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Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Giveaway: Where It Began

Where It Began
by Ann Radisch Stampler
Simon & Schuster
grades 9-up

I have 5 copies of this exciting new read!
See my review here

Post a comment here. Be sure and include your first name, city, state, and email contact information.

Deadline for posts is April 14 at noon MST. Winners are chosen at random by Randomizer. Winners will be notified April 16. Please check your email on that day. You have 24 hours to respond to my congratulatory email to claim your free copy. Books will ship from New York courtesy of Dawn and Simon & Schuster. Due to the Texas Library Convention April 17-20, books will ship the following week.

Good luck and start posting! Pamela

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Girl Pick: Once Upon a Toad

Once Upon a Toad
by Heather Vogel Frederick
Simon & Schuster
272 pages

Available April 10, 2012 (page count and publication date from publisher's website)

Clever, cute, quirky, and good clean fun, Once Upon a Toad delivers non-stop laughs and outrageous antics!

Twelve year old Catriona Skye Starr (Dad calls her Kit-Cat)is visiting her dad, step-mom, step-sister Olivia and little brother Geoffrey. Her astronaut mother was called at the last minute for a space mission. So while Mom is literally out of this world, Cat's Great Aunt Abyssinia is even more far out. She lives in her r.v. with a weird cat and travels around the country to all the national parks. Not only that, Abyssinia is one eccentric auntie--with a family secret that is about to get Cat in trouble.

Cat is not happy to be sharing a room with Olivia; Olivia is conceited and spoiled, a true "mean girl." Cat tries to be nice but living with Olivia is out of the question. It gets worse after a visit from Aunt Abyssinia. All of a sudden, each time Cat speaks, a toad drops from her throat! To make matters worse and pour salt into the wound, each time Olivia speaks, diamonds and flowers flow from her mouth.

Once their secret is discovered, everyone wants a piece of them--media and press are camped out on their lawn, an FBI guy shows up wanting to take Olivia to Area 51 for "study," kidnappers nab Geoffrey--holding him for ransom until they get their hands on the "Diamond Girl."

Cat can't wait to get away from Olivia but she needs to fix their problem: toads and diamonds are everywhere! And then, Cat remebers that Abyssinia visited right before the weird happenings. She has to find Aunt Abyssinia and figure out what she knows about the girls' problem. The girls will have to work together to out-manoeuver the FBI guy, outsmart the kidnappers, and outrun the police.

Recommended for girls who love a funny story with a little fairy tale magic grades 5-7. Older girls may also like quirky Cat.

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

Friday, March 23, 2012

Girl Pick: Where It Began

Where It Began
Ann Redisch Stampler
Simon Pulse
384 pages

What's not to love about this new ya debut? It has it all: love, hate, anger, resentment, betrayal, lies, deception, revenge...

Where It Began begins with Gabby lying on the ground at the scene of an accident. She doesn't remember what happened or how she got there; then she wakes up in a hospital where she's in and out of conciousness. Vivian, Gabby's mother, never comes across as motherly or loving. Vivian likes to put on airs and show off, she's one of those Hollywood wives who pretends her family is better off than they really are and Gabby can't stand it.

Bits and pieces of memory start to come back to Gabby like the names of her friends Huey, Lisa, Anita, and Billy. Wait, where is Billy? Everyone else has been phoning her and wanting to come and visit her, but why is Billy staying away? He is her boyfriend after all. It was his blue BMW that was in the crash.

Gabby begins reliving the past year in her head. She sees her falling in love with Billy Nash and she knows Billy's mom hates her and doesn't think Gabby is good enough for her son. She remembers being at the party but doesn't remember anything else about that fateful night. Why can't she remember? Gabby heals and is able to go home and back to school eventually. Billy assures her that she's "the one" and they continue to text each other. Billy manipulates Gabby into doing whatever he wants.

Given the fact that Gabby thought that she was a "nobody" before dating Billy and that her identity is linked to the fact that she's "Billy's girlfriend," her behavior is believable. She is so in love with Billy she will do anything to keep him.

