Hot off the Presses

I thought I’d give you some hot off the presses books to read about this week. I just sent in these reviews of three different books. All of which were enjoyable reads. The first one is a very amusing picture book, but the second and third ones are heart wrenchers. Hope you enjoy them.


Anybody who has ever taken a small child somewhere in public will most decidedly relate to this story. Stories like this always remind me of the meltdown I had when I was 8 years old and had to go for what eventually turned out not to be a painful shot at all. But I had just come off a month of having penicillin shots in my butt. And on the bus ride to National Institutes of Health to get said Rocky Mountain Fever shot, my older siblings had of course made the most of the ordeal. Well, we got to the line to get the shot and I was fine until it was my turn. No siree, no way was I going to have another shot. I lay on the floor and kicked my heels. I ran out of the room and onto an elevator with my mother right behind me. I bit her and kicked her and eventually got the shot that didn’t hurt a bit. Then my mother told me I had to tell my grandmother what I’d done when we got home. So I can relate to meltdowns.


Jill Murphy

Illustrated by Jill Murphy

Roxy and Mommy go grocery shopping and Roxy is very excited to help. Perhaps a bit too excited since she has to be reminded to not crush the chips or the bread or race down the aisle with the cart. But she pretty much behaves until she and Mommy pick out a cake with a piggy face, which Roxy wants to hold. Look out, here comes MELTDOWN! Roxy wants to eat the cake now! And boy does she let the world know. ALL THE WAY HOME. Unrepentant even when scolded, Roxy asks in her quietest voice and with her smarmiest smile to have piggy cake now. Everyone who has ever taken a screaming child some where in public will cringe and laugh throughout the story, though the child probably won’t understand what the problem is. The story prompts a good discussion about proper behavior in public. Though rabbits and other animals are used instead of children, the illustrations surely do depict a young child in a store. This book is definitely worth a read.

BIBLIO: 2016, Candlewick Press, Ages 3 to 6, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8926-1


Life isn’t always a walk in the park for people. Those of us who live in our almost safe enclaves tend to forget how much darkness and sadness there is around us. Being strong is sometimes not easy.

On Guard

Patrick Jones

This book is a stellar addition to the “Bounce” series which seems to focus on kids playing basketball in school and how it can help them through the rocky rapids of high school. Mercedes Morgan is an outstanding point guard for her team on her way to breaking state records for shooting three-point baskets, but family life gets in the way. Mercy was able to shift focus when her family moved away from the rougher parts of Birmingham, Alabama, and is headed towards a full ride at the University of Alabama. But her older sister, Callie, is still pulled in by the “corner” and her boyfriend. The girls’ younger brother, Lincoln, is heading in the same direction until Callie is murdered by her gang. She lingers in a coma as the family tries to carry on and Mercy tries to concentrate on winning the three-point record and a scholarship to college. Mercy’s girlfriend, Jade, who came from the same rough neighborhood, gives support as best she can, but Mercedes loses focus as she watches Callie die and feels she losing Lincoln to the old neighborhood. With Jade’s help and support from her teammates and coach, Mercy saves her brother, at least for the time being, and ends up with her full ride. The though all of the characters are seen only through Mercedes’ eyes and feelings, the reader gets a real feel for them and Mercy’s helplessness in making things right. All kinds of school room discussions emanate from this book and writing is concise. This book is a winner.

BIBLIO: 2016, Darby Creek/Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., Ages 14 +, $26.65.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-51241-123-2

ISBN: 978-1-51241-207-9

ISBN: 978-1-51241-134-8


Sometimes I get to read a book that stays with me for a long time because of how nicely it’s written, but also because of the story’s essence. This is one of those books.

The Memory Book

Lara Avery

Samantha Agatha McCoy, a.k.a. Sammie, has an incurable disease that is killing her as it steals her brain. She writes a journal to her future self so that she’ll remember her past. The disease is called Niemann-Pick Type C and it usually attacks children much younger than high school senior, Sammie. She is partner in a winning debate team that’s on its way to winning the National Debate Championship. She has a crush on Stuart Shah, a super hot guy who’s now studying in New York City. But, just as things are going well for Sammie, her disease worsens. She has seizures and blanks out. Her speech slurs and her memory worsens. She tries to have a normal life and looks forward to her plans for her future. She never does make it to college, but she does make the best of the time she has left. The story could break the reader’s heart except for all the hope and love Sammie and her family have for each other. In addition to the story being about Sammy dealing with her disease, the author also neatly folds in the usual trials and tribulations of a nerdy teenager. It could lead to interesting classroom discussions on relationships and diseases. This book is definitely worth reading.

