Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Ghost (Track #1) by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2016, 192pp.)

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw knows how to run from his problems. Three years ago, his dad went after him and his mom with a gun, and the two of them had to run for their lives. His dad’s in prison now, but Ghost and his mom are still dealing with the emotional fallout. Ghost is a good kid, but his past has left him angry and with an attitude problem. One day, he decides to disrupt the school’s track team tryouts by running onto the field and beating everyone’s best time. Some coaches would discipline him for the interruption—but loud-mouthed Coach Brody is impressed with Ghost’s athletic ability, and ends up giving him a shot at making the team. To his surprise, Ghost really likes the other track candidates, and adopts the group as his own. He decides he’ll do anything to make the team. But when he steals a pair of new track shoes to replace his torn-up sneakers, he comes to realize that his bad choices just might cost him everything.

Swift, funny, and moving, Ghost is a gem. While there’s some potentially heavy stuff on the story’s periphery (characters have conversations about abuse, parental drug use, and hard upbringings), Reynolds deftly handles it in a way suitable for younger teens. The first installment in a projected trilogy, it’s the perfect book for librarians to hand to students or parents seeking “clean” realistic fiction. Recommended for Grade 6-8.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Day of Ice

Day of Ice (Crusoe #2) by Andrew Lane (Adaptive Books, 2017, 258pp.)

Friday, an agent of the king’s royal spy ring, is in trouble. While following a suspect through the frozen streets of London, she is captured by the insidious Circle of Thirteen and spirited away to a local insane asylum for mysterious purposes. As Friday fights tooth and nail against her captors, Robin, her friend and fellow spy, defies the orders of his superiors and risks everything to rescue her. In the process, both teens learn more about the Circle’s origins and intentions, as well as uncover a bizarre conspiracy of brainwashing and murder. Andrew Lane does pretty well with his second Crusoe novel, infusing it with break-neck pacing and high-drama chase scenes. Although Robin still remains relatively flat as a character, Friday really shines through as the story’s heroine, and readers will be eager to learn more about her past as the daughter of a pirate king. A lack of mature content leads me to recommend this title to adventure fans Grades 6-8.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Amazing Book is Not on Fire

The Amazing Book is Not on Fire: The World of Dan and Phil by Dan Howell & Phil Lester (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015, 224pp.)

Take a walk on the silly side with Dan and Phil, a British YouTube duo who use the Internet to entertain millions with their videos. Using pictures, text conversations, interviews, and more, this pair chronicles their unusual career in a way that entertains as much as their online content. Fun stuff includes trivia, comedy sketches with stuffed lions, tips on hamster breeding, and how to make your own YouTube videos. Recommended for Grades 7-Up for some mild swearing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013; St. Martin's Griffin, 2016, 352pp.)

Omaha, 1986. Eleanor is an unwieldy red-head who decorates her sweaters with fishing lure and lives with her mother, four siblings, and an abusive stepdad. Park is a comic book-loving do-gooder whose half-Korean heritage makes him a novelty in this neck of the woods. When Park lets Eleanor, the new girl, share a seat with him on the school bus, they soon find themselves bonding over comic book heroes and exchanging mixed tapes. Soon, they have embarked on an unlikely romance—however, both have personal issues that repeatedly threaten to end the relationship. The author’s admirable refusal to shy away from the painful (and frightening) subject of domestic abuse, as well as the story’s bittersweet but realistic ending, are what make this love story stand out. Recommended for Grades 9 Up for strong language.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Surrounded by Sharks

Surrounded by Sharks by Michael Northrop (2014; Scholastic Press, 2016, 224pp.)
Thirteen-year-old Davey makes the worst mistake of his life when he decides to ignore the “No Swimming” sign at the beach. Shortly after he wades in, he’s overtaken by a dangerous riptide and swept out to sea. Now he’s floating in the middle of the ocean—and about to come head to head with a hungry tiger shark! While the novel’s lack of character development brings much disappointment, the plot that accompanies the author’s spine-tingling premise does not. It’s action-packed from beginning to end, and will definitely appeal to reluctant readers in Grades 5-7.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dawn of Spies

Dawn of Spies (Crusoe #1) by Andrew Lane (Adaptive Books, 2017, 320pp.) 

