What Good Writing Looks Like

I read a great many books during a year, largely because I review children’s books for the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database, but also because I love to read.

I don’t just read books published by the “trade” and “indie” publishers, but also self-published books that I find at conferences and book-signing events.

Generally speaking, the trade and indie books have some merit, though they may be in need of a more thorough edit.

Sad to say, a large percentage of the self-published books should never have seen the light of day. That may be an arrogant thing to say, since I self-published my first novel, Terror’s Identity, but I did have two professional editors critique and edit the book to a fare-the-well. And I used much of their editing input to improve the story.

Anyway, the two books I’m commenting on this week fall into the trade publisher category and are well worth the money or trip to your library.

It is amazing the number of gifted writers floating around in our universe.

Cherry Money Baby

John M. Cusick, whom I had the pleasure to meet the past August at the SCBWI-Carolinas’ annual conference, has written an interesting book about a teen-aged girl who loves her small town and her family. She has no ambition other than to graduate high school, marry her boyfriend, and live happily ever after. That is until she meets a movie star not much older than she, who is filming an historical-fiction movie in Cherry’s hometown.

The movie star befriends Cherry and turns her upside down by introducing her to drugs and wealth and the playgirl life. All of this causes Cherry to pause and reevaluate who she is and what she should do with her life. The story is well told and intriguing, reminding us that things frequently are not what they seem to be. In the end, Cherry solve the puzzle of who she is and where she wants to end up.

BIBLIO: 2013, Candlewick Press, Ages 14 +, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-7636-557-0

Orbiting Jupiter

Gary D. Schmidt is not only an astounding teacher, but an exceptional author. This book will stay in your mind and heart for a very long time, filling you with heartbreak and joy. The story is told by Jack, who is the son of a local farmer in a small northern town. His parents take in foster children to give them a loving home, at least for a while.

Their latest foster child is 13-year-old Joseph, who has already fathered a child with the love of his young life. But he’s never seen his daughter and mourns the death of his girlfriend. He is sullen–or so it would seem–angry, but turns out to have a way with cows. He goes to school with Jack, who becomes fond and protective of him.

Joseph hasn’t had a happy life since his mother abandoned him and his father abuses him.

The story blossoms into the bond between the two boys and then Jack’s endeavor to help Joseph find his young daughter, Jupiter, named for Joseph and his girlfriend’s favorite planet. The end of the story is bittersweet, with Joseph dying and Jack’s family adopting Jupiter. Definitely worth reading, if you haven’t already.

BIBLIO: 2015, Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 13 +, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-544-46222-9

ISBN: 978-0-544-93839-7

 

 

 

 

I’m Back!

Have you ever had to move to a new neighborhood, or change schools, or be set in any kind of new environment?  I don’t know about you, but I find it scary and stressful. How do you deal with changes? I get a bit on the manic side and hide in bluster.  So, I picked three stories that put at least one of the characters in a situation of intense change.

 

The first book is a bit fanciful, but the protagonist is believable and the story is amusing.

 

Clayton Stone, Facing Off

Ena Jones

Clayton Stone is a thirteen-year-old orphan living with his grandmother, Gran, who recruits him into the Special Services in Clayton Stone, At Your Service, where he solves a kidnapping. This time he must change his identity and transfer to an elite private school to protect the president’s son.  To make matters worse, his new school is playing against his old school in a playoff game to see which team goes to the Lacrosse Championship game. Things don’t go swimmingly for Clayton, who has to remember he is now Max Carrington.  He keeps over reacting to circumstances in his new school, but he does finally make friends with First Son, Kyle Hampton.  Together, with the help of two other kids, they figure out who is threatening Kyle, though, in the end, it turns out the bad guys are after another student.  The story is well-written and has plenty of surprises, in addition to humor, especially all the disguises Gran uses. Resourceful teachers will find several topics of discussions in their classrooms.  Loyalty, sportsmanship, patience and thinking through dilemmas are all good discussion topics.

BIBLIO: 2016, Holiday House, Ages 8 to 13, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 9780823436484

 

The second book is set on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Oahu, but not in Honolulu. The reader gets a sense of the island without the glitz.