BIBLIO: 2016, Poppy/Little, Brown and Company/Alloy Entertainment/Hachette Book Group, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-31628-374-8

ISBN: 978-0-31628-377-9

ISBN: 978-1-47890-971-2

It’s Magic!

Who’s up for some magic? I love magic and the endless possibilities it suggests. So we’re doing magical today.


Frankie vs. the Cowboy’s Crew

Frank Lampard

Illustrated by Frank Lampard

“Frankie’s Magic Soccer Ball” leads Frankie, Louise, Kobe and Max-the-talking-dog on exotic soccer trips, this time to the Wild West to play a game of soccer against the fearsome Cowboy Crew at high noon—only an hour away! The Crew has robbed all the towns of all sweets, including sugar, and is gunning for Sweetsville. Frankie’s team must defeat them before the next shipment of sweets arrives in town. To make matters worse, Louise is the spitting image of Sue-Ann, a member of the Cowboy Crew. Sue-Ann is wanted all over the place for her nefarious deeds. The town sheriff hauls Louise off to jail in red liquorish handcuffs. And already it’s 11:20. In ride the Cowboy Crew, led by Tex on a brown stallion. The leader is extremely fond of his lariat. Next in line is the dastardly Sue-Ann, and bringing up the rear is an enormously fat varmint named Sandy, formerly Deputy Sheriff Sandy. Then Tex hollers for his last player to show up—Spike, a tall cactus. The soccer match is delayed when the express train arrives early and Tex plans to rob it of its cargo, enough candy to supply towns for miles around. But Frankie and his team are now locked in a jail cell along with the sheriff. No problem, Frankie knocks the keys of the wall and frees them. The team beats the bad guys at a soccer game and ride the train magically to their home. The good thing about this story is it might encourage boys to read.

BIBLIO: 2014 (Orig. 2013,) Scholastic, Inc., Ages 6 to 8, $4.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-0-545-66616-9

Who wouldn’t want to have a treehouse that grows to fit your needs?

The 52-Story Treehouse

Andy Griffiths

Illustrated by Terry Denton

Andy and Terry live in a gigantic and convoluted tree house with, at the moment, fifty-two stories, occupied by all kinds of games and gadgets with which to amuse themselves. But, at the moment, they are supposed to be finishing work on their latest novel. Usually their editor, Mr. Big Nose, starts nagging them about the deadline, but they haven’t heard a word from him. So they go to his office to see why he hasn’t nagged them. Well, no wonder! He isn’t there and his office is a mess, with lots of broken things, not to mention all the vegetable leaves strewn about. Turns out he’s been kidnapped. Terry and Andy must find him so he can remind them to finish their novel. As the story progresses, they of course end up in one pickle after another. They do, however, solve many mysteries and eventually save Mr. Big Nose, along with discovering they’ve just written their novel. Middle-grade boys in particular will get a huge chortle out of this book and there is enough going on to keep teachers in classroom discussion material having to do with physics, chemistry and other physical sciences. The story is simplistic enough to appeal to reluctant readers, but amusing enough to hold better readers’ interest.

BIBLIO: 2016, (org. 2014,) Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan/Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd., Ages 8 to 12, $13.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Graphic Novel

ISBN: 978-1-250-0269-3-4

ISBN: 978-1-250-08023-3

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This last story has all kinds of appeal, what with the magic and taking place in Ireland and a bit of mystery and a bit of Irish folklore.

The Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox

Nigel Quinlan

The Maloneys have a secret, they think. Mr. Maloney is the Weatherman, in charge of keeping the changing of the seasons orderly. Except this year, the magical weatherbox, which, to the untutored eye, looks rather like a phone booth, doesn’t ring for the changing of the seasons. So Summer hangs around not letting Autumn cool off Ireland and other northern hemisphere countries. Then Neil, the heir apparent, still learning the ways of being a weatherman, rescues a baby season, imprisoned by the evil witch, Mrs. Fitzgerald, who wishes to be the Weatherman. Chaos ensues and Neil must save the day. He gets lots of assistance from his family, especially his sister Liz, though younger brother Owen helps in his way by befriending a bog beast. A stranger comes to stay and becomes part of the saving team. In the end it looks as if Mrs. Fitzgerald will win out and the Maloney family will lose the right to be the Weatherman. Liz saves the day by giving the baby season back to its family—the four seasons. She becomes the next Weatherman and the Fitzgeralds are sent far away. Lovers of magic, adventure and utter chaos in stories will get quite a kick out of this story. The characters are well drawn and the plot is fast moving. Though not even close to the realm of reality, this book could lead to classroom discussions about weather, magic and Ireland. It’s a thoroughly likeable read.

BIBLIO: 2015, Roaring Brook Press/Holzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-62672-033-6

ISBN: 978-1-62672-034-3


So here’s hoping magically good things happened to and for you.

I’ve Been Sick

One of my most favorite joke-stories ever is one I’ve known most of my 75 years. But most people politely laugh and change the subject, because they don’t get it. My darling husband, who usually shares my sense of humor, finally told me not to tell it anymore because nobody gets it.

It came to mind because I spent pretty much the whole of September ingesting one antibiotic after the other to fight off one ailment after the other. I’ve been sick.

The joke is: King Richard the Lion wakes up one particular morning feeling especially fierce. He stretches and then curls his long red tongue into a enormous yawn. Now ready for the day, he pads out from his bed and grabs the first elephant he sees by the trunk. He whirls that elephant round and round and slings him as far as he can. The earth rattles when the elephant lands and King Richard is on him one leap.

“Who’s the king of the jungle?” he demands.

The elephant doesn’t move, but, with a quaver in his voice, whispers, “Why you are sir!”

“You got that right,” snarls King Richard and heads off to scare the first rhinoceros he finds.

The rhinoceros and then the giraffe and zebra and all the other animals agree. The lion is indeed king of jungle.

Quite satisfied with himself, Richard struts his way back to his lair, where he comes across a field mouse just at the edge of the plain. That poor mouse doesn’t stand a chance.

But when the lion is finished shredding the trembling creature and demands, yet again, “Who’s the king of jungle?”

Said mouse squeaks, “Yeah, but I’ve been sick.”

I love the story because to me it means the biggest and toughest isn’t always the winner. And even the smallest can triumph.

Please let me know if you think it’s funny. You probably won’t, but I don’t care. I think it’s funny.

Anyway, my blog entries this week are about finding ways to prevail when life throws you out into left field.


I liked this one because, although the other boy is a bully, the main character has a part in making him that way.

EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken!

Sally Warner

Illustrated by Jamie Harper

Eight-year-old EllRay gets into trouble enough on his own without having to defend himself against Jared’s physical bullying. To make matters worse, EllRay is the smallest kid in his class and Jared is the biggest. EllRay figures he can patiently wait through the torment until Jared gets bored with him and picks a new victim. Unfortunately, EllRay’s parents are not happy with his progress report and scold him for not doing better in the behavior department. If EllRay can stay out of trouble for a week, his dad will take him to Disneyland the following Saturday, so he puts up with Jared giving him knuckle rubs on the ribs and tripping him in class and in general making school life miserable. Jared’s bullying begins to be noticed by their teacher and other teachers, but he doesn’t back off much and his side-kick, Stanley, helps him out. EllRay makes it through the week, only to discover his parents have invited Jared to come along to Disneyland.  During their time together, EllRay learns that he had inadvertently embarrassed Jared just before the Christmas break and that’s why he’s been so mean. The boys make up and life is better at school. Not that EllRay isn’t still the class clown. The book makes a good discussion jumping off point for understanding bullying and how to deal with it and the illustrations are cute.

BIBLIO: 2011, Viking/Penguin Young Readers Group/ Penguin Group, Ages 6 to 8, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Early Reader

ISBN: 978-0-670-06243-0


We all have trouble accepting our part in what bad befalls us, yet we all have a role to play in all of it.

