Book Review: Riding Chance by Christine Kendall

Riding Chance
Christine Kendall
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-92404-7
Hardcover

Troy is adrift and in danger of falling into that trap created when grief is compounded by lack of a caring parent to turn things around. His mom died not long ago and his father is still too wrapped up in his own loss and sorrow to intervene. When Troy gets the blame for a cellphone theft that should have been dropped on Lay-Lay, the crime-spree-in-the-making on his Philadelphia street, he’s less than thrilled at the community service assigned to him and his best friend Foster.

As often happens, what initially seems like a punishment and a total downer, becomes a whole new way of looking at life with some amazing skills attached. The boys are assigned to an equestrian program in the large city park not far from their homes. Troy’s initial impression is that horses are uncomfortable and smelly. However, he’s interested right off by Alisha, a very pretty girl who is his age and is already quite comfortable with the horses.

It turns out they have something in common-grief and loss. Winston, a former professional polo player who runs the program, is Alisha’s uncle and took her in after her parents died. Despite his initial unease around horses, Troy soon realizes that when he’s with them, especially Chance, the horse he’s assigned to ride and care for, he feels more alive and at peace. In fact, there are times when he’s grooming her or riding when he feels almost like he did before his mother died.

Despite his growing comfort with Chance and a realization by almost everyone involved that he’s a natural around horses and has great potential as a budding polo player, Troy can’t lose his hard edge. That’s sharpened by an encounter outside his house with police that goes badly, as well as his inability to be open with anyone about how he really feels. This increased mistrust and alienation threaten his newfound love of horses and excitement about becoming a member of the polo team. It takes the adults around him and Alisha, as well as his best friend confronting him, coupled with a very frightening incident at a polo exhibition for Troy to realize that he’s not much different than those around him.

The dialect takes a chapter or so to get comfortable with, but after that, the story becomes a seamless and engrossing read. I finished it in less than two hours. Both adults and teens/tweens will really identify with the way Troy feels, how he’s his own worst enemy and the way he comes through a better person. A great book for inner city schools and libraries, but a really good one for any library where diversity in the collection is important.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Book Review: In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman

in-case-you-missed-itIn Case You Missed It
Sarah Darer Littman
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN: 978-0-545-90437-7
Hardcover

What teen doesn’t privately criticize their friends? After all, they’re going through major changes that are accompanied by mood swings, major insecurity and self-doubt. In other words, mental squirrel-cage territory. What they don’t expect is every single one of their thoughts, crushes, annoyances and feelings to be hijacked and posted online where everyone affected can see and react, not to mention receiving a barrage of Twitter and Facebook snark from people they’ve never met.

Welcome to Sammy Wallach’s new reality. She’s psyched about the end of her junior year, doing things with her besties, getting her driver’s license and hoping to go to prom with Jamie Moss, the boy she’s drooled over for ages. Unfortunately, the bank her father manages has been picketed by some pretty aggressive protesters, who have now started camping next to the building. When Dad and the board call in police to remove them, someone hacks the bank’s computer system. What does this have to do with Sammy? She kept a diary on her laptop that was backed up on the family server. The hackers hit that as well and now everything she wrote about friends, her fantasies and even rules she broke when she and her two friends went to a club to see a band, something her parents had expressly forbidden, is now online for the world to read.

Add to that her realization, courtesy of some of her father’s emails now exposed, that her parents, who have been extremely strict, are far from perfect, and she’s not only humiliated, but very angry.

This is the point where the story could have turned totally cliché. Instead, the author pulls you alongside Sammy as she guts it out. In the process, she finds new and pretty cool friends, a boy much better than her crush, strength to deal with an unexpected family tragedy, a stronger and mutually respectful relationship with her younger brother and a realization that she survived what, at first, seemed unthinkable.

This is a great read for teens who like a quirky, but relatable story of teen disaster and family chaos. I’d suggest it to all libraries as an acquisition.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2016.

Book Review: This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

This Raging LightThis Raging Light
Estelle Laure
HMH Books for Young Readers, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-53429-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Lucille Bennett is pushed into adulthood after her mom decides to “take a break”…from parenting, from responsibility, from Lucille and her little sister, Wren.  Left to cover for her absentee parents, Lucille thinks, “Wren and Lucille. Lucille and Wren. I will do whatever I have to. No one will pull us apart.”

Now is not the time for level-headed Lucille to fall in love. But love—messy, inconvenient love—is what she’s about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend’s brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure’s soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.

Having coffee (a smoothie in my case) with a friend last week, I told her about this book I’d just finished reading for the second time. I’m not talking about the usual kind of re-read that you might do months or years after the first time; this was immediately following my first read and that’s unheard of for me. I only very rarely re-read and never immediately but I guess I can’t claim that anymore.

So, why did I have a need to re-read right away? It’s because I was so consumed by outrage that I had to find out if it was just because of the initial shock or if my outrage was real. It was indeed real and still roiling in my innards, so to speak. I’m appalled that any parent could walk away from her own children without any concern for what would happen to them and my feelings about this mother are even stronger because I know this happens in real life.