In this reimagining of Daniel Defoe’s 18th century classic of shipwreck and survival, Robinson “Robin” Crusoe, a merchant’s son, and Friday, the daughter of a pirate king, are finally rescued from a desert island after three long years as living as castaways. Shortly after they arrive in London, the writer Daniel Defoe offers to buy the rights to their amazing story. In normal circumstances, this close-knit pair of friends would be reluctant to open up to a stranger--however, circumstances have rendered them penniless, and they see no other choice but to agree to a meeting. Imagine their surprise when Defoe later reveals himself to be a spy for the government. He thinks their unique experiences will make them perfect spies, and wants to recruit them for service under King Charles II. Their first mission is to protect the king’s daughter, the Countess of Lichfield, from kidnapping by enemies of the Crown. Of course, despite the valiant efforts of Robin, Friday, and other members of the king’s spy ring, the Countess is kidnapped by masked men, and carried away in a hot air balloon. Things get even more tense when its discovered that she’s been taken by the Circle of Thirteen, an organization dedicated to taking down the entire empire at any cost.

Having already cut his teeth on the “reinvented classic” genre with his Young Sherlock Holmes series, Andrew Lane--for the most part--executes his premise well. I especially like what he did with the role of Friday. In the classical text, Friday is Crusoe’s male servant who swears subservience to the Englishman after the latter saves him from cannibals. In Lane’s work, Friday is Crusoe’s friend and equal, a strong and capable young black woman who is more than capable of holding her own. Although the fast-paced nature of the tale leaves little room for character development (which would have, in my opinion, made it a much better novel), its interesting premise and swashbuckling action sequences make this a good choice for fans of action/adventure. Recommended for Ages 13-15.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Charming Series

A Charmed Life (The Charmed Life #1-3) by Jenny B. Jones (Thomas Nelson, 2012, 976pp.)

A Charmed Life is an omnibus edition of Jenny B. Jones’s Christian fiction trilogy of the same name. This lovely series documents the hilarious, heartfelt misadventures of privileged New Yorker Bella Kirkwood, a child of divorce who finds herself living on a farm after her mother remarries and moves them to Truman, Oklahoma. To Bella, moving away from New York is a fate worse than death. Where are the fashion boutiques? What about a Starbucks? Not to mention she now has to hitch a ride to school with her obnoxious stepbrother, Budge, who drives an out-dated hearse. But when she ends up on the Truman High School newspaper, she surprises the heck out of everyone with her tenacity, her drive, and above all, her awesome investigative journalism skills. Over the course of the series, she becomes quite the sleuth. Not only does she investigate a malevolent brotherhood of football players and save a prom queen from an exploding tiara, she also joins the circus as a part-time clown so she can solve the murder of a sweet-tempered bearded lady.

I really can’t say enough about this series, for both teens and parents. First off, it’s a clean read, meaning there’s no swearing or other mature content (though Bella does have a boyfriend, so there is a lot of kissing). Second, it boasts a well-developed supporting cast. And third, but importantly, it has a heroine who experiences tremendous personal growth throughout the series. Not only must she face issues left over from her parents’ divorce (in addition to adjusting to a new stepfamily), she must also come to terms with God’s plan for her—a plan that she did not agree to, thank you very much! For those of you who aren’t usually fans of Christian fiction? You should still add this to your reading list. While religion is an important part of the characters’ lives, it’s certainly not the main point of the story. What the story is about, though? It’s about an awesome, spunky teenager fighting her way through life’s sticky situations, and being the best person she can possibly be. This series is recommended for older teens, ages 16-18, though if you’ve got younger teens who don’t mind kissing and romance, it’s a good choice for them as well. Also, check out the excellent audiobook version, read by Brooke Helman.


Ghost (Track #1)  by Jason Reynolds ( Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy  Books,  2016, 192pp.) Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw knows how to run from his ...