It’s All Your Fault

Paul Rudnick

Up to this point in her life, Caitlin Mary Prudence Rectitude Singleberry has considered herself a good Christian girl devoutly trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Caitlin has severe anxiety problems, to the point of obsessively counting things, like how many railings in a fence section or naming her many siblings in chronological order. But in one weekend she has fallen to the Devil and is now in jail for armed robbery, car theft and a myriad of charges all because of her cousin Heller Harrigan—once her best friend and now her sworn enemy. After all Heller did almost get Caitlin killed four years earlier and then never called to say she was sorry or even come to visit while Caitlin was in the hospital. But now Heller is on the edge of major stardom in the Hollywood sky with a new block-buster mega-million movie based on a best-selling series of novels. Unfortunately, she has a tendency to get into trouble so her mother and the studio decide Caitlin should chaperone her cousin. For the most part, things go poorly until Caitlin gets into trouble. In the end, Caitlin and Heller become friends again. The author has an off-beat sense of humor which will have the reader laughing out loud. But he also addresses serious teen problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse and mental disorders.

BIBLIO: 2016, Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 14 +, $19.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-545-46428-4


Most things in life come with a price and it is up to us to deal with them.

Wildflower: The Best Songs Come from Broken Hearts

Alecia Whitaker

Bird Barrett plays fiddle in her family’s bluegrass band. The band the family started to deal with their deep sorrow over the accidental drowning death of the youngest child, Caleb. Dylan, Bird’s oldest brother, enjoys being on the road with his family so much, he forgoes a traditional brick and mortar college for studying online. Jacob, the second son in the family, also loves life on the road and playing his upright bass. So the whole is well settled into the rhythm of setting up, playing gigs, breaking down the equipment and climbing back into their RV named Winnie. When she’s not doing her school work or practicing her fiddle, Maybelle, she writes poems primarily about Adam, another talented teen itinerant musician and the love of Bird’s young life—all sixteen years of it. But all this changes when Bird has to sing lead after her dad comes down with laryngitis. Turns out there’s a record producer from Nashville in the audience, who wants to add Bird to his stable of musicians. Fortunately, a more low-key producer comes along and becomes Bird’s producer. The family settles down in Nashville as all attention focuses on making Bird a household name. Things go swimmingly for Bird, but Dylan and Jacob feel left out and Adam finally realizes he’s not going to have a relationship with Bird. The singer/fiddler is devastated when she discovers that Adam has gone on with his life, but comes to grips with it as she learns to hold her own with all the people trying to manipulate her. Some parts of this book drift, but the bits about playing music and writing songs are beautiful and the homage paid to Lady Byrd Johnson and performers like Maybelle Carter is wonderful.

BIBLIO: 2014, Poppy/Little Brown and Company/Hatchett Book Group, Ages 14 +, $18.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0316-25138-9

ISBN: 978-0316-25136-5


Believe in yourself and what you can do, no matter what the lion does to stop you. And please let me know what you think. Especially what you think of my joke. Thanks for reading. Sarah

Silliness, Sweetness, Magic and Math

I felt like talking about silliness, sweetness—in more ways than one—and magic. So I’ve included three diverse books, all of them with a lighthearted twist. They all subtly teach the reader something. Hope you enjoy them.

The first one is the most didactic, but still is a good adventure story, and if it encourages the reader to try a bit harder to understand math and physics, that’s a good thing.


Bringing Down the Mouse

Ben Mezrich

Charlie Lewis, a.k.a. Numbers, the smartest kid in his six-grade class, is part of a scheme to beat the carnival games at Incredo Land to garner enough points for a chance at spinning the lottery wheel and winning the big prize–$50,000! Using basic laws of physics and mathematics, that’s exactly what he does with the help of his friends, new and old. Mathematics rule Numbers’ life; it’s how he views the world. The new friends are in a secret club run by the exotic Miranda, supposedly a teaching student at a local Boston university. They call themselves the Carnival Killers and swear Charlie to secrecy. This causes problems between Numbers and his best friend, Jeremy. In the end, Charlie does figure out how to beat the wheel, but he also figures out how to keep Miranda from running off with the money—her ultimate goal. The story is fun, but the author gets bogged down in explaining the math and physics, which continually disrupts the flow. It’s hard to keep track of who is doing what and where Charlie is. When, out of the blue, other characters are the focus it’s hard to know where they are. A few more dialog attributions would keep the characters straight in the reader’s mind. Still, the book makes a good teaching tool for discussing the relevance of science for all kids.

