A Little Something Different

A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall, Swoon Reads, 2014. ISBN: 9781250061454. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

a little something

Do we realize how many people watch us? Lea and Gabe are two shy, awkward and undeniably likable college students. When they find themselves in the same creative writing class, it’s clear to Inga, the instructor that they are the ‘couple’ for that semester. She’s picked two students every term that she’s convinced are made for each other and has often tailored the assignments to help them find each other.

Inga’s not the only one who realizes that Lea and Gabe are meant for each other. The barristas at the local Starbucks get it, Maxine, the older and slightly cynical but still romantic waitress at a nearby restaurant sees their unconscious attraction, Gabes’ older brother Sam in in, as is Lea’s roommate Maribel. Heck even the friendly campus squirrel and a bench that thinks Gabe’s butt is the best one that ever sat on it gets their unconscious mutual attraction. In fact Lea and Gabe are possibly the least aware of how made for each other they are…At least when they’re near each other.

Told from fourteen different viewpoints, this is a maddeningly delightful love story. At times you want to scream something like “Can you two get a clue, for heaven’s sake?”, but as their history is revealed, particularly the tragic events that affected Gabe during what should have been his sophomore year, you can’t help but become sympathetic and start rooting for them to get that bag of clues that’s dancing in front of them.

This is a risky book. Keeping this many viewpoints clean and interesting is no mean feat, but the author pulls it off quite nicely. Teens and many adults who remember how awkward the dating scene was when they were younger will like this book a lot. It’s certainly a good addition for both school and public libraries.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Frances Dean: Who loved to dance and dance

Cover ArtFrances Dean: Who loved to dance and dance. Written by Birgitta Sif. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.  A lovely story in which a young girl, who (secretly) loves to dance, learns how to overcome her shyness so that she can share her gift with others.

The author’s work is wonderfully crafted, choosing words that “paint a picture” in the mind of the reader, “At school sometimes, when no one was watching, she danced with her fingers on her desk. Or she gently tapped her toes to the beat of her teacher’s voice. But mostly she couldn’t wait to go outside and dance!”

Illustrations are drawn in pencil and colored digitally, in muted shades of color.  Each page has many fine details for observant young picture book lovers to study and consider.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade K-3, Picture Book, Preschool

The Truth Against the World

The Truth Against the World by Sarah Jamila Stevenson, Flux, 2014. ISBN: 9780738740584. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS

truth against

Olwen Nia Evans, Wyn for short, loves her grandmother Rhiannon a lot and through her has developed a fascination for things Welch. She knows some of her family history, but not as much as she would like. When Gee Gee, as she calls her gran, learns she’s dying, she asks to do so in the small Welsh town she left a long time ago. Wyn has mixed feelings. She’s going to miss her friends and home, but is excited at the opportunity to learn more of her gram’s native language and the country where she grew up. She’s been blogging online under the title Born To Wyn about her thoughts and about a series of dreams she’s had that are making sleep a very elusive quality. She’s beginning to wonder if anyone reads what she writes when she gets an email from a boy her age who lives in England named Gareth Lewis. He’s just returned from visiting his great grandfather in Wales. While there, he found a burial cairn with Olwen Nia Evans: 1944-1950, inscribed on it. Right after finding it, he tripped, losing his cell phone in a small cavern under a large burial cairn. Inside a ghostly little girl tells him she’s lonely and hands him his phone before vanishing. Gareth, extremely unsettled by the experience, googled the name and found Wyn’s blog. As they email and Skype each other they realize that the dreams and images they’ve begun to have are similar.

When Wyn and her family arrive in Wales, plans have been made for Gareth to come for another visit with his great grandfather who lives in the same village. By the time he arrives, Wyn has realized that Gee Gee has never told anyone much about what happened before she married and moved to America. Wyn is desperate to get her to talk before she dies. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen and she and Gareth must play detective, something her parents make extremely difficult, in order to uncover the connection between the mysterious ghost, Gee Gee and what took place over fifty years ago. What they uncover is a connection neither could have imagined

This is a neat juvenile mystery with some fantasy elements. Tweens who like ghost stories and spunky heroines will like it a lot.

