Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: How You Ruined My Life

Preview read courtesy of
"How You Ruined My Life"
By Jeff Strand @Jeff Strand
Publication date: April 3, 2018

Thanks to for providing this advanced readers copy.

Humor without curse words! A high school punk rock band without curse words! A book that would work in either middle school or high school without curse words!

"How You Ruined My Life" is a humorous story based on the premise of opposite finances. Two high school cousins who haven't seen each other in 10 years have to live together for three months. Rich cousin from California has to live with poor cousin in Florida. The author does a good job of creating the main characters' personalities including having the reader flip-flop back-n-forth over which cousin is the crazier one.

Written as if the Florida cousin is narrating the story to the reader, the first-person storytelling effectively conveys the desperate need for the cousin to have the reader on his side, while at the same time admitting how awkward his convincing is. Struggling readers may need some reminding that the style of writing is at times conversational, at times an internal dialogue, and at times a brief, stray off topic - just as anyone relaying a longer story might stray off topic.

The book comes across as a battle of wits and wills, pranks and pratfalls, while at the end there's a bit of a Bildungsroman. This sets up the possibilities of a conversation with readers if they would forgive and forget or hold a grudge, if they would go one with their intended paths or forge a new plan for their futures.

Though humorous books are sometimes a hard sell, I'd purchase this for my HS library (and recommend it to our MS library) because it's an accessible, light-hearted read.

Book Review: Reversed, a Memoir

Read courtesy of
Reversed - A Memoir
By Lois Letchford
Publication date: March 3, 2018

Resilience, perseverance, advocacy, inspiration, caring, love... it's got it all. 

This story has great messages: go with your gut... think creatively... advocate for what you think is right. It's not eloquently written, but that's part of the point, too. Anyone can do what's right. Education doesn't have to be as prescriptive as it is, and Mrs. Letchford's experience gives hope that parents and teachers can find creative and effective ways to teach. 

This book is on par with "To Sir with Love" by E. R. Braithwaite, "Small Victories" by Samuel G. Freedman, and Jaime Escalante's "Stand and Deliver." The only drawback in the whole telling is that the book was about her middle child, but the few times when she mentioned her youngest child, it wasn't very flattering - maybe realistic, but unnecessary to the telling. 

I highly recommend this book for anyone who teaches and for any parent who sees a spark in their child that others don't.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Book Review: You Will Be Mine

Book Review: You Will Be Mine by Natasha Preston
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Read courtesy of

The author did a really good job of throwing the reader off the trail of the real killer in You Will Be Mine. I normally don't pick up mysteries or murder mysteries to read, but I liked trying to guess this who-dunnit. However, the other possible victims hung around too long for me to read the rest of the story as any more than a Scooby Doo mystery ... a little too unbelievable to be true. Leaving the potential victims in the thick of the story doesn't make the story scary and suspenseful for me; it makes it a "how dumb are these people, and how can I believe this story?"story.

The fact that this British tale is sold in the U.S. won't detract from the story. I saw one reviewer who thought that some of the references or allusions were too vague for an American audience. I disagree; the author's contexts were enough to guide the reader through the minor cultural differences.

I was bothered, though, by the bungling, inept law enforcement depicted throughout the story even to the end. A plot of the-police-can't-solve-a-crime-but-young-adults-can perpetuated the Scooby-like mood. In spite of the author's ability to get me to speculate about the wrong killer, moving the action forward by way of an entirely flawed police force was wholly dissatisfying.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Review: The Future Will Be BS Free

The Future Will Be BS Free by Will McIntosh
Publication Date: July 24, 2018
Read Courtesy of

The plot is a winner; the characters are secondary. If you read The Future Will Be BS Free with this in mind, you'll have a good time. True, it's another teen-saves-the-world sci-fi action adventure, but it's also thought-provoking. My favorite line in the book is, "Secrets aren't the same as lies." Here's the true moral dilemma faced by the characters, as well as by the government, as well as by the reader. The intriguing aspects of their invention are if technology has the ability to differentiate between a lie and a secret, and how soon in the future could this become our reality. Even though the details of why and what kind of war there was are vague, that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the cyborg aspect of the characters that evolved from the back story. They were fun, tough underdogs, and I found myself rooting for them - especially because these cyber-enhanced characters had more personality than the main, teen characters. Don't let the underdeveloped teen characters deter you from sitting back and enjoying the tension - both in action in in morality.