BIBLIO: 2014, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-4424-9626-2

ISBN: 978-1-4424-9632-3


I love stories told in foreign countries. They tickle my interest in exotic, at least to me, places. The illustrations are delightful and the story is sweet.

Red Panda’s Candy Apples

Ruth Paul

Illustrated by Ruth Paul

This sweet story has lovely illustrations which the illustrator produced with pencil drawings and digital finishing so they look like watercolors. Red Panda sells candy apples to his forest friends, but he’s sad to see each apple go. He’d like to eat them all himself. After he has sold off many apples and mostly filled up his coin jar, he treats himself to one. But then duckling and Bushbaby fight over the one remaining apple, spilling the coins. Red Panda picks up the coins and Duckling gives Bushbaby the last apple. But…it turns out there is one more apple. And Red Panda sells the candy apple he’d saved for himself. Everybody’s happy and Red Panda has a jar full of sticky coins. The story introduces children to the concept of marketing and the moral of sharing, in a playful and easy to understand fashion. Red Pandas and Bushbabies are not normally found running around in the United States, but this story is a good way to show children that there are other creatures sharing our world.

BIBLIO: 2014 (orig. 2013,) Candlewick Press, Age 4 to 6, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6758-0


I was tempted to try this trick, but I was afraid of damaging my old lady bones. Still, it’s a good trick to fool your friends with.

The Incredible Twisting Arm

Kate Egan with Magician Mike Lane

Illustrated by Eric Wight

Mike loves magic and he loves the White Rabbit Magic Shop, but he goes only when his mother can take him. He’s not a good student and he’s forever getting in trouble. Maybe he can show his parents that he can ride to the magic shop by himself. With encouragement from his neighbor and best friend Nora, Mike decides to show how responsible he can be. He tries harder in school and works on not getting into trouble. For an extra credit science project, decides to show how to look double jointed and what that really means. He learns from his friend at the White Rabbit how make it look as if his arm can twist into a complete circle. He does so well with his project, his parents agree to let him go to the store. During the course of the story, the reader learns several magic tricks. The moral of the story isn’t too blatantly presented and most children can relate to a less than perfect person. Plus, aspiring magicians get some new tricks to practice.

BIBLIO: 2014, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Ages 6 to 9, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-250-02915-7

ISBN: 978-1-250-04044-2

ISBN: 978-1-250-06027-3


I believe today is the first day of autumn, so I hope you’re looking forward to hot cider spiced with cinnamon and accompanied by a slice of pumpkin pie. Be sure, before or after, to rake up some leaves and leap into them. Please tell me a memory of something special to you about fall weather or activities. Thanks for reading, Sarah.

Mystery, Humor and Imagination. What could be better?

I’ve been concentrating on Young Adult stories with love interests, so I thought I’d change it up with a few picture book and middle reader stories this week. The drawings in the last two entries are quite nice. And it’s always fun to have a little mystery with a doofus dad trying to run the show.


The first book is the weakest of the trio, but still has some merit and a good smattering of humor to encourage people to read it. It will especially attract reluctant boy readers.

Knightley & Son: 3 of a Kind

Rohan Gavin

Alan Knightley and his son, Darkus, a.k.a. Doc, are detectives in England, that is until Knightley, Senior, is hypnotized and falls into a swoon for four years. Doc despairs of getting his father back and decides he doesn’t want to be a detective, but rather an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy doing ordinary kid things. But after Alan finally awakens and, with the help of his ex-wife’s step-daughter, Tilly, begins to track the Combination, their arch enemies, the whole family gets caught up in a trap set off by the bad guys kidnapping the family’s prize assistant, Bogna Rejesz. They eventually end up in Las Vegas, Nevada, having been led there by clues. There the trio of detectives discovers they’ve walked right into the trap and are summarily delivered to the leaders of the Combination, which is led by Tilly’s long lost mother. Mildly amusing, the book does weave quite the tale of deceit. Tilly’s dad, Clive, is now married to Darkus’ mother, to make things even more complicated. Teachers could use the book as a jumping off point for studying geography. It seems to be part of a series, so somebody must like it.

