How to Lead A Life of Crime

How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller (Penguin Young Readers Group – Razorbill), 2013. ISBN: 978-1595145185. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS

how to lead

Imagine Blade Runner meeting Harry Potter and then getting locked up with characters from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and you’d have the flavor of this one. Flick’s been living on the street and surviving by becoming an accomplished pickpocket. He’s pretty much numbed out after years of being beaten by his ultra-successful father, who looks perfect to the rest of the world, but is a monster at home after he’s consumed a certain amount of scotch. After Flick left, Dad turned on his younger brother and hit him one too many times, killing him. It was covered up, but Flick knows it was murder and would do anything to get a chance for revenge. In the mean time, he’s fallen in love with an exotic street girl named Joi who’s taken it upon herself to rescue as many homeless kids as possible. Even though Flick loves her, he forces himself to leave because his need for revenge is stronger than his feelings for her.

When he’s approached by Lucien Mandel who wants to recruit him for the ultra elite and secret Mandel Academy, Flick starts to blow him off, but Lucien makes him an offer he can’t refuse. If he agrees and makes it to graduation, He’ll get a file full of proof his father killed his brother.

The Academy will remind many of the training Katniss and her competitors went through in preparation for the Hunger Games, but it runs full semesters, there’s a top student known as a Dux and the lowest in each class, while supposedly are allowed to go home after they fail out, end up with a far grimmer fate. As Flick gets to know the other students and begins to realize how completely corrupt the whole process is, Lucien ups the ante and all of a sudden Flick is in direct competition for the top spot with the love of his life, Joi, but he can hard;y recognize the cold, hardened and ruthless girl who has no problem taking down and terrorizing even the most ruthless students.

How this all plays out is not only full-out screech, but replete with a bunch of twists that kept me up well into the wee hours so I could finish it. Violent, profane and addictive, it’s a YA Edgar Nominee and a great suggestion for mature teens.

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Grade 10-12

The Chance You Won’t Return

The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi, Candlewick Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780763662929. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

the chance you

Figuring out normal teen stuff is complicated enough for most kids, but what do you do when there’s a boatload of stuff the guidebooks never mention overwhelming you? That’s what Alex Winchester is facing. Her dad works for the post office. Her mom works at a dentist’s office, but does she any more? It wasn’t that long ago when Alex’s baby sister was born too prematurely to breathe on her own. She died shortly after birth, setting in motion events that leave Alex way over her head.

Add in that every time she gets behind the wheel of the aging Volvo used for driver’s education, she loses it and can’t breathe or remember which does what. This panic results in her tearing up the end of the football field and becoming a hallway laughingstock at school. That would be bad enough, but there’s something even scarier happening at home. Her mother is becoming Amelia Earhart.

Alex can’t deal with her feelings of being overwhelmed. The more she reads about Amelia Earhart’s life, the more frightened she is that her mom is slipping away into doing something drastic. Worst of all, Alex can’t tell anyone about how crazy her life has become. When Jim, a high school senior who drove through the corner of his parent’s house the year before and was exiled to his grandparents’ farm recognizes a kindred spirit, he offers to take her practice driving. Their driving sessions become a lot more, something Alex desperately needs, but even then, she can’t tell him what’s going on at home because she’s too afraid.

It takes some personal melting down on her part to allow cracks in attempt at controlling her messed-up world to form before she and the rest of her family begin the healing process.

This is a sad book that ends on a hopeful note. It’s one geared for mature teens, particularly those who are wrestling with grief or family mental health issues. It’s a worthy addition for both school and public libraries.

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

Vault of Dreamers

Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien, Roaring Brook Press, 2014. ISBN: 9781596439382. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

vault of dreamers

Rosie is one of 100 gifted kids, plucked from every economic strata to have a shot at finishing in the top 50 slots at an elite school for the talented and creative. She’s a film maker and it was her amazing video of her little sister back home by the railroad car they live in where the train was abandoned in the Arizona desert that got her into the school. Every moment of the students’ day is filmed live for a cosmic reality show and the viewer reactions are what gives kids their rank. Rosie’s not really a celebrity type, so her rank is near the bottom. She’d love to climb into the top 50, but her personality isn’t competitive. Then she intervenes when she sees one of the cooks hit Linus, a kitchen worker in the eye. Sparks fly, both of indignation and attraction. Rosie and Linus kiss and her rating jumps. When some of the students in her media class suggest ways to bump her rating, she goes along, but it’s her idea to film the very last ranked kids in the class that sparks a groundswell of support that squeaks her into the 50th spot.

It doesn’t take Rosie long to start breaking rules. She cheeks her sleeping pill and wanders around at night. At first it’s because she wants to experience the rain up on the roof, but when she starts seeing odd stuff happening—other girls sleeping pods being wheeled off in the night and film images mysteriously erased from her camera that she begins to suspect things are a lot more sinister than she ever believed.