Gabby realizes that she was driving Billy's car and she is willing to go to the authorities and take the blame. Huey has other ideas. He helps Gabby understand what really happened and then...BAM! The events unfold in cataclysmic fashion.

Well crafted writing and believable teen dialog make Where It Began a good pick for girls. They will be disgusted by Billy's behavior and touched by Gabby's resilience.

Highly recommended grades 9-up. Sexual situations, drinking, partying, mature themes, language.

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book Giveaway: Fun Pick: Spy School

Spy School
by Stuart Gibbs
Simon & Schuster
290 pages

just out March 6, 2012

I have 5 copies of this very funny new book up for grabs! Boys will love this one! It is an entertaining jaunt for all readers who love a cool spy story.

Clever, comedic, cute, charming, witty, punny, and sensational, Spy School is seriously entertaining and delivers chortling, mad fun. Readers will laugh out loud by the incompetence of the nation's most skilled special agents and roll around the floor aching with side-splitting laughter as a twelve year old boy is able to take down the entire elite team of agents and hide out from surveillance and capture. Read my full review here

See what author Stuart Gibbs says about my review of his book here

Post a comment to the blog and include your first name, city and state. The publisher, the author and I like to see who the readers are. Also, please include your email contact so that if you do win, I can contact you.

Deadline for posting is March 29 at noon MST. Winners are chosen randomly by Randomizer. Winners will be notified after 12:00 p.m. on March 29 and have 24 hours to respond to my email. Books will ship from New York thanks to Dawn and Simon & Schuster.

Good luck and start posting! Pamela

Foodie Pick: Man With a Pan

Man With a Pan
edited by John Donohue
326 pages

This is a great gift for upcoming Father's Day or any man's/boy's birthday:

Humorous, touching, quirky, and comforting, Man With a Pan is a satisfying collection of twenty-one famous authors' and cooks' stories of their own cooking adventures for their families. Throw in Mario Batali and season well with some spicy Stephen King and you have a great simmering pot of literary and culinary "tales of fathers who cook for their families."

I truly enjoyed reading tales of woe and tales of human kindness. From Sean Wilsey, living in NYC when the World Trade Center was hit on 9/11, he says, "the first thing I did was boil a pot of pasta. I made ravioli at ten thirty in the morning....and began to grasp what was happening." Pasta, it seems, helps in a crisis, even one as huge as that horrific event in American history. Each father/cook shares his favorite recipes and what's on his culinary bookshelf as well. Foodies will be sure to devour their stories and want to try their hand at some of the recipes. An interesting recipe that sounds delicious from Wilsey is "Pistachio Pesto" which I wouldn't even consider a pesto since there's no basil. He substitutes Bottarga di muggine which is gray mullet roe available on the web or in Italian specialty stores.

From Daniel Moultroup, recipes include an easy recipe for pickles and how to can fresh tomato sauce; from Christopher Little--a delicious sounding Low Country Boil featuring sausage, crawfish, shrimp and beer. Stephen King gives directions on the proper care of cooking an omelet with only a few expletives and how to prepare fish in the microwave, yes...the microwave, and a wonderful recipe for chocolate cake he calls "Pretty Good Cake."

More than one father/cook stresses the importance of getting the kids to help prepare the meal, whatever it is. This helps them take ownership and they are more likely to try what's on the menu if they help in the prep. Mario Batali tells readers not to make any new ingredient a big production. Simply prepare it and put it on the table. If the kids ask what it is, you simply say, "pesto" or "cardoons." A cardoon is a little like an artichoke in appearance or a tall stalk of celery and Batali swears they are great sauteed and then hit with a bunch of fontina cheese. I mean, what isn't delicious with fontina?

Teens who love food and have an apetite for culinary adventure are sure to be fans of Man With a Pan. With more and more fathers involved in child-rearing and cooking, more boys may pursue careers in kitchens around the world. The Food Network has made cooking cool, and chefs like Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay--wildly popular chefs with restaurants and cookbooks and huge empires making serious bank--have teen fans--many of them male--who are watching and learning.

