come true.

The Cleopatra emerald was part of a huge archeological find unearthed nearly a century ago by the parents of Constance Miller, the old woman who relates her story to Kat. The young assistant of the dig stole all the artifacts from the dig, selling them to the highest bidders world-wide with no concern for history or antiquity. The thief's grandson is among the world's richest men, one Oliver Keller, the owner of the world's largest antiquities firm. The Cleopatra stone rightfully belongs to the woman's parents, but battling the man in court for 12 long years,Mrs. Miller decided the only way to return the emerald to Egypt was to have a very gifted thief lift the stone for her and she enlists Kat and her friends.

Once the jewel is delivered, imagine Kat's dismay when she realizes she has been conned. The Constance Miller who met her and told her story of woe was an imposter! Now it's up to Kat to grab the emerald again. The adventure takes the teens to Lyon, France and Monte Carlo, Monoco in search of the scammer and a shadow ghost named Visily Romani, a figure from Kat's past who has a long history of masterful heists.

Sheer fun and suspense with a sweet little near-romance thrown in, Uncommon Criminals will please readers who like a well-planned caper. Both male and female readers will likely appreciate the fast-paced plot; girls will find Kat irresistible. Ally Carter's first book in the series, Heist Society, has been picked up by Hollywood and is in the capable hands of actress turned prolific director Drew Barrymore. Fans are in for a wild ride.

Highly, highly recommended for readers ages 12 and up who love adventure, mystery, globe-trotting, and a good crime caper.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my library. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Giveaway: Misfit

Five copies of Misfit are up for grabs! Now available from Amulet Books, a fresh paranormal novel from author Jon Skovron. Here are some reviews and what other ya writers are saying:

"In an impeccably paced and unusually profound urban-fantasy novel, 16-year-old half-demon Catholic-school student Jael Thompson comes into her powers, explores her heritage and battles a tyrannical Hell beast."

— Kirkus Starred Review

“A diabolically delightful paranormal about a teen girl discovering her inner strength and power — and her potential for darkness.”

— Holly Black, author of bestselling Modern Tales of Faerie series and Curse Workers series.

“Misfit reminded me of the first time I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a clever and twisty mix of old gods and new worlds. Jon Skovron’s protagonist, Jael, is the kind of heroine I can’t get enough of: strong, smart, loyal, and wickedly compelling.”

— Carrie Ryan, best-selling author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead Tossed Waves

“A refreshingly interesting story, Jon Skovron’s tale of a half-demon girl trying to figure out her place on earth—or in hell—is deftly paced and beautifully told, instantly captivating and delightfully strange. I want more, please.”
— Kiersten White, bestselling author of Paranormalcy and Supernaturally

Win a copy of this fantastic new paranormal thriller. Simply post a comment here. Please include your email address, so that I can notify you when you win (fingers crossed). Also, please let me know your city and state, just because I'm nosy like that. Deadline for posting is August 16 at noon mst (Mountain Standard Time). Thanks, everyone, and good luck!

Monday, August 8, 2011

High School Pick: Going Underground

Going Underground
by Susan Vaught
324 pages

Available September 13, 2011

Compelling, edgy, and wrought with emotion, Going Underground will force readers to think about their actions on the Internet and using technology to send and receive pictures and media on their cell phones.

Del is an ordinary seventeen year old. He looks forward to college, he can't wait to find the right girl, he hangs out with his best friend Marvin, he escapes into music, and raises an African gray parrot named Fred. When he's not in school, Del works at his job--digging graves at the cemetary. It's not a job he would have normally dreamed of, but it's the only place he could get hired. You see, Del is a convicted felon. With a sex crime in his past, it's hard to convince anyone to hire him. Colleges won't even read his applications. Del has no future simply because of a mistake he made when he was just fourteen.

An overzealous district attorney pushed Del's conviction through the courts and the judge threw the toughest sentence at Del. He is on probation until eighteen, he is not to have access to the Internet or cell phones, he cannot get into trouble at school or anywhere else. Del has to "toe the line." When another student punches him, Del can't even fight back. He gets beaten up simply because he can't get any more charges against him.