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9

The True Cost of Fashion

The True Cost of Fashion. Written by Louise Spilsbury. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.  This is book one in a four part series entitled How to Shop to Change the World. This particular volume focuses on the fashion industry and how supply chains work.  Readers will learn about sweatshops, how the fashion industry impacts the lives of workers, their health and the environment, what “fair trade” is and the emergence of eco-fashion.  Readers will discover how their choices affects others and how they can shop to change the world.

This is a enlightening series that is worth having.  The topics addressed are engaging and will give young readers a glimpse of the industrial world that is often hidden behind corporate greed, a culture of excess and glaring advertisements.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9, Nonfiction

The Whole Story of Half A Girl

The Whole Story of Half A girl by Veera Hiranandani, Delacorte Press, 2012. ISBN: 9780385741286. reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

whole story

Sonia is looking forward to a fun summer hanging out with her best friend Sam and looking forward to rejoining her classmates at the private school she and her little sister attend, come fall. Things change suddenly when her dad gets fired from his job as a salesman for a publishing company. Money becomes tight, she’ll have to go to a public school and she and Sam start drifting apart.

Dad starts acting odd, but she likes the fact that he’s taken over cooking and doesn’t make anything with tofu. She’s bothered by the tension between her parents, the fact that mom has to work longer hours at the college where she teaches and her father’s abrupt mood changes.

When she starts at the public middle school, Sonia is faced with her own version of culture shock. She’s never really thought much about her heritage. She’s half Jewish and half Indian and trying to explain whether she’s white or black is confusing, even to her. She makes friends with ultra popular Kate and agrees to try out for the sixth grade cheering squad, but at lunch, she’s torn because she brings bag lunches while the other girls buy theirs and feels a connection to Alisha, a black girl who is bussed in from Bridgeport because her local school is so bad.

Things seem to be improving when dad gets a new job with another publisher, but it soon becomes apparent to Sonia that her life isn’t back on an even keel. Dad is still acting different, Sam has become distant and got the lead part in the play the sixth grade traditionally writes and puts on at her old school. Kate’s lifestyle, including frequent trips to the mall, have Sonia questioning her own home and lifestyle and some of the other girls on the cheering squad aren’t very friendly.

When her dad vanishes on his way to the airport where he’ll fly to Hong Kong on a business trip, it feels like her life is coming apart, but it’s really about to begin making sense again. The process isn’t without pain and loss, but it helps Sonia realize what’s important and who she really is.

This is a quick read, but one with plenty of good aspects to it. Tweens and younger teens who have cultural issues, have experienced depression in a family member or who have had to make adjustments because of family financial problems will relate well to Sonia and her struggles to accept who and what she is.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9

Let’s Get Lost

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alisaid, Harlequin Teen, 2014. ISBN: 9780373211241. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

lets get lost

Leila is on her way to Alaska in her ‘everything red’ older car. She’s bound and determined to see the Northern Lights, for reasons that only become clear near the end of the book. She’s in no hurry, so the journey turns into more of an odyssey than a straight ‘go there, see that’ experience. Along the way, she meets four other teens, Hudson, Bree, Elliott and Sonia. More importantly, she profoundly affects each of their lives in a very short period of time.

Hudson is a teen auto mechanic who agrees to work on her car when she pulls up at his dad’s shop. He’s pumped because he’ll be meeting with a university official the next morning, a meeting that could net the scholarship which will lead to his eventually getting a medical degree. There’s an instant attraction between Leila and Hudson, one that grows until they swim out to an island in the Mississippi and spend the night together. When she confronts him about what’s really important to him the following morning, he’s bitter and in denial, so they part on unfriendly terms.

Next up is hitchhiker Bree, estranged from her sister after their parents died very close together in time. Neither sister has been able to break through their grief and connect, so Bree ran away, but being free and independent isn’t what she thought it would be. Leila is able to open her eyes and help her begin the all important healing process.

