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Monday, September 28, 2015

Sneak Peek Pick: My Secret To Tell

Title: My Secret to Tell

Author: Natalie D. Richards

Pubdate: October 6th, 2015

ISBN: 9781492615712


His smile is a crime.


Emerson May is “the good girl.” She’s the perfect daughter, the ng friend, the animal shelter volunteer. But when her best friend’s brother breaks into her room, his hands covered in blood, she doesn’t scream or call the cops. Because when Deacon smiles at her, Emmie doesn’t want to be good…


The whole town believes notorious troublemaker Deacon is guilty of assaulting his father. Only Emmie knows a secret that could set him free. But if she follows her heart, she could be trusting a killer…


You can’t always trust the boy next door.


After years as a professional paper-pusher, NATALIE D. RICHARDS decided to trade in reality for a life writing YA fiction. She lives in Ohio (Go Bucks!) with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously furry dog named Yeti. This is her second novel. Visit her on Twitter @natdrichards or at nataliedrichards.com.




This October Natalie D. Richards releases her latest YA thriller, MY SECRET TO TELL. To celebrate, Natalie is here for a quick Q&A and has brought an excerpt to share!


Is there really such a thing as a "good girl"? and a "bad boy?"


This may be one of my favorite questions, and absolutely ONE THOUSAND PERCENT no.  Emmie is not the perfectly good girl she’d like to be and Deacon might not be as bad as everyone thinks.  The truth is, we’re all a pretty crazy mix of both, and a lot of that lies behind the story in My Secret to Tell.



An Excerpt:



                My name lands somewhere between a hiccup and a sob, and my feet stall out on the sidewalk in front of my house. I adjust my grip on the phone, hoping I misheard her tone. This doesn’t sound like Chelsea. This voice is breathless.


                “I’m here,” I say. “What’s up? You don’t sound right.”

                 “I’m not.” She takes a shuddery breath.

                My shirt’s sticking to my back and cicadas are click-buzzing the end of another blistering day, but I go cold. Something’s wrong.

                Wrong, wrong, wrong.

                “It’s my dad, Emmie,” she says. I can tell she’s crying.

                I grab my chest. It’s too tight. Burning. “What happened?”

                Her words all tumble out on top of one another, interrupted by shaky breaths. I try to pick out pieces that make sense. “He’s hurt—bleeding—we’re behind the ambulance and I can’t—he’s not—someone attacked him.”

                I start climbing the porch steps, because she’ll need me. I’m her best friend, so I should be there. I need to change clothes and go. “You’re on the way to the hospital, right? They’ll help him there.”

                Another sharp breath. “I don’t know if they can. He’s so bad. So bad.”

                My heart clenches. “Where are you?”

                “We’re almost there. Joel’s with me.”

                “Okay, good. I’m coming,” I say, crossing my porch and hauling my front door open. “Let me just call Mom. I’ll borrow the car.”

                Chelsea’s still crying when I storm down the hallway toward my bedroom.

                “Emmie, I can’t find Deacon…”

                “Your brother never answers his phone,” I say, pushing open my door. “I’ll run by the docks first and—”

                “No. No, he was there. He was at the house.”

                Chelsea makes a strangled sound, and I notice the liquid-thick heat in my bedroom. The kind of heat that tells me the air conditioner is broken. Or my window is open.

                My gaze drags to my fluttering white curtains, to the dark smudge on the windowsill.

                Chelsea’s voice goes low and raspy. “He ran, Emmie. God, he was there with Dad. He was in the house, but he ran.”

                I swivel with an invisible fist lodged in my throat. My bathroom door is open, a red-black smudge beneath the knob.

                My mouth goes dry, my pulse thumping slower than it should. Then I see the blood on the floor by my sink, and my heart tumbles end over end.

                “We’re here. I’ll call soon,” Chelsea says and hangs up.

                I see him, his back to my tub and his dark head bowed on one bent knee. Oh God.