BIBLIO: 2016, Bloomsbury Children’s Books/Bloomsbury Publishing, Plc., Ages 10 to 14, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-61963-830-3

ISBN: 978-1-61963-831-0


This picture book is enchanting for any person with an imagination, something that all writers and illustrators are endowed with.

Maggie McGillicuddy’s Eye for Trouble

Susan Hughes

Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan

The characters in this story, well, at least two of them, are sure to keep their neighborhood safe from tigers and pythons and eagles and elephants and crocodiles. Maggie McGillicuddy’s weapons are her tickety, tickety, tacking knitting needles, which she always has at the ready while watching the passing world from her front porch swing. She scares the tiger away with those. Her other weapon is her whickety, whickety, whacking walking cane which she uses to scare the python away. But one day she has to use her most powerful weapon of all before her new neighbor, Charlie, runs into the street in front of a moving car. Maggie McGillicuddy hollers at the young boy to stop and he does, right in his tracks. But when Charlie turns to come visit his neighbor, he has to scare away a herd of elephants with a roar. His dachshund, Cody, helps by wagging his tail. When the two met a crocodile along the walk, Charlie shows his karate moves and Cody chases his tail. Charlie, Cody and Maggie McGillicuddy become great friends and protect the neighborhood from all kinds of trouble. Be sure to look carefully for all the danger lurking around them. Children and their parents will want to read this book over and over. The author encourages the reader to search for the trouble. The illustrations have the right amount of whimsy in them.

BIBLIO: 2016, Kids Can Press/Corus Entertainment Company, Ages 4 to 7, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-77138-291-5


You may have to change your view of rats after you read this story. The rats are drawn as very ratty, but at the same time quite adorable.

The Infamous Ratsos

Kara LaReau

Illustrated by Matt Myers

Louie and Ralphie Ratso live in the Big City with their dad, Big Lou. Their mother died long before the story starts, leaving Big Lou to be the silent, growly type, except when he tells his sons to “Hang tough” every morning as he leaves for work. The boys take their dad’s surly manner as how to be tough and decide to prove they’re tough also. Except everything they do turns out to have been a good thing. They steal the hat off Chad Badgerton, the school bully, only to be rewarded for helping out the hat’s real owner, Tiny Crawley. Everything the boys do turns out to help whomever they’re trying to pick on and wins them praise. What is Big Lou going to think of them, if they keep not being tough? They mean to bury the grocer’s walk in snow so he won’t be able to get out in the morning, but instead they clear his walkway. Next they’re going to pick on the new girl in school, only to befriend her. Soon the reports of their kind deeds reach Big Lou’s ears. The boys are sure they’re in a heap of trouble, but instead their father praises them and they all have a good cry. Then they start doing more good deeds. This is an amusing tale on why being good is not such a bad thing. Mr. Myers succeeds in making the rats endearing with his pencil drawings.

BIBLIO: 2016, Candlewick Press, Ages 5 to 7, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7636-0


Hope you’re having a good day and looking forward to pleasant cool weather. Please let me know what you think of my selections. Thanks, Sarah Maury Swan, author of Terror’s Identity.

The Tangled Web of Love

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, What a tangled web we weave, when our senses love makes us leave.” These three books are about teens falling in love. They all have some merit to them, but only Tell Me Three Things is well written. However, most of time I try to introduce you to good books, so I thought you’d like to see what else gets published. And romance always makes a story more appealing.


I can’t imagine constantly hating my sister so much that I’d want to punch her. But, on the other hand, it wasn’t til the end of her life that the two of us became good friends.

A Million Miles Away

Lara Avery

Kelsey Maxfield and her twin sister, Michelle, do a typical teen thing; throw a party while their parents are gone. But Michelle disappears into her bedroom with her latest boyfriend, Peter, abandoning her friends at the party. Kelsey and her sister don’t get along well to the point of having separate bedrooms and balconies so they won’t punch each other in the stomach. But deep down they do love each other and Kelsey is devastated when Michelle dies in a car wreck after leaving Peter at the airport for his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Soon, Peter starts sending Michelle letters and skyping with her, or so he thinks. Kelsey keeps promising herself and then her friends that she will tell Peter the truth, but since he seems to feel that Michelle is his salvation for the ordeals of serving in the military, Kelsey doesn’t have the heart to tell him. Before long, she’s looking forward to her time with him. She does finally realize she’s keeping her sister alive in her mind and eventually tells him the truth. The story is nice, but the grammar is appalling and the underage drinking permitted is scary. The author gives the reader the impression that there are no virgins over the age of fourteen in all of Lawrence, Kansas.