 

Juniors

Kaui Hart Hemmings

 

In the middle of her junior year of high school, Lea Lane moves from San Francisco

back to Hawaii where her actress mother is in a new TV show. Having spent her early childhood in Kailua, on Oahu Island near Honolulu, she knows the area and has kept in touch with Danny, a neighbor boy.  She is enrolled in a posh private school, thanks to her long-absent father, or so she’s been told.  The house her mother has rented for them is shoddy and in a not-so-nice neighborhood, but now they’ve been invited to use the guest cottage of an estate owned by long-standing friends of Lea’s mother. In fact, Mr. West was Lea’s mom’s boyfriend for a brief time, before he introduced her to the fellow who got her pregnant.  Lea feels awkward about the arrangement until she gets to know the West kids who are about her age.  As with all lives, things get complicated and Lea has to sort out what her true desires are.  The story is well told and intricate and has a good ending.  Lea grows a lot during the story.  The down side of the book is the easy acceptance the author has with letting the juvenile characters be promiscuous and happily get drunk and/or high.  A little more regret and the parents being a bit less lax in showing their children how to behave would have been nice. Lea, at least, shows some remorse for having succumbed to the booze and drugs.

BIBLIO: 2015, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group, Ages 14 +, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-399-17360-8

 

You must read the third book with the spirit of letting your imagination run wild. There are lots of magical, mythical creatures parading across the pages. If you can’t allow yourself to believe in Unicorns and other such creatures, don’t bother with this book. I loved it, because, at all most 76 years of age, I still believe in Unicorns and Griffins.

 

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training

Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater

Illustrated by Maggie Stiefvater

Pip Bartlett is spending the summer with her Aunt Emma at the Cloverton Clinic for Magical Creatures. She loves talking with the animals, though no-one else realizes she understands what the animals are saying.  Aunt Emma and her daughter, Callie, and Pip are going to the Triple Trident magical animal show and their neighbor, Tomas, is going with them.  Tomas is allergic to just about everything, but that doesn’t stop him from going places.  Callie, being a prissy teenager, is less than thrilled with going.  But the fun really ramps up when their friend Mr. Henshaw’s Show Unicorn gets a case of jangling nerves and won’t settle down for anyone.  That is until Pip takes the Unicorn, Regent Maximus, into a paddock filled with baby unicorns.  He begins to calm down as he tells the young ones all the trials and terrors that await them. They become his adoring entourage.  It’s a cute story and will certainly get the reader giggling.  Frequently, a page in the book is taken up by a description of some magical creature, with an amusing drawing.  The glimmerbeast subspecies called a rockshine, which turns invisible when frightened, is the first illustration.  It looks rather like a deranged sheep.  The story progresses with lots of mishaps to Regent Maximus and other creatures, but in the end, Regent Maximus wins the Triple Trident championship.  Even though the creatures are all mythical, the story can be used as a way discuss animal anatomy and ways to calm scared creatures.

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc. Ages 8 to 12, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-70929-3

Enjoy the post and let me know what’s going on with you.  Thanks, Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing Seasons

The weather may still be warm in your neck of the woods, but we are in November already. Which means winter is on the way. I thought you might like a little hint of what can happen in the cold months. I’m not a big fan of the cold, it makes my hands and feet hurt, but looking out at a snowy day when you know you can stay warm by the fire, is a thing of beauty. I love the quiet, gentle to feel of snow falling around me. And how sparkly clean the sky is after a storm. Anyway, hope you enjoy the books I’ve chosen.