Book Review: The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy

The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy by B.T. Gottfred
Courtesy of
Publication date May 8, 2018

The premise of this book makes you want to like it -- non-judgmental self-discovery should be everyone's luck to have. However, in order to get there, these characters took us on a shallow roller coaster ride of stereotypes. I liked the main characters as people, but everyone else around them played to the message instead of the story. If I suspended disbelief and went with the flow, I enjoyed the story, the struggle, the humor, the self-deprication. Granted, I'm not a teen in 2017-18, but I really wonder how authentic the thoughts and dialog were as opposed to being manipulated to convey a message. I understand it is fiction, so this book provides a point-of-reference for jumping into a dialogue with teens about gender issues. Teens reading this as fiction will enjoy it; teens hoping for a template for a self-help guide will be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Review: The 11th Hour

The 11th Hour by Kristine Scarrow
Pub Date 20 Mar 2018
Through the courtesy of

I didn't want to like this book at first. I felt like I was listening to whiny teenagers. And I was, but that ended up being the beauty of the book. The characters were real; they were real teenagers. What's even more impressive about this tale is that it occurred in such a short amount of time. In spite of this pace, Kristine Scarrow created great tension and anticipation as the reader comes to the realization about Annika's predicament in tandem with Annika's own awareness. Scarrow uses a successful and tight he-said/she-said, back-n-forth delivery of the dialogue and action, regardless of (or in reflection of) the turmoil of the teenage mind, the disordered mind, or both. The addition of resources is an absolute plus.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Review: Love, Hate, and Other Filters

Love, Hate, and Other Filters
By Samira Ahmed
Publication date: January 16, 2018
Previewed courtesy of

I am surprisingly pleased how much I liked this book. I didn't know what to expect, and that may have helped -- so I didn't have preconceived notions of what was coming. Trying to represent a culture without making it stereotypical is difficult, and since I'm not Indian-American or Muslim-American, I have to rely on the author and editor to tell a truthful story. I feel like they did because the characters interacted so well with each other... believable dialog and plot made this an emotionally accessible story for many cultures to understand and relate to - whether through empathy or sympathy, the book's characterizations were well created. I believed their motives and their actions.

I enjoyed the thread of movie-making commentary throughout the story, too. It backed up Maya's hopes and dreams and how invested in them she was. It was sometimes corny, but even Maya acknowledged that, so it wasn't distracting. Maya's friends, family, classmates, and community all play a well thought out role in the story.

SPOILER ALERT: The only place I waivered was trying to believe that no one else knew about Phil's secret place.  END OF S.A.

I had a bit of a "Sixth Sense" moment at the end of the story when I wanted (and did) go back to the beginning and re-read the interspersed story to make sure I understood what I had read. This is a good thing, by the way... it meant I was invested in the story and cared enough to revisit it. I'm glad I did, too. It reinforced how connected we all are and how Maya and her family could have experienced what they did and how they did.

There are some good "lessons" from this story, and they are imparted without being preachy or distracting from the story. I think this book wou;d be a good book for a discussion in a classroom or book club. I will definitely be purchasing this book for my HS Library.

Review: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Publishing date: January 30, 2018
Previewed via

In all fairness, I have to begin with "I don't like fantasies." However, there are times when I can look past that prejudice and enjoy a story; this isn't one of those times. I found this story convoluted and unable to be untangled.  Some of the text felt trite and wooden. Much of the action or description felt like it was included because the author or editor felt the text was interesting enough in itself to include in the story, even when it did nothing for the plot or characterization. I don't want to include specifics in case they are spoilers for those who might enjoy this book. But these extraneous blurbs added to my confusion about where the story was going, and even where it ended up. Not a retold-tale, not a fairy tale,  just a fish-out-of-water tale that doesn't hold water for me. I probably won't include this in my HS Library collection because it doesn't stand up to tales like Miss Peregrine, Coraline, and other similar stories.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Review: The Silence of Our Friends

Pub Date   ,  graphic novel  , nonfiction 

The Silence of Our Friends sets us up for a very timely discussion. Although some reviews that I read about this graphic novel fault it on its one-sided perspective, I disagree. A memoir is someone's experience, and people can't change that to suit their own agendas. I thought the story was very well told in both words and drawings; it created mood and tone, empathy and sympathy, realization and disbelief. I think this would make a good book for a group discussion or book club, but it would not be a stand-alone choice for my high school graphic novels shelf due to the language as well as the need I feel it sets up to process or debrief the nature of the historic events and their implications to history and for today.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: Plague Land

Plague Land by Alex Scarrow
Read through NetGalley
publishing date December 1, 2017

No spoilers in this review...

Getting this review in under the wire! But.... Plague Land is GREAT! To be honest, I wasn't getting into it at first, but I soon couldn't put it down! And for those of you who don't like cliffhangers, this isn't one; though, it does leave itself open for a sequel!

Just enough science to make it scifi instead of fantasy, it is a story with a wide appeal. While the tension isn't too aggressive to scare off casual readers, avid fans of runaway virus stories won't be disappointed, either. The characters have depth - as far as the typical YA novel where the child is smarter than the parent goes. There is even international appeal as the virus goes, um, viral.

What's really appealing is the great descriptions of the evolving virus. Scarrow's adept as creating vivid images without details that drag down the storytelling.

I will definitely be getting this for my high school library!