I don’t want to post any spoilers, but what she and Linus uncover is uber creepy and there are some real toe-curling passages near the end. I will say that the closer I got to finishing the book, the more I began to suspect the ending would be anything like neatly wrapped up because there simply weren’t enough pages left. I was right, but you’ll have to read the book yourself to understand why. If you are okay with unsettling endings that keep you thinking long after you close the cover, then this is your kind of book. There should be a sequel, but if not, feel free to write your own epilogue in your head. One lingering question: What the heck happened to Linus???

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

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash

Cover ArtHello, I’m Johnny Cash. Written by G. Neri. Illustrated by A.G. Ford. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

This aptly titled picture book uses free verse to tell the story of the life and times of the great Johnny Cash.  The author shares the difficulties Johnny experienced as a child – detailing his family’s struggles with poverty and alcoholism.  The reader learns how the tragic death of his brother Jack impacted Johnny throughout his life, and how his deeply held religious beliefs, love for music and  June Carter Cash, helped him to overcome his personal problems.

Key features include: “Historical Events in Johnny’s Lifetime”, a discography and a bibliography.

A.G. Ford’s  illustrations are truly outstanding.  The dark, soulful eyes of Johnny Cash peer out from the cover of the book, making this picture book a difficult one to resist.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9, Nonfiction, Picture Book, Poetry

What A Boy Wants

What A Boy Wants by Nyrae Dawn, Self-published, 2012. ISBN: 9781475222449. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

what a boy

Sebastian Hawkins, AKA The Hook-up Doctor, knows plenty about relationships. After all his mother has been married four or five times and there have been plenty of other guys in between. His cynicism is necessary, he believes, because watching her has convinced him that falling in love is a recipe for disaster and heartbreak. He’s fine with casual hook-ups where both parties know going in that it’s just for the night.

He’s been blogging under the Hook-up Doctor line for a while and even takes on girls who are willing to pay him $100 if he’ll help them get the guy they’re after. He’s had great success, but when he gets an email from PA Rocks, everything is about to change. He takes her on as a client and suddenly, his best girl friend, Aspen, starts acting odd, almost as though she’s following the Hook-up Doctor’s advice. Sebastian gets a job at the same pizza joint where Aspen works and Matt, the guy who trains him, sets his teeth on edge, but he’s not sure of all the reasons why. Could it have something to do with Matt hinting that he’s interested in Aspen?

It isn’t long before Sebastian’s as confused about Aspen as his mom has been in most of her relationships. When the two of them go off to a beachfront house for the weekend with best friends Jaden and Pris to celebrate Pris’ birthday, he realizes he’s broken his own rule and is head over heels in love with her. He’s scared and exhilarated, but when he comes home and discovers his mom broke up with Roger, the guy who seemed like he might finally be the one who will stick around and treat his mom right, he freaks and breaks things off with Aspen.

How he realizes the magnitude of his mistake and fixes things will have teens who like a good, smart and slightly edgy love story, turning pages pretty fast. Nyrae Dawn does an excellent job of writing about teens who have faults, but are appealing and this is a very good example of it.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

The Blue Book of Fairy Tales

Cover ArtThe Blue Book of Fairy Tales (A Big Golden Book). Illustrated by Gordon Laite. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.  This storybook consists of 3 well-loved fairy tales: Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, and Toads and Diamonds.  It is an excellent choice for the young reader, as the stories are only a few pages long and they are accompanied by simple illustrations that are not too scary.

~A great choice for primary-aged children who want to read their own fairy tales but are still perfecting their reading abilities.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade K-3, Preschool

Dear Know-It-All: Old Story, New Twist

Book CoverDear Know-It-All: Old Story, New Twist. Written by Rachel Wise. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

Samantha is upset when her school’s newspaper advisor, Mr. Trigg, changes her writing assignment so she no longer works with her crush, Michael Lawrence, but is stuck with another partner instead.  Wanting to impress the athletic Michael, Sam joins the gymnastics team, although she is a bit of a klutz. To make matters worse, her best friend likes a boy that known to be “a player”, and everyone can see it but her friend.

Although Samantha secretly writes an advise column for her school’s newspaper, she is often unsure what to do when it comes to sticky situations in her own life.

This series is amusing and enjoyable. The characters are innocent acting, but still many kids will be able to relate to the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings.

Book 4 in the Dear Know-It-All series.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6

Anything But Ordinary

Anything But Ordinary by Lara Avery, Hyperion/Alloy Entertainment, 2012. ISBN: 9781423164500. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

anything but ordinary

What if you had the ultimate second chance, only to discover that it’s on a bungee cord? Bryce was on track to become an Olympic diver when she miscalculated her dive by a fraction and hit her head. Five years later, she emerges from a coma to find just how much life has passed her by. Her boyfriend Greg and her best friend Gabby are college graduates. Her parents are barely communicating and her dad, who was her diving coach now works in admissions at Vanderbilt because he couldn’t shake the image of her hitting her head. He’s also given up restoring the antique airplane in the barn behind their house. Her younger sister, Sydney is remote, angry and drinks, sometimes a lot.