                He’s covered in blood. It’s on his legs, his hands. Dripping onto my white tile floor. He looks up, and my heart goes strangely steady.

                I take a breath that tastes like purpose. “Deacon?”

Friday, September 25, 2015

Foodie Pick: Voracious

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books
by Cara Nicoletti
Little Brown and Company
274 pages with index and recipes!
ISBN: 9780316242998

Supremely satisfying, divinely dulcet, and totally transcendent, Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books is sure to satiate the most voracious readers, eaters, and foodies.  Cara Nicoletti marries two passions of life: reading and eating. The two truly are connected after all.

Nicoletti shares each book and her own thoughts about the food found within and what it brought to the characters, tone, and plot of each novel. From Nancy Drew to Charlotte's Web and Where the Red Fern Grows  to Les Miserables to the Aeneid to Middlesex, Nicoletti delivers  up her dish on great books and the culinary creations they inspire.

To Kill a Mockingbird impacts many readers with its message of defending the underdog. The novel is full of food (as is the South). Nicoletti regales readers with descriptions from the book: "....scuppernongs, dewberry tarts, peach pickles, hickory nuts, cherry wine, butter beans and Lane cake..." I thought I was the only reader on the planet who was bothered by some of these foods. I was fourteen when I read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I took to the dictionary for a definition of scuppernongs--this was a  pre-Google, pre-Internet era. I discovered scuppernongs are a variety of grapes that grow in the South. I looked everywhere for someone who could tell me what the heck a Lane cake was. Finally I found an old Southern lady on the golf course--where else?--who told me Lane cakes are popular in the South and loaded with booze ("shiney"--i.e. moonshine). To Kill a Mockingbird brought the South to life for readers everywhere. Biscuits are a staple of every diet in the South. They are so prevalent In Maycomb, Calpurnia shines Scout's shoes with a biscuit. In honor of Harper Lee's classic, Nicoletti provides a recipe for Biscuits with Molasses Butter. She also gives cooks helpful tips throughout. For example, you can freeze pre-formed, unbaked biscuits.

For The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Nicoletti writes about the description of Ichabod Crane and his "insatiable and all-consuming hunger." Ichabod is  a lowly school teacher, not a wealthy landowner. He salivates over Katrina Van Tassel's family table and their hearty meals. Everywhere Ichabod goes, he sees an abundance of food, "...he beheld vast store of apples; some hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees; some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market; others heaped up in rich piles for the cider-press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn..." In honor of Ichabod, Nicoletti offers up Buckwheat Pancakes to which you can add toppings of maple syrup, peanut butter, bananas, honey, or smoked salmon which she admits with humor,  "I've tried them (the pancakes) with all of these toppings, for research purposes, of course."

Rebecca, my all time favorite Gothic read, gets full literary and culinary treatment here. The food abounds in this novel. There is literally food everywhere and it is shocking to see the depth and breadth of it. For breakfast they dine on: "...scrambled eggs and bacon, fish, boiled eggs, porridge, and ham...and entire table of condiments for the toast and scones--jam, marmalade and honey--as well as dessert dishes and mountains of fresh fruit." The narrator in Rebecca never reveals her name which makes this  novel all the more creepily Gothic and romantic.  For Rebecca, Nicoletti gives a nod to our nameless heroine and creates an ambrosia called  Blood Orange Marmalade.

Readers will devour every recipe and anecdote with gustatory glee. This novel is a treasure trove for the eye, the mind, the soul and the palate. Truly a rare find!

Highly, highly recommended for foodies, readers, cooks, chefs, and eaters everywhere. If you know a foodie, this book is a delectable gift that they will treasure! This is one book I will return to again and again for the food and for the stories!