Highly, highly recommended grade 8-up. One or two mentions of sex but no details. Some language--especially Stephen King--you gotta love him.

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Now in Paperback: Give a Boy a Gun

Give a Boy a Gun
by Todd Strasser
Simon & Schuster
2012 (new paperback edition)
224 pages

Riveting, terrifying, and tragically true, the statistics used in this haunting new ya novel should scare everyone living in America. Every day, thousands of students are bullied in our schools, and every day, some kid might snap. What happens when enough is finally enough? And what can be done to prevent it?

Ask the kids who were at Columbine. Ask the kids who attend Chardon High School in Ohio where on February 27, 2012, a student wounded five other students, three of whom later died. These are not isolated examples. Strasser includes facts and statistics from various sources as footnotes to the story of Ryan, Brendon, and Gary, three friends who are not popular or athletes at their high school. They are not the "in" crowd, and they dread coming to school every day.

This fact comes from Rolling Stone, 6/10/99: "In 1996, handguns alone killed 15 people in Japan, 30 in Great Britain, 106 in Canada, and 9,390 in the United States." It illustates the growing gun problem in America. Our teens know how easy it is to obtain a weapon. According to one statistic, 12% of American students have seen another student with a gun at school.

The three boys are constantly bullied and harrassed on a daily basis. Teachers do nothing to stop it other than say to the popular kids, "Hey, guys, cut it out." There is no back-up and no consequences. Gary chooses to fight back. Gary grows increasingly darker and practices with video shooting games, even buying a gun from another student. It is his descent into vile hatred and blind rage that carries the story.

Readers know that nothing but tragedy can come from Gary's actions, yet he is like a wounded animal himself. The daily barrage of tiny abuses multiply and grow exponentially in his mind.

This is not a feel-good story. It's a story that one hopes will make people pay attention to the facts that weaker people get bullied and they can only take so much.

Recommmeded for teens who like realistic fiction with an edge. Grades 9-up. Language, violence, guns.

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

LGBT Pick: The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes To Their Younger Selves

The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes To Their Younger Selves
Sarah Moon & James Lecesne, Editors
Arthur A. Levine Books
272 pages

Available May 1, 2012

Touching, poetic, provocative, and poignant, The Letter Q will resonate with hordes of teens; teens who feel left out, teens who are bullied, teens who bully to cover up deeper problems, teens with issues, and all those who feel they are outsiders looking in will find words of comfort in these pages.

This paramount book is bound to cause a cacophonous commotion in publishing and LGBT circles and among troubled/not so troubled teens. It is frank, in-your-face honesty written by the most prolific and talented authors of our time. Each author writes a letter to their younger self--what would you say to yourself if you could? Teens who feel left out and struggling with issues other than homosexuality will also love reading about famous people who were once young, emotional, and searching for answers just like themselves.

Letters from ya authors include David Levithan, Sarah Moon, Jacqueline Woodson, Amy Bloom and many other fine writers. Each author has a unique voice yet all seem to agree on one important fact: it gets better! Whatever angst, distrust, agony, fatigue, anger, hatred, self-loathing or just plain apathy you are feeling in school, the real world will embrace you and love you for who you are and who you will become. Words of wisdom from Michael Cunningham (author of The Hours), "Worry less. Love being exactly who and what you are...Have faith in the fact that your sexual identity, which sometimes seems to you like an impediment, is one of your greatest gifts."

From Jacqueline Woodson's (Locomotion, Beneath a Meth Moon) letter to her younger self, "I want to tell you, it gets better. There is a whole world of women like you out here. They are amazing! They are mothers and doctors and lawyers and actors and electricians and builders and thinkers and doers." I love how "mothers" is listed first!

From Terrance McNally (Tony Award winning writer), "You will grow up. Adolescence will be a distant, but always a vivid, memory."