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The Big Dark

Rodman Philbrick

Charlie Cobb lives in Harmony, New Hampshire, which becomes less harmonious after a massive solar flare knocks all electrical connections. Not just the lights are affected, but cars, generators and anything with some kind of electrical impulse is rendered useless. It happens during a spectacular showing of the aurora borealis which all 857 residents watch from a snowy and beyond cold baseball field. The assumption at first is that the power will come back on in a matter of hours, well maybe days, or perhaps weeks. People cooperate at first, but soon the camaraderie is lost and survivalist crazies try to take over. The town elects the part-time volunteer police officer and full-time school janitor, Mr. Kingman, to keep order and run the town. The longer the power outage lasts, the more Charlie’s sister worries their mother will run out of her insulin pills. The only way to get help is for Charlie to borrow his friend’s cross-country skis and head down the mountain to the nearest large town, Concord. He has to sneak out because his mother banned him from skiing after his father died in a skiing accident. What is a twenty-minute car ride takes Charlie two days skiing and he has to ward off very hungry coyotes that smell the venison jerky he’s surviving on. He does get help from an elderly couple after rescuing the husband from under his collapsed wood pile. Concord is in chaos when Charlie finally gets there, but he does find help and the medicine his mom needs. This book is a good jumping off point for many discussions on making a better world, survival and astrophysics, among other things. It is a compelling read.

BIBLIO: 2016, The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $??.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-78975-2

ISBN: 978-0-545-78977-6

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Having grown up seeing well done drawings in books—think of the original drawings in Winnie-the-Pooh or Wind in the Willows—cutesy Disney style illustrations irritate me. But this book does have merit to it.

Winter’s Flurry Adventure

Elise Allen and Halle Stanford

Illustrated by Paige Pooler

This the second of four stories in a series created to tie in with the TV “Enchanted Sisters” series developed by Mike Moon of the Jim Henson Company. Winter lives in a snowy realm with Fluffy the Polar Bear as her constant companion and best friend until Fluffy gets jealous of a baby fox and runs off. Winter calls her sisters, Spring, Summer and Autumn, to help get the bear back. In their efforts to find Fluffy, the girls go into the “Weeds’” territory where everything is dark and dirty. Eventually they find the beloved bear happily playing with some of the Weeds. Fluffy pays no attention to Winter, but he’s been telling the boys about her. After saving a moat monster, the four sisters figure out a way to entice Fluffy back to Winter’s realm where their mother, Mother Nature, joins them. Winter apologizes to Fluffy for making him feel unloved and the bear and fox become friends. The drawings are ever so cutesy, but the messages of caring about one’s friends and this planet we live on, give the book some merit.

BIBLIO: 2014, Bloomsbury Children’s Books/Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., Ages 7 to 9, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-61963-267-7

ISBN: 978-1-61963-267-4

ISBN: 978-1-61963-268-4

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The last book in this week’s blog is, in some ways, a sad book, though the reader is endeared to the main character. I thought it was a good read.

Winter Sky

Patricia Reilly Giff

Siria, named by her mother for the bright star in the Canis Major constellation, lives on the seventh floor of an apartment building in one of New York City’s boroughs. She treasurers her memories of her deceased mother and dotes on her father. Pop is a firefighter and Siria worries he will get hurt or killed on the job. She feels she must follow him to nighttime fires near their apartment. Then she stumbles across several suspicious fires in the neighborhood and starts her own investigation to find the culprit. At first she assumes it’s her best friend, Douglas, because he has a green jacket that matches the scrap of fabric she finds at a fire scene. She keeps feeling the presence of someone lurking around the various scenes and she cautiously befriends a stray dog with a matted coat that shows up around the fires also. Douglas is angry with her for mistrusting him, but she learns her evidence against him is flawed. She does find the fire starter eventually, who turns out to be a runaway from Pennsylvania. She doesn’t turn him into the authorities because the fires were accidental as he tried to keep warm. Her father is hurt on the job, but survives and his injuries heal quickly. Her friends, Douglas and Laila, build her a star-gazing shelter on their apartment building’s roof as a present for her twelfth birthday. Along the way Siria learns to trust the people she loves and to believe in her own strengths. Ms. Giff has a lovely way of endearing her reader to her protagonists. This is, in some ways, a simple telling of Siria’s story, but in some ways complex. The reader will have much to ponder.

BIBLIO: 2014, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children’s Books/Random House LLC/ Penguin Random House Company, Ages 8 to 12, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-375-83892-7

ISBN: 978-0-385-37192-6

ISBN: 978-0-375-37193-3

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Enjoy the beauty of fall weather and leaf colors and slowly get yourself ready for the winter months when you can sit by a fire and read a good book.

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.

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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.