Elliott almost gets himself killed when he staggers into the road just as Leila drives past. He’s disconsolate because his best friend who he professes his love for at the prom, rejected him in front of everyone. Despite throwing up on himself, Elliott connects with Leila who makes an impulsive decision to use ’80s movie cheese to help him win over the girl of his dreams. How it plays out is pure reading enjoyment

Sonia is in a very tough emotional place. Her boyfriend of three years died suddenly last year while playing a game. His family had taken to her so much that she’s still a part of it, but she’s fallen in love with another guy who is also very close to her late boyfriend’s family. She’s terrified that if she comes out with her new relationship, her adopted family will reject her. Leila and Sonia embark on a cross border comedy of errors involving lost passports and wedding rings that’s probably the best of the four stories within a story.

When Leila reaches Alaska, we finally learn why she’s so intent on seeing the Northern Lights and her motivation is sad, sweet and gut wrenching. How she resolves her own issues around loss and sadness are a terrific ending for one of the best books I’ve read this year. Teens who have experienced a personal loss, who like a great romantic tale or a story with bits of magical realism and mystery in it will love this book. It’s a no-brainer add for libraries.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Fiendish

Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff, Razorbill, 2014. ISBN: 9781595146380. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

Fiendish

Want creepy? Want Southern Gothic with a paranormal twist? Read this book and get both. Clementine has been hidden away in the cellar under what remains of her house. She’s held by willow roots and floats in a dream state, aware of subtle sounds and movement around her. She’s been there for years, ever since someone took her there during what was called The Reckoning, a time when townspeople went crazy and torched homes of those they thought were involved in the Craft. When a strange boy named Fisher frees her, she discovers it’s been years since that insane night. Her home is destroyed, her mother dead and her favorite aunt wanders about in a haze, unable or unwilling to recognize her.

Clementine struggles to adjust with the help of her cousin Shiny who also possesses the power townspeople refer to as the Craft. Shiny tries to warn her off Fisher, but the attraction between the two is too powerful. They, along with Rae, a black girl who wasn’t targeted during the Reckoning, Fisher and Davenport, the sad daughter of a really crazy and dangerous man, make up a group Fisher’s grandmother says matches a surreal star painting that hangs in town. When they all become aware of their connection, the Craft in a scary area known as the Hollow, starts coming to life again and the teens must find a way to get things back to normal (or as normal as things can get when you live in a really creepy and unstable place).

How they survive makes for a really gripping read. There’s violence and creepiness aplenty, so I wouldn’t suggest this for younger teens. YA readers who like industrial strength strange with some very interesting characters will really like this book.

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Filed under Fantasy, Grade 10-12

A Hitch At The Fairmont

 

A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi, Athenum, 2014. ISBN: 9781442494473. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

a hitch at

Jack’s quite an artist for his age. He can draw almost anything, even places and people he’s seen very briefly. All he has to do is close his eyes and grip a pencil and something magic happens. Sadly, the only exception to this is his late father who was killed in World war II. No matter how hard Jack tries, he comes up blank. Before she vanished by driving a car into the ocean in an apparent suicide, his mom, a small time actress, told him that he looked just like his father.

The story opens in 1956 with Jack being hauled off from Los Angeles to San Francisco by his aunt Edith who not only is cruel and cold, but didn’t give him time to pack his own belongings. Instead, she packed two crates, one with some of his stuff, the other with stuff his mother left behind.

When they arrive in San Francisco, Jack discovers that his aunt is a permanent resident on an upper floor in the Fairmont Hotel and doesn’t trust anyone. She’s addicted to fancy chocolates which he has to get from a shop on the hotel’s main floor whenever she’s out. When he goes to get on the elevator for a late evening chocolate run, he’s greeted by a large man whose voice is eerily familiar. Jack recognizes one of his favorite TV personalities, Alfred Hitchcock and notices that he enters the room next to Aunt Edith’s.