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Adult Book Club Pick: This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
by Jonathan Evison
Algonquin Books
304 pages
ISBN: 9781616202613

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is about 78 year old Harriet Chance and the small and big things she has faced in her life. Harriet, daughter of a prominent attorney, has all the trappings of a successful childhood. She lives a cultured life of country club tennis and debutante balls. Her father pushes her to study law--to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps if Harriet were born a few decades later, this may have happened. Poor Harriet, born too soon! Women still earning less than half a man's salary and certainly not able to complete law school, men chuckling behind their backs. Harriet finds herself trapped in the traditional role of wife and mother.

The novel is told by a sometimes annoying omniscient narrator. Through his or her(?) insight, Harriet's life is examined under a glaring microscope. Human beings are complicated and all humans have secrets. Maybe the truth becomes clouded over the years. Memories fade. Lies are told. If enough lies are told enough times, lies become the truth. Hopping around over seven decades of a woman's life is sometimes a jarring experience. Jonathan Evison must have planned it that way. However off-putting it is, it works. As Harriet's world comes undone, the decades change. Suddenly we are back with seven year old Harriet or teen Harriet waiting for her date.

Full of heart and compassion, full of woe and sorrow, full of unfinished business and untold secrets, this is one novel that will make you think. This story will resonate with many baby boomers. It is the story of America and past eras where hope was high, expectations soared, the economy was booming and America was still number one.

The story is told as a series of scenes--think back to television's "This Is Your Life." Evison's writing is incomparable but Harriet's story, although probably the story of many 78 year old widows, is weighty. This is life under scrutiny.

Recommended for book clubs. This is not necessarily a "feel good" book. Looking back at someone's past with all its broken promises and scattered dreams is taxing at times.

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book In Verse Pick: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings (A Memoir)

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings (A Memoir)
by Margarita Engle
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
189 pages
ISBN: 9781481435222

Enchanted, indeed! Readers will experience the sights and sounds of Cuba through Margarita Engle's triumphant YA book. Engle captivates and transcends decades and distance. Remembering back to her youth spent in Cuba before the Cold War, Engle describes an enchanted  island of sun, sea, horses, farms, fragrant flowers, bright colors, music and tropical fruit. The lime picked by her grandmother is the most fragrant lovely thing young Margarita has ever tasted.

When her family moves to smoggy Los Angeles, she is forced into a school where she's an outsider. As she looks at the other students, she realizes that she will never fit in. The girl longs for her other home, her island home. She misses her Abuelita and the enchanted air of Cuba.

April 1961 brings the Bay of Pigs, a failed U.S. attempt to control Cuba and Margarita is looked upon as the enemy by classmates. She is afraid that she may have to go to a war camp like Japanese Americans during World War II. The girl retreats into books where she can be free. 1962 is the beginning of the Cold War and American school children are taught to hide under their desks for nuclear drills. Grown ups whisper and people are visibly shaken. America is afraid of Cuba and the Soviet Union. America holds its breath as the President continues talks with Khrushchev. America closes its doors to Cuba.

Margarita's family may never see their relatives again.  Engle writes in the author's note, "While I was writing Enchanted Air, my hope was that normalization would begin before it went to press. That prayer has been answered....one of the closest neighbors of the United States is just beginning to be accessible to other American citizens."

Young Margarita lives for books and poetry, spending much of her time visiting the library. She writes, "Books become my refuge./Reading keeps me hopeful." How many readers  have escaped through books? The written word is powerful indeed, connecting a lonely child with a world outside her four walls and a country that does not welcome her. The "two wings" are the two countries: America and Cuba, her two lives so different yet both a part of her.

Readers will engage with the verse structure of the book. Easy and accessible to readers, even reluctant ones, Enchanted Air is a great addition to any multi-cultural studies collection or classroom.
Engle describes the historical incidents of the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs from a child's point of view. It is powerful and poignant.

Highly, highly recommended grade 6-up. This is one book that has many teaching opportunities: history, sociology, English, poetry, and teach it for the love of literature!

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sweet Romance Pick: Frosted Kisses

Frosted Kisses
by Heather Hepler
272 pages
ISBN: 9780545792598

Available October 27, 2015

A sweet surprise just in time for Halloween!

