Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender

Kids are always, ALWAYS asking me "where can I find a scary book", and I love suggesting The Devouring by Simon Holt. Now, however, I will be glad to hand over Katie Alender's brand spanking new novel, Bad Girls Don't Die. (Shoot - just check out that cover...that alone would sell it!!!)

Our main character, Alex, has a somewhat dysfunctional family. Dad - disconnected. Mom - workaholic. Sister - her sister is sweet and Alex genuinely loves her. Alex herself is shut off from people. Pink haired rebel, she doesn't have many/any friends at school.

Alex begins to notice things around her house and about her sis. Something isn't quite right, but she can't put her finger on it. Alex begins to wonder if she is going crazy, or if she's really experiencing the things she thinks she is. She starts noticing small things - like the pasta boiling on the stove top...the stove top that she never turned on...or did she?? And what's up with the changes in her sister?

As we race with Alex to find out the truth, we learn we are minutes away from a deadline that will change everything.

Readers of supernatural thrillers won't be disappointed with this ditty.
Chalked full of interesting twists and turns, you will be unable to put this book down, fully engaged until the last page!

Watch the incredibly creepy trailer by clicking here!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Two Girls of Gettsburg by Lisa Klein

We often hear historical tales of brother fighting brother during the Civil War. Author Lisa Klein takes it a step further in her new novel, Two Girls of Gettysburg. Cousins Rosanna and Lizzie are average teenage girls living in Gettysburg when the novel starts. They attend school, they have crushes on boys, they have families.

When the Civil War begins, driven by their convictions, all of Lizzie's family joins the Union cause. Her father joins the Union and her brother sneaks off in the night to follow him.

Rosanna runs away back to her family home in Richmond and aligns her convictions with those of the Confederacy. These two girls who were best friends, now find themselves on opposite sides of the war.

Immature Rosanna is married, widowed, and becomes a field nurse, finding more courage and confidence than she would have thought possible.

With all of the men in Lizzie's life gone, she must pick up the mantle and run the family business until things "return to normal". She must face tough choice that will affect her whole family and face down issues that will change lives forever.

When a battle of epic proportions converges on the town of Gettysburg. Each girl will be tested.

As each girl grows and changes within the context of a war that tore apart the country, the reader is taken on a historical journey of remarkable heroism and hardship.
Klein does a spectacular job of creating a fiction work that maintains accuracy while weaving a fascinating plot.
It is a slow and thorough read, as you do not want to lose even one detail included in the writing.
More than that, however, this novel plants some very good ideas about how things were for women left at home when the war commenced: their fears, their hopes, the stories that we don't always hear because the battles were so horrific and took up the focus of the nation.
It is a novel about women facing down very serious choices and persevering during immense personal hardships. It is a novel about both contributions and sacrifices.

Find out more about this amazing author by clicking here!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe

So this book, Freeze Frame, had been sitting on my desk awhile. I didn't know anything about it, just that it was on my reading list. From the MINUTE I opened the page, Ayarbe had me completely hooked. I could not put this book down. I just knew that if I stopped reading, I would be haunted by Kyle's next move and I couldn't take it.

We begin with best friends Jason and Kyle horsing around at breakfast. After they push things too far with Kyle's sister, they decide to head out to the woodshed and see what treasures they can find.

What they find is Kyle's father's gun. And somehow that gun goes off and Jason is shot in the chest. At 10:46 he dies.

Kyle feels like he should be put on trial and convicted of murder. Things can't get any worse than how he already feels. How is he ever going to get over this? It is too large.

While waiting for his trial, Kyle meets with a shrink, a lady that he can't quite get comfortable with. He tries to write the scene of what happened that day, the day when he shot his best friend, but he simply can't remember. When he finds out that his only punishment is to have a parole officer that he meets with in addition to the shrink, he can't wrap his mind around it. How can they just let him go? He should get the death sentence. And maybe that is what the kids at school are for? They don't let him off the hook as easily as the justice system does. They ostracize him, beat him up, force him to stand up for himself...which only gets him into more trouble with his parole officer.

Along the way, though, Kyle forms several cathartic relationships. One is with Jason's younger brother, Chase. Kyle promises Jas that he will watch over his little brother, and it is a promise that he intends to keep. He meets Chase every day after school to protect him from the bullies. Chase dubs him the Orange Dragon because of his shoes and his "job" as bouncer.
Kyle also gets to know the school librarian through In-School-Suspension and through lunches where he doesn't quite feel comfortable enough to eat in the caf. While exploring life's truths through the novels Mr. Cordoba gives him, Kyle starts to learn about what it means to be a friend, to have a friend, and ultimately, to lose a friend.

Love, loss, personal ownership of deeds, and healing are all written so well by Ayarbe that you can't help but get involved in Kyle's life and his feelings.

As a side note, when I wrote the author to tell her how much I enjoyed her novel, she wrote back and was very appreciative. She also shared that Freeze Frame was just announced as the IRA's 2009 Children & YA Fiction Award. Kudos to a job well done!!