The story opens on Day 14 since Lu’s mother left, supposedly on a brief “break” and Lu is becoming more and more panicked as she begins to realize that the woman—hard to call her a mother—is probably not coming back. That compounds the devastation of losing her father to a mental breakdown and the level of narcissism both of these parents display is amazing. They prove the point that some people should never have children.

This is also a story of the deep bonds between siblings, in particular Lu and Wren but also Lu’s best friend, Eden, and her twin brother, Digby, and the four of them pretty much save the day, with a little help from….who? Certainly Lu’s boss and her co-worker and friend, Shane, go above and beyond but someone else is really helping behind the scenes.

A troubled romance plays a part in Lu’s story but it doesn’t overwhelm the core of the tale, the ability of a girl to overcome great adversity and heartache with a little help from those who really do care. In the end, I’m still outraged but I also am left with a feeling of hope and belief in the goodness of most people.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2016.

Book Review: The Society by Jodie Andrefski

The Society Tour Banner

************

Title: The Society
Author: Jodie Andrefski
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Genres: General Fiction, Young Adult

************

Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // iTunes
Amazon UK // Amazon CA // Books-A-Million
Indiebound // The Book Depository

************

The SocietyThe Society
Jodie Andrefski
Entangled Teen, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-63375-318-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Welcome to Trinity Academy’s best-kept secret.

The Society.

You’ve been handpicked by the elite of the elite to become a member. But first you’ll have to prove your worth by making it through Hell Week.

Do you have what it takes?

It’s time to find out.

Samantha Evans knows she’d never get an invite to rush the Society―not after her dad went to jail for insider trading. But after years of relentless bullying at the hands of the Society’s queen bee, Jessica, she’s ready to take down Jessica and the Society one peg at a time from the inside out.

All it’ll take is a bit of computer hacking, a few fake invitations, some eager rushees…and Sam will get her revenge.

Let the games begin.

Teen bullying has become more widely talked about in the last few years than ever before, rightfully so, and many young adult novels have focused on the topic. This is a good thing because it helps shine a light on a serious problem but making such novels fresh and different has come to be more difficult as time goes by. It’s similar to some other book themes that seem to lose their punch as too many authors and publishers jump on the bandwagon,

Sam has suffered at the hands of a former friend, Jessica, and Jessica’s treatment of Sam can’t be justified in any way even though the reason behind it is understandable. Sam’s eventual decision to take revenge, on Jessica and on the school’s higher society, is at the core of the problem for me because, to my mind, Sam becomes every bit as mean-spirited and unlikeable as Jessica.

The Society is well-written, don’t get me wrong, but I had trouble empathizing with Sam once she set out on this path to get even although I fully understand the realities of human nature and the desire to get back at the people who’ve hurt us. Although I think this is a good book, I just didn’t quite connect with Sam or her story but I think many other readers will.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

About the Author

Jodie AndrefskiJodie Andrefski lives in a tiny town in PA that no one has ever heard of with her teenage daughter. She received her BS in Secondary English Education from Penn State, then taught a few years before changing focus and going back to school for her Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling.

Andrefski always loved both reading and writing, and wrote for several websites and magazines before deciding to write novels. She writes YA Contemporary, most of which involves at least some kissing. The Society is her second novel with Entangled Teen.

Author Links:

Website Button     Twitter Button     Facebook Button     Goodreads Button 2

************

Follow the tour here.

************

YA Bound Book Tours Button 2

Book Review: A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum—and a Giveaway!

A Brilliant DeathA Brilliant Death
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-63388-128-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Amanda Baron died in a boating accident on the Ohio River in 1953. Or, did she? While it was generally accepted that she had died when a coal barge rammed the pleasure boat she was sharing with her lover, her body was never found.
 
Travis Baron was an infant when his mother disappeared. After the accident and the subsequent publicity, Travis’s father scoured the house of all evidence that Amanda Baron had ever lived, and her name was never to be uttered around him. Now in high school, Travis yearns to know more about his mother. With the help of his best friend, Mitch Malone, Travis begins a search for the truth about the mother he never knew. The two boys find an unlikely ally: an alcoholic former detective who served time for falsifying evidence. Although his reputation is in tatters, the information the detective provides about the death of Amanda Baron is indisputable—and dangerous.
 
Nearly two decades after her death, Travis and Mitch piece together a puzzle lost to the dark waters of the Ohio River. They know how Amanda Baron died, and why. Now what do they do with the information?

There is so much good to be discovered in this novel that I hardly know where to begin. I’m kind of compelled to say that A Brilliant Death is, well, close to brilliant, never mind the fact that Brilliant is the name of the town in which the story takes place.

Friendships between boys are not featured anywhere nearly as frequently as those between girls. That’s no doubt at least partly because there’s so much drama in girl friendships while the guys just sort of seem to hang together without a lot of hoopla…until, of course, a girl comes between them. Anyway, the friendship depicted here between Travis and Mitch is a terrific story all on its own. I really appreciate the way these two boys are truly there for each other, especially in Mitch’s understanding of how awful Travis’s life is and how much he wants to help. It’s not one-sided, though, as Travis also cares very much for Mitch.