One day, Del notices a "fairy" looking girl visiting the cemetary. He's interested but knows better than to approach a stranger. Del can't even date. He is unable to have a normal teen-age romance because of his past.

When judicial hearings are set up to review the Romeo and Juliet legislation, Del and his parents decide to testify. Because of his testimony, the laws are changed. No longer will a fourteen year old be considered a "sex offender" or rapist if both parties are the same age and willing participants.

Highly recommended grades 9-up. Mature situations.

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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chick Pick: Dork Diaries: Tales From a Not-So-Talented Pop Star

Dork Diaries: Tales From a Not-So-Talented Pop Star
by Rachel Renee Russell
311 pages with illustrations

Witty, charming, and fun, the third installment of Dork Diaries will have tween girls clamoring for the book. Nikki J. Maxwell is still the likable girl next door: a little dorky, a little plain, a little untalented but what she lacks in talent she makes up in heart and she is blessed with two great BFFs in Chloe and Zoey. Nikki still crushes on Brandon, and still abhors Mackenzie Hollister, evil fashionista and mean girl, and still cringes whenever she thinks any of her classmates will find out that her father is an exterminator who drives around in an stinky old van with a giant cockroach on top of it!

Nikki is being coerced into performing in the school talent show as part of MacKenzie's act, but she has already promised her BFFs to be in their act. Should she let down her friends or should she spurn Mackenzie and await her wicked wrath?

Nikki steps up her plans when her scholarship is revoked and she has to raise money to stay in her costly private school. Hoping to win the talent show, she enters with a couple of fellow wall flowers and is later joined by Chloe, Zoey and Brandon! Mackenzie does her evil best to have the band disqualified but good always wins over evil.

Girls will love Nikki and her BFFs and crush over handsome yet shy Brandon. Clever cover, cute illustrations, and teen characters are spot-on! Funny asides and quirky writing. Laugh out loud antics like, "Girl Puh-leeeze...I said, doing one of those Tyra Banks neck roll thingies that I'd practiced in the mirror for hours!"

FTC Required Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my library. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Middle School Pick: Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts
Little Brown
281 pages
Read the first 20 chapters here

The publisher knows eye-catching covers and kid-friendly designs will sell books. Short chapters keep pages turning. Illustrations throughout the text capture reluctant readers' attention. This book has clever appeal and continues to keep James Patterson on the best seller list; however, it is certainly not to be compared in the same category as Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid series.

Rafe Khatchadorian is new to middle school. He can't figure out how to fit in until his friend Leo the Silent tells him to play a new game. Rafe decides to break every rule in the Hills Village Middle School Code of Conduct. Leo and Rafe create a point system: easy stuff gets small points-- like chewing gum in class only rates 5,00 points, but destruction of school property rates 35,000, and stealing school property gets 40,000 points. The boys decide that Rafe must break every rule or die trying. Rafe actually pulls off a few instances of rule breaking but gets detention with the Dragon Lady. Meanwhile, brutish bully Miller the Killer figures out what Rafe is up to and wants to stop him.

On top of all his middle school shenanigans, Rafe has a dysfunctional home life. His mom works all the time at the diner while her live-in, no-good boyfriend "Bear" lies around all day sleeping and vegging out on the sofa watching t.v. Younger sister Georgia is mostly just annoying and tattles on Rafe's every move.

Rafe ends up losing a friend, learning several lessons, making up with his mother, and ends up putting all his creativity to good use. His mother finally sees the light and makes decisions that affect the family.

The back cover promises "You'll probably laugh your guts out on every page." Sorry, but this never happened. Readers will not burst out laughing--although there may be a grin or slight chuckle occasionally.

Recommended for ages 10-14 and middle school reluctant readers.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my library at the local book store. Just like a teen, I was enchanted with the cover design. The book, however, just does not live up to the cover.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen

Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen
by Donia Bijan
272 pages

Available September 20, 2011

Heartfelt, deep, moving, and full of warmth, Maman's Homesick Pie is a serious find for book lovers and foodies of all ages. Donia Bijan is today a well-respected American chef who has worked in kitchens all over France and San Francisco before opening her own world-renowned bistro. But where did this culinary dynamo come from? Who influenced her to seek a career in a field that was so closed off to women and who encouraged her to seek a spot at Paris's famed Cordan Bleu under the tutelege of Madame Brassart, the dragon master chef who taught none other than American food icon Julia Child?