BIBLIO: 2015, alloyentertainment/Poppy/Little, Brown and Company/Hatchett Book Group/ Ages 15 +, $18.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-316-28368-7

ISBN: 978-0-316-28369-4

ISBN: 978-1-4789-0457-1


This is book is boring and formulaic, but it is the second in a series so some people must have liked.

Flirt: Never too Late

A. Destiny and Rhonda Helms

There is not much to recommend about this second book in the series. The only tension revolves around Abbey’s changing feelings toward the boy who is to star opposite her in the school play. Because of what he said at the school dance at the end of their freshman year, she thinks of him as a total jerk. She makes no effort to see if that is an accurate picture of Jason and resists getting to know him better. Her best friend, Olivia, has a major crush on Jason and gets all bent out of shape when she sees the connection growing between Abbey and Jason. Abbey’s home life is good. She even thinks her step-father is a gem. She gets good grades, has friends, doesn’t get bullied, is artistically talented and likes her teachers. Her only problem is her changing feelings about Jason, who even apologizes for his comments at the dance. She’s afraid to tell him her true feelings for fear of being rejected and of losing her best friend. My, we should all have such gleeful lives. High school is a challenging time for any teen and boy/girl or best friend relationships do add a lot of angst. Just about any young adult novel out there has relationship issues as, at least, a sub-plot. But a whole book with just the one problem is boring. Plus, there a few glaring grammatical mistakes sprinkled amongst the chapters. Jason is an appealing character, but Abbey and Olivia are not sympathetic.

BIBLIO: 2014, Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, Inc. Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-4424-8404-7

ISBN: 978-1-4424-8403-0

ISBN: 978-1-4424-8405-4


The third book is, however, a winner, with appealing characters and a bit of a mystery to it.

Tell Me Three Things

Julie Buxbaum

Jessie A. Holmes moves to Los Angeles because her widowed father marries a rich woman, also widowed, who lives there with her son, Theo. Not only has Jessie now lost her mother, she’s lost all she’s known her whole life. Of course she finds her new “parent” to be impossible and calls her the “stepmonster.” To make matters worse, she is enrolled in a very ritzy, pretentious school full of snobby kids. And the “Queen Bees” are out to get her, especially when she becomes friends with the main Bee’s boyfriend. But then an anonymous person starts emailing her using the screen name of Somebody/Nobody or SN for short. He becomes her refuge and helps her find friends at the new school. She resists adapting to her new life and is not on speaking terms with her dad, much less the step members of her supposed family. Slowly, she makes her way into her new situation and begins find things in common with Theo. But she keeps wondering who SN really is and becomes closer and closer to him through their email exchanges. Of course to make things more complex, she falls for Ethan who is mysterious and her English class partner on writing a paper about an epic poem. In the end, she realizes that the “stepmonster” really isn’t all that bad and she does make friends with at least two girls. You’ll have to read the book to figure out who SN really is. The book is nicely written and the suspense of finding out who SN is keeps the reader going. In addition to the usual themes of bullying and adjusting to new places, the book lends itself to discussions of literature and poetry.

BIBLIO: 2016, Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House LLC, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-553-53564-8

ISBN: 978-0-553-53565-5

ISBN: 978-0-553-53566-2

ISBN: 978-0-399-55293-9


Please let me know if you’ve read any of these books and had a different opinion.  Try as I might not to have my snobbish side play a role in my reviews, I’m afraid I don’t always succeed.  Thanks for reading my blog.  Sarah

Seeing Reality Is Hard

As you know, I usually review three books each week on my blog, but this book of short stories deserves its own post. Do find a copy of this book to read.