To read more from the author about this fantastic book, which is middle and hs appropriate, click here!!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine

Since Rowan's brother died, she has been holding her family together...and things are unraveling quickly. When someone gives her a film negative and insists that it fell out of her bag, Rowan's whole life is on the verge of exploding.

Once the negative is developed, Rowan finds it is a picture of her brother before he died.
She seeks answers at home, but gets very little support. Instead, she is left to count her mother's pills to make sure she isn't overdosing. She is also left to raise her six year old sister. No one is taking care of Rowan, though...and as the truth about the negative unfurls, Rowan will be changed forever.

Sad, poignant, won't be disappointed with this bitter sweet story about loss and love.
Click here to view more info!!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

We've heard of the Mercury 7, the brave men who trained to become the first US Astronauts. The men who put aside their fear of dying, to test out new methodologies that would propel us into space before the Russians.

These men are heroes.
But the story we don't often hear is the story of Mercury 13, as equally heroic group of people who were campaigning not only for the US to be the first in space, but for equal rights. The year was 1958 and it was very clear, from the tone set by the nation that a woman's place was in the home. Sure, during the Great Wars women had taken important roles such as flying and helping build machinery, but everyone knew that (white, middle class) women were the fairer sex and should be relegated to more genteel roles.

The Mercury 13 didn't like that portrait, so they shook things up. To begin, they took the same physical and mental tests that the men of Mercury 7 took. They competed on the exact same level...and even excelled. Next, they lobbied in Washington for recognition and for approval.
Despite fighting other women, set notions for the time period, and Washington Brass, these women pushed past barriers and paved the way for the future.

The story of the Mercury 13 Women could be perceived as a sad tale...despite all of the good that they did, they ultimately ran up against prejudice and discrimination that would not be least not for awhile. However, this tale could also be perceived as a victory. Because of what these brave women did, challenging all types of preconceived notions and barriers, they did change what happened next. Because of their hard work, minorities and women eventually began to pilot their own planes and, ultimately, command a spacecraft.

These women weren't ever able to pilot those military crafts themselves, but because of the work that they did, today things are different.

Tanya Lee Stone creates an easy to read biography/historical revelation with her latest non-fiction work. I was as intrigued with the text as I was with the numerous photos that were included. What these women went through was amazing. Yeah for them!!!

I love being a librarian, but it is GREAT to know that, if I wanted to, I could be the captain of a space shuttle. :)
Thank you, remarkable ladies of Mercury 13!!!

Surface Tension by Brent Runyon

Surface Tension
by Brent Runyon amused me on different levels.
As a teacher, it was very funny to read about this kid who progresses over several watch his voice change from loving child to disaffected youth. I am not sure that students would find it as hilarious, as they might still be in the midst of "the change", which is why it helps that the story is also interesting. As a former teenager, I completely remember exactly how this story went for myself.

Now, this isn't a face paced novel that is going to blow your socks off. It's a meandering tale that begins in the 13th summer of Luke's life. Every summer Luke's family packs up and journeys to their lake cottage. They spend about two weeks there, take in a local baseball game, soak up the sun, have cookouts with the neighbors.

The plot description below contains some spoilers, so if you're planning on giving Surface Tension a read, you should pause here until you finish it... :)

In his 13th summer, Luke loves being with his parents. He loves being at the lake and taking it all in.
At 14, Luke's parents are idiots and he can hardly stand to be around them. He is slightly interested in some girls that also visit their summer cottages, but largely, he is just disgusted with life in general. They do have a new neighbor who flies a Confederate flag, which has everyone up in arms. The neighbor is a minister and is kind of a jerk.
At 15, Luke brings his BF down to the lake. All of the things that Luke loves about the lake, his friend doesn't "get", so Luke begins to regret bringing his friend down. They do manage to get into some trouble, the minister is still the catalyst to most issues.
At 16, Luke doesn't want to be at the lake at all. He misses his girlfriend. Time is moving slowly. The issues with the minister have escalated. But that summer, Luke saves a little girl from a house fire and he really comes into himself.

All in all, the book had a story of it's own to tell.
Seeing Luke transition over four summers is a unique way to tell a tale, and I think Runyon did a great job of capturing the truth of those years where you don't know who you are and then you start your own personal evolution.
In that way, kids will connect with Luke.

Click here to read an excerpt!!

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

Fergus is eighteen. He is on the verge of completing his exams and, perhaps, going on to be a doctor. It is the 1980s in Ireland, and things are tumultuous at best. Fergus' own brother is in jail for his part in radical terrorist activity. Things are a mess...and that is before his brother joins the Hunger Strike.

Fergus has a lot on his mind. One morning while he and his Uncle are out and about, Fergus sees a human hand sticking up out of the bog. They immediately call the authorities. Since they are on the wrong side of the country line, they make up a story about birdwatching. When the body is exhumed from the bog, archaeologists discover that the bog child is actually a girl from the Iron Age.