Luckily, Bijan was brought up by a strong Iranian mother and father. Her mother had a voice in government in Iran during the reign of the Shah, but after his fall in 1978 and with the infiltration of militant religious sects, Bijan's entire family is forced to flee Iran, never to return for fear of death. On a holiday in Majorca, Bijan's family listens to reports of increasing violence and bloodshed at home,and after receiving a harrowing late night call from their uncle, they realize that they cannot go back home. The family gets visas and travels to the San Francisco Bay area where other relatives have already settled.

Bijan's mother easily fits into the California lifestyle in no time. Having attended boarding school in England as a girl, she speaks fluent English and has a nursing degree. It's not long before she has a full-time job at a hospital and soon she's picking up extra hours to help fund Donia's education in France. While her mother assimiliates easily, Bijan's father finds America a horrible place. He can't practice medicine because he can't get over the language barrier, so he can't pass the medical boards. He becomes increasingly depressed and irritated, blaming everything bad on his wife and his daughter. He longs for his homeland where he was a respected doctor with his own hospital. Eventually, he returns to Iran and his beloved hospital without his family.

Donia escapes to Paris to learn to cook the French way. She is charmed by spices and has been in love with food since a young age. Her mother, besides being a nurse and raising a family, made aromatic dishes like Fava Bean Omelet, Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken and Eggplant, and Quince Marmalade. Donia still remembers the scents of Persian cooking from her mother's kitchen in Iran: the saffron, cardamom, tarragon, shallots, poppy seeds, Persian figs, pomegranates, and clementines.

This novel is, above all, a love story. It is the story of a mother's love and undying, unwavering faith in her daughter. Because her mother loved her and pushed her, Donia Bijan excelled in the culinary world and fulfilled her dreams. When her father thought cooking was a terrible fate for his daughter, her mother saw how much it meant to Donia. Her mother never made light of cooking as a career and respected her daughter's life choice. It is the love a mother gives that forever influences the life of her child.

Maman's Homesick Pie is a beautiful tribute to Donia's mother and her Persian recipes. Each chapter is followed by one or two prized recipes from Bijan's mother or from Bijan's culinary days in Paris and San Francisco. The food dances off the pages and readers will savor the flavors and textures of the dishes as described by Donia. This novel makes me want to try all kinds of exotic fare.

A delightful book that will stay with readers. Food lovers, cooks, and wannabe cooks will love this book. Book clubs are likely to choose this as a great read this fall. Put this one on your list. Young foodies ages 12 and up will likely fall for this book as well.

Recommended for adults and younger foodies. Teens who love "Master Chef" and "The Next Food Network Star" will probably love this book and learn a lot about cooking by reading it. This is a great book club novel.

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

Guest Review: High School Pick: Forbidden

By Tabitha Suzuma
Simon & Schuster
464 pages

Blogger's note: Guest reviewer career educator Leslie Rush submitted this review to the blog. Leslie is a bff and avid ya reader and reviewer. This is her fourth guest review on this blog. Here is her review of this compelling and dangerous read:

The truth of this book is in the opening quote: “You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel.”

There’s plenty in Lochan and Maya’s lives that no one wants to see. They, along with younger siblings, have been abandoned by their father and are virtually abandoned by their Mum—an alcoholic who never wanted kids to begin with, who has set her sights on a new boyfriend, and comes home drunk (when she comes home at all) to throw up, sleep it off, and change into another sleazy outfit.

Maya and Lochan serve as parents to the three younger sibs—the dreamy, sweet Willa, the goofy Tiffen, and the rebellious Kit. They handle dinner, homework, groceries, discipline, and drag money out of their Mum to pay the bills. They have learned to cope like any two "normal" parents who work all day and come home to kids and chaos.