Heather Hepler has done it again! Following the wildly successful and entertaining The Cupcake Queen, Hepler takes readers back to Hog's Hollow, a teensy town where Penny Lane's (her mother loves the Beatles, obviously)  newly divorced mother has opened The Cupcake Queen, the sweetest bakery the town has ever seen. Penny helps at the bakery, spends time with BFF Tally working odd jobs to help the animal shelter buy a new generator and pitches in with boyfriend Marcus to build a  scale model of the solar system to honor  his mother's  memory.

Penny faces hard times: this is the first year her dad won't be around for the holidays. Mean girl Charity is still a pain, but now Penny faces competing for Marcus's time with super model lookalike Esmerelda.  Penny's mom is being secretive about something and Penny plans to find out what is going on.

Penny juggles  work, school, her fractured friendship with Tally, her mother/father divorce issues, Gram's secret, volunteering, raising money and hoping/praying/dreaming that Marcus likes her. And she does it all with aplomb and humor and a few tears.

The girls are in crisis in Frosted Kisses. So many life changes are happening it's hard for Penny to take in. Thank goodness she can always depend on her true friends. Sometimes though, true friends have problems of their own. Penny may have to navigate treacherous waters on her own.

Someone is out to get Penny, leaving her cryptic messages, damaging her property and undermining her relationship with Marcus. Penny needs to get to the bottom of the mystery before something more serious occurs.

My favorite character besides Penny is Tally's "almost boyfriend" Brandon. He has a great sense of humor and always appears just in the nick of time. Readers will fall in love with him, too. Every girl should have a Brandon as a BFF,

Recommended grade 7-up. No language. A couple of sweet kisses.

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Bedtime Pick: Putting the Monkeys To Bed

Putting the Monkeys To Bed
by Gennifer Choldenko
Illustrations by Jack E. Davis
G.P. Putnam's Sons
32 pages
ISBN: 9780399246234

Hilarious, warm, and comforting with a bit of silliness and sass, Putting the Monkeys To Bed is a sweet story of how one boy is finally  able to calm himself and his "monkeys" down for the night.

Sam is unhappy about having to go to sleep. He still has a million questions and wants his mom to come in and answer them. He would like another story, but Mom is adamant. She tells Sam to go to sleep and that she will answer his questions in the morning. She tells Sam to practice his breathing--deep, calming breaths. Sam's monkeys have other ideas and soon make the breathing part of a happy monkey song. When Sam decides to "read" his favorite book---one that he knows by heart--the monkeys cuddle up closer and soon all are  fast asleep. Never doubt the power of a book! If a book  can calm Sam and his monkeys, it is powerful indeed!

This is a cute read  for all those little ones who positively hate bedtime and will use any excuse to stay awake. When the deep, calming breaths don't help, a story will.

Highly recommended pre-school.

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Back To School Giveaway: Standoff (book 2)

Praise for Stand-Off:
*"A brave, wickedly funny novel about grief and finding a way to live with it, with sweetly realistic first sexual experiences." (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

*"Ryan Dean’s voice remains engaging, honest, and idiosyncratic (a page-long internal monologue follows his discovery of two teammates in a compromising situation). Smith capably expands on Ryan Dean’s coming-of-age and path to emotional recovery, chronicled through his crude comics and growing maturity." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

"Smith has created a consistently interesting character whose singular sense of humor grows on readers. Plus, he nails the rough-and-tumble sport of rugby. This sequel won’t disappoint fans." (Booklist)

*"The novel succeeds not only as an emotionally satisfying sequel but as a hopeful, honest account of coping with a devastating loss." (School Library Journal, starred review)

I have FIVE free copies of Standoff  up for grabs! Score your free copy! To enter, post a comment on the blog. Include your first name, city, state and email contact. Deadline for posts is noon MST on September 10. Winners are chosen randomly by Randomizer. Winners will be notified on September 10. Please check you email on that date. Winners have 24 hours to respond to an email from me. Books will ship from New York. Good luck! Start posting!