When he returns with the chocolates, Jack discovers that his aunt has been kidnapped and a ransom note has been spelled out on her bed in chocolates she’d discarded because of their flavor. At first, he’s frozen and ready to panic. What can a ten year old boy who has recently been orphaned do? When he remembers who is in the next room, he begins to take control of things. It is a challenge to convince Mr. Hitchcock to help him, especially since he has a fear of policemen, but despite a comedy of errors when they try to report Aunt Edith’s abduction, Jack manages to get Alfred to help figure out what really happened to his aunt, why one of the supposed ransom notes may not have come from whoever grabbed her and what the real significance of the seven characters on the silver coffin-shaped charm allegedly left by his deceased father is. Before the crime is solved, Jack and his hero have disrupted the funeral of a perfect stranger by singing bawdy lyrics, dressed in drag, outwitted some really evil people and discovered an amazing secret about Jack’s late father. This is a fun read for tweens who like mysteries and books with plenty of action. If they know anything about the history of early television, that will make this even more fun to read. It’s a book worthy of a juvenile Edgar nomination as well as being in pretty much every public and school library.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9, Uncategorized

In Too Deep

In Too Deep by Coert Voorhees, Disney Hyperion, 2013. ISBN: 9781423140351 . Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS

In Too Deep

Annie Fleet doesn’t fit in as well as she’d like at the exclusive private school she attends. She’s on scholarship because her dad teaches there. He gave her his love of history and of lost treasure ships, but lost his own enthusiasm along the way. Her mom runs a barely breaking-even dive shop. Scuba diving is Annie’s other passion. Most of the teens attending the school have rich and famous parents like Josh, the son of a famous movie star that she’s crushing on. There’s no way on earth, she’ll ever get even a glance from him, or is there?

When Josh wants to get certified so he can dive on a trip his mother is planning, he uses Mom’s shop, but Mom thinks Annie’s better qualified to teach him. Josh, however, blows off the manual and what Annie is trying to teach him. The result is his nearly drowning in the practice pool and Annie has to perform rescue breathing. It’s not the way she’s imagined their mouths meeting, but it starts a slightly different connection between them, one that will drive her nuts as the story progresses.

Annie, Josh and siblings Kate and Nate are the only ones in her history class willing to sign on for a humanitarian trip with their teacher. Annie desperately wants to take her diving gear along, but Mom and Dad nix that. However, when the teens reach their destination, it’s soon clear that something else is going on. When their teacher convinces them that he may know the location of a clue to the Golden Jaguar, a huge gold statue supposedly left behind by Cortez, Annie’s all over diving for it, even if it means doing so at night and in unfamiliar waters. She’s nearly killed in the process, but finds something that just might lead to the mythical statue.

Unsure who to trust, she decides to keep her find a secret until she can figure out what to do. This is where things speed up and get really interesting. Between her roller-coaster relationship with Josh, made even more up and down because she’s pretty clueless about guy stuff, and the way she and Josh have to try and stay one step ahead of the bad guys, the story grabs you and doesn’t let go until the last page. There’s a great mix of action, mystery and romance here, creating a book that teens will really like.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Through To You

Through To You by Lauren Barnholdt, Simon Pulse, 2014. ISBN: 9781442434639. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

through to you

It started when Harper’s best friend Anna convinces her to put school color tinsel in her hair as an acknowledgment of school pride day. When Penn, an aloof, but hot guy in her class drops a folded note on her desk, Harper is surprised and intrigued by what it says “I like your sparkle.” Right after reading it, she’s called to the nurse’s office for the mandatory physical she’s avoided all year. Instead of going these, she heads for the bathroom.

Meanwhile, Penn’s going through mental gymnastics, wondering what in heck made him write the note in the first place. He’s a mess inside, in part because his dad is a serious binge drinker and the family pretends nothing is wrong. Then there’s the issue with his shoulder, the one seriously damaged in a collision at home plate with his former best friend. Penn has been told there’s no way it can be fixed, but there’s a tiny ray of maybe in the form of a specialist in Boston, but getting in to see her is almost impossible. In short, Penn is a hurting unit who hooks up, but shuts down when anything close to feelings are involved.

For reasons he can’t explain, Penn gets a bathroom pass and follows Harper. Before either know it, he’s convinced her to skip school and ride around with him. Thus begins the uneasy and so very interesting not-romance between a budding choreographer who has never even been kissed and a player who is a world of hurt inside and runs when anyone comes close to getting him to open up.

How Harper and Penn navigate this teen minefield makes for a great romantic read. I particularly like the way the author sets you up with a prologue called ‘The End” that has Harper crying her eyes out in a hotel bathroom. Teens who like romance, who have had their heart broken or who have painful family secrets will all like this book a lot. It’s a definite add for both school and public libraries.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12