None of the medical staff can understand why she’s awake and in full possession of her faculties and they want her to remain at the hospital, but she’s got a secret that she doesn’t want to share, at least not now. She has strange visions, sometimes of things from her past while she was in her coma, sometimes of people and events which may not have happened yet. They’re accompanied by heat and pain in her head which leave her dazed and on the floor or ground. Despite all this, she’s determined to get her strength back so she can do as much as possible.

Would that life be so simple. She’s devastated by the news that Gabby and Greg are getting married, but even more upset when she realizes Greg still loves her, even with his wedding just a few weeks in the future, and she’s terribly conflicted by her own feelings. Dealing with that emotional storm happens at the same time she’s trying to figure out her feelings for Carter the intern who she discovers came to her room and spent time with her for several years while she was comatose and has a younger brother who is in a coma like hers was before she woke up.

Sorting all this out, as well as reconnecting with her parents and sister would be challenge enough, but when she is on her way to the bridal dinner, Carter hits her with a huge zinger which is followed by another major event the next day that’s a gut twister for Bryce. Going into more detail would give too much away, but I can say that this was a very difficult book to put down. I even read it while making supper and almost missed the rice boiling over.

While technically not a pure YA book, teens, especially those who like a love story or one with an interesting love triangle will enjoy it. I found the ending both sad and beautiful.

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

Steve Jobs: Visionary Entrepreneur of the Digital Age

Steve Jobs: Visionary Entrepreneur of the Digital Age.  Written by Jude Isabella and Matt J. Simmons.  Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

This nonfiction text on the life of Steve Jobs is written at a guided reading of W, which makes it an excellent resource for students in grades 4-6.  The authors follow Jobs’ life, beginning with his birth and adoption to his tragic death due to cancer.  The book focuses on this brilliant entrepreneur’s educational experiences, his progressive and sometimes controversial leadership style and his lasting legacy in the field of business and computers.

The text has seven detailed chapters of black and white photographs and quoted inserts.  There is also a brief glossary, helpful chronology, an index and a listing of supplementary resources (videos, books and websites) that provide additional biographical information, photos and insights into Jobs’ philosophy and the evolution of Apple and Apple products.

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

Signed Skye Harper

Signed, Skye Harper by Carol Lynch Williams, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2014 ISBN: 9781481400329. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

signed skye harper

When your mother abandoned you when you were four and you have no clue who your dad is, it could be pretty scary to be a teen, but Winston’s lucky. Her gram has raised her in a loving and structured way. In addition, Winston has Thelma, her dog. Gram has Denny, a one-legged rooster she adores to the point where she lets him into the house, where lots of newspapers get used.

Gram’s past is interesting. She got pregnant by a guy who disappeared as soon as she told him. Leon, owner of the restaurant where she works (and really co-owns and manages) and real love of her life, couldn’t handle her being pregnant and married someone else. While Gram still carries a torch, she’s shut away her feelings, especially when working in the restaurant, concentrating on raising Winston instead. Because of her own history with men, not to mention that of Skye, Winston’s mother, she’s concerned that Winston may follow in their footsteps.

Winston, however, has a pretty good head on her shoulders. She has a crush on Mark Spitz, has her own dream of becoming an olympic swimmer and knows she wants to go to college. She works as a busser in the restaurant after school and during vacations. A bit on the busty side, she really doesn’t like wearing a bra and has developed a habit of shucking it while at work and hiding it in the freezer. One of her job-related duties is to water plants at Leon’s fancy home. She has a secret crush on his son Steve who she doesn’t think even knows she exists. Leon, his wife and Steve are supposed to be in Europe watching the Olympics. After giving in to the urge to strip and swim laps in the pool at Leon’s, Winston can’t help herself. She sneaks into Steve’s room, terribly curious about what it looks like.

Steve, however, didn’t go with his parents for reasons that are integral to a later part of the story. He catches her in his room, and she runs off, leaving her bra behind in their freezer, because, after all, old habits are hard to break. When he sees her on the street not long afterward, he shocks (and thrills) her by giving her an on-the-mouth real kiss before jumping into a car full of his football buddies.

Thus begins an extremely interesting odyssey, one not only of distance, but of emotion and discovery. After two letters arrive, sent by Skye from Las Vegas, begging Gram to come get her, Gram decides since Leon is in Europe, she’ll steal his new motorhome and drive to Las Vegas and rescue her wayward daughter. A hundred miles down the road, they discover Steve has stowed away because he’s as interested in Winston as she is in him. The journey is full of interesting discoveries, some geographic, most insightful and emotional. While there are disappointments in Las Vegas, what happens when everyone returns to Florida more than make up for them.

I loved Carol’s book Waiting, perhaps the most emotional book I’ve read in years. This one is as good, but in different ways. Quirky, short-chaptered and really getting inside Winston’s head in ways that younger teen girls will really relate to, it’s a no-brainer addition to any library.

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