In my review:

I loved Stand Off. Sequels usually can't compare to the first book, but Andrew Smith has another winner on his hands. Ryan Dean is my FAVORITE YA protagonist of all time and I'll say it again: Watch out, Holden Caulfield!

If you don't know Andrew Smith, what are you waiting for? 100 Sideways Miles and Grasshopper Jungle are also sublime reads.

Halloween Pick: The Sweetest Witch Around

The Sweetest Witch Around
(a companion to the NY Times bestselling a Very Brave Witch)
by Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Herry Bliss
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
2014 (paperback edition 2015)
32 pages
ISBN: 9781442478336 (hardcover)
9781442478350 (paperback)
Also available as an Ebook

School Library Journal:

"Borrowing a few elements from comic books, the text consists exclusively of speech balloons...Full page ink and watercolor spreads contain some funny details, like 'Graveyard Barbie' or a can labeled, 'Slugs, Organic.''

My Review:

Sweet and wonderful, brimming with charm and humor, The Sweetest Witch Around is one sweet treat just in time for Halloween!

A pair of sisters discuss human behavior on Halloween. The older sister realizes that humans are not frightening--not at all as scary as the other witches fear. She thinks that she should introduce human behaviors to her younger sister. She introduces her younger sibling to something humans love: candy! And since it's Halloween, the younger sister decides she will go on an adventure to watch humans in their natural habitat and score some candy for herself.

The sisters with their funny, trusty cat in tow set off on broomstick to experience Halloween night. Humor abounds as humans encounter the trio. From a cat who says, "Holy whiskers," and "Holy catnip!" to  a bulging witch's hat full of candy to a flying broom to delighted Trick or Treaters who scream with joy to see the witches streaking across the night sky dumping their load of candy, this book is perfect for Halloween or anytime.

I loved the sweet sibling relationship of the older sister who takes it upon herself to educate her younger sister in the ways of humans and who tries to keep her safe. The cat is the perfect pet--nearly human himself. If you're out for Halloween this year, keep your eyes on the sky. You just might spot the sisters spying on human youngsters.

Highly, highly recommended for Halloween and anyone who loves a witch tale. Perfect for introducing Halloween and Trick or Treating.  Beginning readers.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Phonics Help Pick: Frog on a Log?

Frog on a Log?
by Kes Gray
Illustrations by Jim Field
Scholastic Press
32 pages
ISBN: 9780545687911

(ebook also available)

* Review, Kirkus Reviews:

"The clear, guffaw-inducing illustrations and repetition and rhyme give all the support (new readers) need for success. Mo Willems fans will find this a perfect challenge, and storytime will never be the same. Impossible to resist." --Kirkus Reviews 

A friendly but inquisitive frog asks a bossy, know-it-all cat where he should sit. The cat orders him to sit on a log, but Frog doesn't want anything to do with sitting on a hard, cold log or the possibility of  getting splinters in his backside.  He asks the cat question after question about each animal  and the rule of where each should sit. The unflappable cat  tells the frog exactly where each should sit. 

The dynamic rhyming and fun word play will have parents smiling and children giggling. Not only will the rhyme teach kids the pronunciation of words, the frog asks about animals not normally included in picture books.   Kids can add hares, mules, gophers, storks, weasels, moles, newts, puffins, and gibbons to their vocabulary.

The cat explains each animal's seating preference until the frog asks the ultimate question and one that is bound to end with a belly laugh! You may not want to read this clever book as a bedtime story unless you want to wake little ones up! I can't imagine a child who would not be fully awake and questioning and begging for more after reading this book. Frog on a Log? is bound to be that favorite childhood  book that your toddler will ask for again and again and again (you get the picture).

I LOVED this children's book. I can see this being used in English as a Second Language classes to teach phonics and using it to teach rhyme as a poetic device.

Highly, highly recommended for every emergent reader of any age. This one is great fun!

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

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)