I also thought Mr. Yocum had a terrific idea in making Mitch the protagonist rather than Travis, the one who is driven to find answers to the mystery of his mother’s death. There are other mysteries, too, such as why was Big Frank such a loathsome individual? Why did women keep marrying this awful excuse for a human being? Did Travis die on graduation night and, if so, why? Would Brilliant survive once the steel mills began to close?

And thus Mitch’s tale of what happened in Brilliant, Ohio, begins in the summer of 1953.

I do have to mention one oddity that bothered me a bit. At times, there are two speakers in the same paragraph and I really don’t know if this was a failure of formatting in the pre-publication electronic galley I read or if it also happens in the final electronic and/or print editions. It happened enough that I noticed it but it certainly didn’t hamper me from having a most enjoyable read. Robin Yocum is a fine writer and I can’t recommend A Brilliant Death highly enough.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn Sunday evening,
April 24
th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US.

Book Reviews: The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg and Murder in Megara by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer

The Lonely Hearts ClubThe Lonely Hearts Club
Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, January 2010
ISBN 978-0-545-14031-7
Hardcover

Penny Lane Bloom—her parents met at a makeshift shrine in a Chicago park the night John Lennon was shot—should hate the Beatles, but she accepts her parents’ fandom. After all, her older sisters are named Lucy and Rita, and all the family’s vacations have been spent in Liverpool.

The summer before her junior year in high school, long time friend Nate is pressuring Penny for sex. She resists, but she knows she and Nate are perfect for each other. But when she stops by for a surprise visit, he’s on the couch—with another girl.

While staring at one of the many Beatles posters in her room, Penny’s brainchild is hatched. She’ll quit dating loser guys, getting lied to, and enjoy the benefits of being single. It’s the Lonely Hearts Club, and if Penny is the only member, it’s just fine with her.

Reluctantly, her best friend Tracy joins her, and so does popular cheerleader Diane, who had just broken up with the school’s most popular athlete. Diane decides to quit cheerleading and with the support of the girls in the club, tries out for basketball.

This is an upbeat debut novel about girls and friendship. There is brief mention of sexual activity, underage drinking, and eating disorders, but it’s mostly about solidarity among girls. It’s a funny and fun choice for young adult readers.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Murder in MegaraMurder In Megara
A John the Lord Chamberlain Mystery #11
Mary Reed & Eric Mayer
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0406-7
Hardcover

The eleventh novel is this fine historical series shows the usual careful and extensive research that are hallmarks of this writing team. The deposed Lord Chamberlain has left Emperor Justinian’s Court at Constantinople and taken his household to his family holdings near the seedy town of Megara which at that Byzantine time was part of Greece. It was located near Corinth and Athens. His appearance is not welcome as he upsets the routines and rhythms of the place and causes numerous rifts and tears in alliances both above and below board. Corruption is well-known and runs smoothly if not lawfully in Megara and John is causing waves. Within days murder is afoot and local authorities are quick to accuse the newcomer and members of his household of several crimes including murder and blasphemy. Sorting out the threats, staying out of jail and returning to favor of the Roman Court, not to mention staying alive, appears to be a pretty tall order.

The plot moves steadily forward, the pages of the novel are thickly peopled with interesting people and readers will enjoy the intimate views and thoughts of both high and low-born citizens. Since followers of the series understand that certain characters, regardless of the negative vicissitudes of life visited upon them, will survive, however there are several likeable and vulnerable characters about whom to speculate. Excellent enjoyable novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Titans by Victoria Scott

TitansTitans
Victoria Scott
Scholastic Press, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80601-5
Hardcover

Guilt is a heavy burden, even more so when you’re a teenager with two sisters and are part of a family teetering on the edge of losing everything. That’s life for Astrid Sullivan. Both her dead grandfather and her dad turned family stability into chaos because of their gambling addictions. With her father laid off and jobs for blue collar workers almost nonexistent, her family is falling apart and about to lose their home..again. Older sister Dani is escaping by spending all her time with a boyfriend, while Mom deals with stress by sneaking out at night and taking care of the neighborhood gardens. Home life stress is exacerbated because everyone’s avoiding talking about it.

Astrid and her best friend, Magnolia, who aspires to become a small businesswoman by selling her artful hair decorations, started hanging out near the racetrack when they were thirteen and have spent the past five years watching the mechanical horses, called titans, race. Astrid is a math whiz and spends part of her racetrack time using that skill to calculate how jockies could better run a race.

When she and Magnolia help an older man who is dizzy and weak while at the races one afternoon, little do they know that it’s the start of an adventure of a lifetime. Rags, the man they helped, and his friend Barney, have a secret. They have an early model Titan, one with artificial intelligence, something the newer 3.0 models don’t have. When the announcement that one rider will receive an entry into this year’s race series with the $50,000 fee waived, the men ask Astrid if she’s interested. Is water wet? Heck yes, she’s interested, especially with a $2 million prize up for grabs.

How they get a horse that has been sitting unused for years, into shape, how Astrid and Magnolia get mentored in social skills, what pitfalls are involved as the races get more competitive and how her choice affects her family life, make this an incredible read. Teens (and adults) who love a great adventure yarn with lots of action will devour the book. I could not put it down.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.