Above all, it is imperative that no one ever know about their situation. All of the children dread being noticed by Social Services, but Lochan feels it the deepest. He is practically mute outside the family home, having acute anxiety attacks when called upon in school. The kids have zero outside support. When one of Lochan’s teachers attempts to probe a little deeper, she is rebuffed by the terrified Lochan.

The love Maya and Lochan feel for each other takes a twisted turn as they each are pursued by others. Maya’s friends all have a crush on her brother, and there’s a dreamy prospect asking Maya out, as well. Faced with Kit’s growing rebelliousness and the growing needs of the younger ones, Maya and Lochan find their only stress relief with each other.

Accidental contact leads to revulsion, battling with the desperate need to be loved. Each step into their descent is more torturous, as they fight until they are overwhelmed, defeated by their own love. It ends in sorrow, as Lochan does the only thing that can save their family.

I did not want to read this book. But I’m really glad I did. Suzuma has painted a picture that is compelling, horrifying and compassionate. Lochan is a character readers will never forget.

Recommended for very mature readers, 16 and up. Strong sexual content, mature themes.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this novel from the publisher. I/we did not receive monetary compensation for this review. Leslie Rush is a bff and ya reviewer. Her reviews can be found at A Book and a Hug.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Series Pick: The Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire (Kane Chronicles, book two)
by Rick Riordan
Disney (Hyperion)
452 pages with glossary
ISBN 9781423140566

Exciting, action-packed, and thrilling, book two of the Kane Chronicles, The Throne of Fire, really delivers (book one is The Red Pyramid). If you haven't picked up the first book, now is the time to pick up both titles. Rick Riordan has batted another one out of the park and scored a home run. His first attempt at ya fiction was the Percy Jackson series which rocketed to the bestseller lists--both young adult fiction and adult fiction lists; in fact, The Lightning Thief was picked up by Hollywood and turned into a movie.

Now tackling the somewhat darker and brooding Egyptian gods, Riordan uses the brother/sister team of Carter and Sadie Kane, children of two noted Egyptologists and archeologists who just so happen to be descended from Egypt's greatest magicians. The House of Life has chosen Carter and Sadie to control the Egyptian gods who are on the brink of being released. If Apophos, the Chaos snake, is released, it will be the end of the world. Carter and Sadie only have four days to find the three scrolls of the missing book of Ra, the sun god. Not only do they have to find the scrolls; they have to figure out how to use them to free Ra, who will rise again and control all the gods. The kids take turn telling their story on a now old-fashioned tape-recorder. Riordan, the author, finds the recordings and shared them with all of us, the readers

The kids enlist the help of fellow magician trainees Walt, a hot guy with a dark family secret, Jaz, a female trainee who seems to have eyes for Walt--much to Sadie's secret chagrin, and Khufu, a baboon pal, yes, a real baboon, who seems human at times. The kids enlist the help of a few gods along the way including Bes, the drawf god, a short guy who is as big around as he is tall and who needs some serious fashion intervention.

As the two siblings travel through magic Egyptian portals around the world in search of the scrolls, Apophis continues to gain strength. Other Egyptian gods and magicians want to stop the Kane kids from freeing Ra. If both gods are released Chaos will fight Order, and who knows what the outcome will be?

Highly entertaining, amusing, and readable, The Throne of Fire is a sure winner. The personalities of Sadie and Carter are believable and likeable. Their wise-cracking ways and snide comments and mirthful asides will make the reader chuckle. Though they fight like brother and sister, each will stop at nothing to insure the safety of the other.

Highly, highly recommended grades 5-up. This book will have wide appeal to readers both male and female. Good readers who have read Harry Potter and longer tomes like it should have no trouble with the heft of this book. Percy Jackson fans will love this series as well. Anyone who enjoys mythology and action will likely choose this book.

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

Back to School Book Giveaway: Moonglass

Back to School Book Giveaway!
Win a FREE copy of Moonglass by Jessi Kirby

I have TEN--10-- copies of Moonglass to giveaway!

Don't miss your chance to own and share this book with your readers! Not to be missed ya fiction. Grades 6-up.

Post a comment here. Be sure to include your email address so that I can contact you in case you win. Also, please include your city and state just because I'm nosy!