Meltdown

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

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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

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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

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

Love, Does It Conquer All?

Love comes in many forms and our actions/reactions to the feelings are complex, to say the least. So let’s review three books that show different reactions to love. One of the stories is indeed adorable and makes me wish I had a baby to cuddle. To smell the sweet and sour aromas of one so young and listen to the gentle breathing sounds of a baby paying attention and feel the softness of a baby’s skin and hair. Or to feel the squirmy attention of a toddler who wants to hear the story, but has a hard time sitting still.

Another of the stories has to do with trying for redemption and righting past wrongs.

And the third story is about finding love and forgivness as a teenager. I think most of us have experienced all three types of love. Enjoy.

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Some of the books I review leave me pretty much cold, but they all have some merit to them, especially the message of being careful what you wish for. This isn’t one of my favorites. Still, it is worth a mention.

Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend

Katie Finn

Gemma Tucker did horrible things to Hallie, a girl her age, when she spent the summer of her eleventh year with her father in the Hamptons. Now sixteen, she has regretted her behavior ever since, but doesn’t know what to do to make amends. She thinks she has her summer plans in place to go to South America to help her boyfriend do good deeds in Columbia. But then her boyfriend breaks up with her and her mother and stepfather have already made plans to go to salmon spawning grounds in Scotland and will stay with a laird in his castle. Now her options are to go with Mom and Walter or brave the Hamptons with her dad in hopes that Hallie and family are not there. Of course, they are and she masquerades as her best friend, Sophie, thinking she can show how sorry she is. She falls for Hallie’s brother, Josh. But things start to go wrong almost immediately and when the real Sophie shows up during a party at Hallie’s house, Gemma is in a pickle. She and Hallie have a huge fight in which Hallie triumphantly announces her involvement in all of Gemma’s problems that summer. The crowning glory is Hallie’s having snagged Gemma’s boyfriend. This book doesn’t gel well. Although, there is much interaction between Gemma and her dad, the reader never hears much about Hallie and Josh’s mother. Last Gemma had known, their mother was in total disgrace from Gemma’s actions five years earlier, but now the family is living high on the hog. No explanation is ever given. The good news is not all the kids drink and there don’t seem to be wild sex orgies.

BIBLIO: 2014, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-04524-9

ISBN: 978-1-250-06057-0

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This picture book, googly eyes and all, will have you giggling, along with oohing and aahing, all the way through. Though more realistic drawings would me happy. I not the biggest fan of Disney heavy reliance on cutesy.  I, for instance, find the original drawings in Winnie the Poo, much more appealing.  But, hey, I’m an elderly lady who was raised by a wonderful snob.

Next to You

Lori Haskins Houran

Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The subtitle of this book, “A Book of Adorableness,” gives the reader a clue to the googley-eyed cuteness of the illustrations. The animals are recognizable as what species they belong to, though drawing smaller eyes would work just as well. But the message of the story is sweet and sure to make any child feel special and loved. Generally speaking, baby animals are cute and look oh so cuddly. Have you ever seen a new born lamb? How cute can cute be? Have you ever watched a puppy play with her brother? Or a giraffe baby trying to get to his feet? It’s hard enough for a human baby to stand up, but try standing up when you don’t even really know how and you’re only an hour old. But the babies’ mommas are there to help and to feed them. And it is tempting to want to pet any baby. However, the best baby to pet and cuddle is your baby. The author singles out puppies, kitty cats, ducklings, squirrels, chicks, a piglet and a monkey, along with the giraffe and agrees they’re all beyond adorable, but they don’t hold a candle to the child who’s having the book read to her. Children will want to have this book read to them over and over, just so they can giggle and feel safe when their mommas or daddies give them big hugs at the end.

BIBLIO: 2016, Albert Whitman and Company, Ages 2 to 6, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8075-5600-9

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The final book of my reviews is a knock-out. There is a bit of mystery in it and the characters are very believable. The main character has a lot growing to do and she succeeds well, learning many life lessons along the way.

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

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I hope you enjoy my choices and comments.  Please tell me love stories from your life. I’d love to read them.  Thanks for reading my blog.  Sarah Maury Swan, author of Terror’s Identity