From Larry Duplechan (Blackbird), "...take heart. Real life is nothing like high school...you'll get through it, I promise. You're stronger than you know; stronger than you'd ever dream. And don't worry: You won't be alone through this."

Their letters offer advice, sincere empathy, intense and raw emotion, and love. Love for their young, naive, fragile selves and for other young, naive and fragile readers.

Every parent who has a teen who is struggling should read this book and pass it on to their teen. It's not about sexuality and gender; it's about accepting one's self and loving one's own unique character.

Highly, highly recommended grades 9-up. Mature theme and situations. Some sexual references. LGBT.

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

Monday, March 12, 2012

Funny Pick: Spy School

Spy School
by Stuart Gibbs
Simon & Schuster
304 pages

Just released March 6, 2012

I have 5 copies to of this exciting new book to give away here

Clever, comedic, cute, charming, witty, punny, and sensational, Spy School is seriously entertaining and delivers chortling, mad fun. Readers will laugh out loud by the incompetence of the nation's most skilled special agents and roll around the floor aching with side-splitting laughter as a twelve year old boy is able to take down the entire elite team of agents and hide out from surveillance and capture.

Ben Ripley is a "normal" 12-year old middle school boy--he's trying to survive his geeky phase and stay alive another day. On a normal, mundane day, he arrives home to find a CIA spy in his living room. James Bond sauve and debonair look-alike Alexander Hale explains that the CIA wants to hire Ben--they have been watching him for some time. Ben can't believe his luck! How did they find him? --Agent Hale explains that due to his 728 searches of the CIA website, Ben has caught their attention. Hale offers to send Ben to Spy School--all very hush-hush and top secret, of course. Ben's parents think he's off to attend Science Camp.

The moment Ben steps foot onto the grounds of the Academy, bullets start whizzing through the air. Someone's trying to kill him! Then, he's attacked in his dorm room by an armed assassin, but Ben fights him off in the pitch darkness using only his wits and a well-aimed tennis racquet.

The school is covering something up and it's up to Ben to find out what it is before he's hunted down and killed. With the help of Erica Hale (Alexander Hale's daughter), Ben searches for clues and puts himself in danger as a target for someone who trying to kill him and steal the secrets of Pinwheel--a top secret program that Ben is supposed to have invented--someone planted that lie in his files hoping to catch the mole at the Academy.

This gem of a spy story featuring loveable, nerdy kid Ben will amuse tween and teen readers. The mole and the mole's story set up for a sequel quite nicely. Readers will cheer as Ben is able to catch the mole and outsmart the adults, the administration and all the CIA agents.

Some of the funniest lines are when Ben asks Agent Hale if the Department of Education knows that there are test questions on their standardized tests inserted by the CIA. Hale responds, "I doubt it. They don't know much of anything over at Education."

When Ben meets Erica, he is speechless by her beauty and describes it by saying,"She even smelled incredible, an intoxicating combination of lilacs and gun-powder."

Professor Crandall in defending the CIA quips, "The people who run the CIA might be incompetent, paranoid, and borderline insane, but they're not psychotic."

Chapter titles are dripping with CIA chic, too. Titles include, "Intimidation," "Ninjas," "War," "Surveillance," "Ambush," and "Detonation" to name a few.

Highly, highly recommended grades 5-up. This is the funniest book of the year and I predict it will be on many state's recommended lists and Best Books of 2012.

No language, no sex, just good old funny spying and espionage.

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

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Giveaway: BZRK--a clever thriller!

by Michael Grant (author of Gone)
400 pages
book available February 28, 2012

Read my review of BZRK here

I have 5 copies of this great new thriller gone mad. Check out this website "to discover a ground-breaking interactive digital transmedia experience that extends and expands the world of BZRK far beyond the pages of this book." (from the book's cover)

Teen readers will devour this timely ya novel about the world we think we live in--who are the bad guys really? Go BZRK!

Post a comment to the blog and include your first name, city and state. Please include your email address so that I can contact you if you win.