I See Reality: Twelve Short Stories about Real Life

Compiled by Grace Kendall

It’s hard enough to break up with someone you’ve been dating, but when the boyfriend threatens to commit suicide or convinces you to stay together just for one more year until he graduates from high school or uses equally debilitating arguments, what is a person to do? “Three Imaginary Conversations with You,” by Heather Demetrios, drags a bit, but gets the point across that the boyfriend is obnoxious and manipulative.

The Downside of Fabulous,” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark, brings in to sharp focus trying to connect with a boyfriend when you’re gay, with well fleshed out characters are and gentle humor. And how does the main character, Chris, deal with the rejection by his heart throb, Tom? Chris owns up to his mistakes and to his being gay.

Skittles, the black cat, keeps the reader guessing as he tells “The Night of the Living Creeper,” by Stephen Emond, about a group of kids talking about who might a “creeper” in their group, looking for someone to sexually assault. When the party breaks up, the creeper makes himself known to the hostess, but she doesn’t take any of his nonsense.

Kekla Magoon’s entry is “Makeshift,” about a mixed-race girl, which focuses on the boxes we put people in. Her father beats her mother one time too many and so Kayse and her mom leave their nice suburban house for a cheap apartment in the heart of Harlem. Kayse’s mom is black and her biological dad is white, as is the man she calls Dad. But Kayse doesn’t like being called “Blanca” or white even though she never much thought about her race before. In Harlem, being white is bad.

Things You Get Over, Things You Don’t,” by Jason Schmidt, is a very powerful story about a school shooting, told from the viewpoint of Caleb who tries to help his gravely wounded girlfriend. When he does save her only discover she’ll probably be a paraplegic for the rest of her life, he thinks it’s all his fault. That he did the wrong thing by moving her to stop the bleeding from the exit wound in her back.

In the end, they are able to tell each other their true feelings.

The message of “Coffee Chameleon,” by Jay Clark, is that recovering from addictions of any kind is hard, but probably the hardest is the addiction to love, especially if it’s commingled with an addiction to prescription drugs is concisely told with good use of humor. Matt was introduced to prescription medication pills by his girlfriend Andi, but got so hooked on them he got his own prescription. Then Andi dumps him and he has to detox himself all alone. But he ends up going to a local coffee shop to get himself out of his head and meets a girl there who helps him recover.

Marcella Pixley’s “Hush,” is the story of a girl and her mother dealing with the death of the father/husband’s from AIDS. This story of the misguided lengths we go to in keeping loved ones safe from our fears and grief is crisply told. June ends up being the grown up when her mother becomes obsessed with keeping her daughter safe.

Can you imagine having to face the world knowing they know your brother took a gun to school and shot students to death? So Lily’s parents move to a new town to start a new life, but Lily is sure everyone will learn about the truth. Rather than try for the leading role in the school musical, Lily hides behind the stage curtain until a new guy in school won’t let her stay hide her talents in Trisha Leaver’s “Blackbird.”

Gone from this Place,” by Faith Erin Hicks, deals, in a graphic story format, with acknowledging one’s sexuality. A boy and girl have made it through high school by being the perfect couple, only now that they’re heading off the different colleges breaking up. They figure in college they can come out and be accepted for who they really are. It’s a good plan except for one detail. It never occurred to them there might be other homosexual kids in their high school and it’s only at the last minute they discover they’ve missing out on real love.

You know the girl or boy you’ve always had a crush on, but didn’t know how to approach and when you do finally get together, you both mess it up? That’s what Jordan Sonnenblick’s “The Sweeter the Sin” is about. The girl has a saying that the sweeter the sin the better the taste. Unfortunately, David and Elizabeth discover that “t’aint necessarily so.”

But the strongest story is simply called “Mistake” and tells the story of a teen couple having to deal with an abortion. Malcolm supports Angela when she makes the decision to abort and at first he doesn’t feel anything one way or another. Then he goes with her to the abortion clinic and begins to think about the baby. A part of him regrets their decision and he wonders if Angela can actually have the procedure.

The last story is about Jose, an illegal immigrant whose twin brother, Javier, switches places with him to save him from deportation. “The Good Brother” is written by Patrick Flores-Scott and will make you want to find a solution to the immigration problems this country is facing.

This book is a keeper.

BIBLIO: 2016, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, Ages 14 +, $ 17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-374-30258-0

ISBN: 978-0-374-30259-7