As events at home begin to snowball for Fergus (and huge surprises are in story for the reader), more and more of the bog child's story comes to the reader from Fergus' dreams. The reader discovers the truth of why the bog child was executed and what part she played in the history of the time period.

This novel sat on my desk for probably three months. The cover isn't great and I struggled with the desire to read it. However, now that I have completed it and thought about it for a few days, I have decided that I am sad that I waited so long. Siobhan Dowd did a great job with all of the different plot strings she was weaving. The story was interesting - compelling even, with romance, intrigue, subterfuge, and good old Catholic Guilt. The historical aspects from the bog child's era, as well as from 1980s Ireland were fascinating. I was very impressed with this novel...and very sad to learn that the author has recently passed away. You can read more about Siobhan Dowd and her other novels by clicking here.

The bottom line: you have to savor this novel. It isn't fast reading because you don't want to blow by any of the important details that Dowd scatters throughout her well planned text. It is well worth checking out, however. Perhaps - good summer reading???? (34 days...)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Far From You by Lisa Schroeder

Alice's mother died of cancer a few years back. Her father has moved on, remarried, and recently had a second daughter. Alice views all of this as a slight betrayal and chooses not to engage in family activities. She has a secret hatred of her step-mother, Victoria, and the baby is wearing her out.

When her dad forces her to drive with the family to Victoria's parents house for Thanksgiving, Alice will do almost anything to avoid this trip. It doesn't matter, though. She is roped into the trip in order to help with the baby while on the road.

Thanksgiving isn't horrible, at least it isn't as horrible as Alice expected. However, her father is called back to work, forcing Victoria, Alice, and the baby to ride home together in the car. And since nothing can be easy, Alice wakes up after a Tylenol pm induced nap, to find that the car has broken down and that it is snowing heavily.
Victoria assures her that every thing will be fine, that once her father realizes they are late, he will send for help. As the evening progresses, Alice and Victoria have nothing to do but talk. They come to an understanding about each other and their relationship. There is hope.

An extreme snowstorm kicks up, however, and soon the car is covered in snow. Victoria and Alice realize that they have very few supplies and that help isn't coming. Victoria decides that if any of them are going to survive this ordeal, then she must go into the blizzard and search for aide.

Left alone with the baby and dwindling supplies, Alice begins to see an angel...but is the angel coming to watch over her until Victoria returns? Or is the angel there to take her home?

Compelling from start to finish, this verse style novel will keep you turning pages right up until the shocking end.

The Market by J.M. Steele

Imagine that you find out your school has a stock-market type system that rates the girls in your class from #1 (a primo slot) to #140 (needs some work). You are just an average girl...not too popular, not too famous. You look fine, but you know that you could do're just not concerned with it. You have good friends and a supportive family. Imagine that you find out you're ranked #71 on this list.

Now...that isn't HORRIBLE, but it also isn't great. And while you weren't concerned with things like your looks before, now it is front and center in your life.

This is what happens with Kate Winthrop.
71 is hard on her ego, but she can get past that for the sake of money. Her friends convince her to play "The Market", to undergo an extreme make-over and to buy into this market in hopes of winning the final pot.
She enlists the help of said best friends do help with the extreme make-over: One friend tackles wardrobe, one friend tackles physical appearance. Suddenly, Kate is stunning. She is a blonde, she is well dressed, and people are starting to take notice.
But as Kate's market value skyrockets and she is incorporated into the popular clique, she forgets who she is.

Will she remember before it's too late?

A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker

On the first day of school the principal announces that a new curriculum has been added and all seniors must participate in order to graduate. This curriculum is to help students be better equipped for marriage and to help combat the 50% failure rate of marriages in America. Students are paired up randomly and "married" for the year with several sets of tasks they must complete.
Far fetched premise, I know...but author Kristin Walker works this plot like crazy, creating a completely likable cast of characters, a quick moving plot, and tons of laugh-out-loud moments! I loved this book!!

Fiona might be a little hard to get along with: she is a prickly personality, a little nerdy, a little opinionated, and unrelenting. She is forced to "marry" the head male cheerleader, Todd. Fiona is flabbergasted. How can this be? They are the worst match on the planet AND Todd's girlfriend, Amanda, is Fiona's arch-nemesis from grade school.

To make matters worse, Fiona's best friend has just announced that she is in love with Fee's life long crush and that she finds Fiona to be too self-absorbed to be a good friend. Fiona is, of course, hurt on many levels and left without a friend on whom she can rely.

Despite the hardships, Fiona's senior year is filled with non-stop hilarious situations. Fiona learns a great deal about herself as she deals with these trials and tribulations, as well as how to better interact with other people.

It is laugh-out-loud funny in many places, but it will also give readers time to pause and think about priorities, relationships, and making the most out of trying situations.