Deadline for posting is March 19 at noon MST. I will notify winners March 19 by email; please be sure and check your email. Winners will have 24 hours to respond to my message. Winners are chosen by Randomizer. Books will ship from New York thanks to Egmont and Katie!

Now get busy posting comments here and good luck! Pamela

Monday, March 5, 2012

Paranormal Pick: Life Eternal (A Dead Beautiful Novel)

Life Eternal (book 2, Dead Beautiful series)
by Yvonne Woon
416 pages

Hauntingly beautiful, beguilingly romantic, and creepily compelling, Life Eternal is the second book in the Dead Beautiful series and continues the story of Renee and Dante, two young people who are destined to love eternally.

Renee Winters' parents were murdered over a year ago by the Undead, and Renee now lives with her grandfather and studies to be a Monitor, a select group who keeps tabs on the Undead and releases them (buries them) so that they can not kill or harm humans. The Monitor society is secretive and must keep its secrets hidden from the Undead and humans.

When beloved Professor Annette LaBarge is murdered on Lake Erie, the Gottfried Academy closes its doors and Renee must now attend Lycee St. Clement in Montreal for Monitor training. Renee begins having strange dreams and visions and senses that Dante is nearby. Since they kept each other alive (in book one, Dead Beautiful), Dante and Renee share parts of the same soul. Although Dante is Undead, Renee died and apparently came back to life; her classmates whisper that she may have immortality and now is neither human nor Undead.

Renee searches for a way to keep Dante alive and comes across the legend of the Nine Sisters, a group of Monitors who might have discovered the secret of eternal life. The closer Renee gets to the answers, the more dangerous it becomes. An old Russian medium warns her that if she searches for these answers, it will end in life and death.

Two classmates--Anya and Noah--help her try to figure out the sisters' riddle. Renee's parents and Miss LaBarge were all looking for the secret before they were killed.

What does the riddle mean? Is it the secret to eternal life? Will it save Dante? Can their love be everlasting and eternal?

Paranormal fans and readers who loved Twilight and Shiver will devour the Dead Beautiful series.

Highly recommended grades 7-up. No language. Kissing and hugging. No sex.

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

Friday, March 2, 2012

Guy Pick: Aristotole and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Simon & Schuster
368 pages

Blogger's Note: (Although I live in El Paso and the author is a local writer and professor, that is not the reason I read and reviewed the book. It sat on my shelf for about a month before I picked it up. The first chapter drew me in with its palpable teen angst and well-depicted teen characters Dante and Ari).

Poignant, deeply touching, and sensitive, this tender coming of age story centers around two fifteen year old boys: Dante and Ari. It's not easy being fifteen and it's not easy being different. Ari says, "I was fifteen. I was bored. I was miserable." Sounds familiar, right?

Dante and Ari share their dreams and fears, beautiful poetry, good books, and deep conversations. They know they're not like other boys. They are intellectual, thoughtful, and quiet; they are the "good" boys. They cry over a wounded bird. They don't run in a gang, or do drugs, or cause trouble.

Ari wrestles with his family's demons, too. His father is a Vietnam vet who never quite came home--at least not mentally. He's hard to get to know and doesn't talk about Vietnam--ever. Ari's older brother Bernardo is in prison, but it's another topic the family never discusses. Ari feels that his family has too many secrets and wishes someone--his mother or his father--would tell him about Bernardo or about why his dad is so broken.

Dante's father accepts a position in Chicago and the two friends are separated for a year but stay in touch through letters (it's 1987--pre-email era). Ari is happy to see Dante when he returns but a little wary, too.

When Dante gets jumped by a group of neighborhood thugs, Ari makes things right. Dante's parents confront (nicely confront) Ari about the boys' "relationship."

The secrets of the universe aptly describes the struggle both boys face with their questions: Who am I? Why am I the way I am? Am I normal? What is normal?

Their questions are answered and the family secrets are spilled. Love is not necessarily gender specific; love wears many faces and blossoms sometimes in unexpected ways.

Highly, highly recommended for grades 9-up. Mature situations, discussion of sexual topics, language, LGBT

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