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Mall Hair Maladies

Mall Hair Maladies by [Volchko, Kristy Jo]

Mall Hair Maladies by Kristy Jo Volchko is a delightful throwback story that will take 80’s kids down memory lane. The book follows Tanya, the new kid in school, Randi, and their single parents. The two meet and quickly become inseparable best friends. Volchko describes a year in the life of two 13 year old girls in 1980’s America. Volchko delves into “a day in the life” right down to big, crimped, hair-sprayed hair, fingerless gloves, and arms lined with multi-colored jelly bracelets. The biggest obstacle in the girls’ lives is finding a way to go to the local Madonna concert. She’s their idol, and they will do just about anything to hear her belting her songs in person.

Volchko writing feels like a genuine first-hand account of crazy events told across a dinner table. Grammar and spelling are impeccable. Everything flows perfectly. Characters were well developed, with each one having enough background story for readers to get a good grip on who they are. The setting and different scenarios were described well. Volchko has a way of making you feel like you are right there with the characters mixing up things in the kitchen, having an awkward dinner with an uptight relative, or smoking in the girls room. I felt invested in her characters and their lives.

I loved the throwbacks to the 1980’s. I lived them, and the essence of that era was captured perfectly. Readers from that time will relate to the characters. They will see themselves and reminisce over their own 80’s stories. I love the real references to the music and fashion of the time. It was a simpler time in many ways, but pop culture, music, and fashion were anything but simple.

The story is a nice throwback to a safer time for kids. They could hop on a bus unattended and go all over town and return relatively unscathed. They had little fear of anything bad happening to them at all. Bad things happened, of course, but they didn’t seem so frequent. Volchko conveys that time of simplicity and relative safety very well. I’m not so sure the story would have played out the same if it was set in today’s world. It was nice to escape back to that time for a little while.

I love how easily the girls become best friends. I think we sometimes forget how simple that was as children. Two strangers implicitly trusted and loved each other without the bat of a fake eyelash, just because they did. They met. They liked each other. Simple.

Without getting too heavy, Volchko exposes some problems that commonly arise in families. These aren’t 80’s problems, but timeless problems. Tanya has an absent father, and Randi has an absent mother. Tanya’s grandmother is judgmental, hateful, and a huge source of stress for the family. Volchko shows how the characters deal with those issues. She gives examples of difficult family dynamics and how the characters navigate those storms. She also gives some hope with the introduction of a less dysfunctional family toward the end.

I’d recommend this book to anyone in middle school and up, though 80’s kids may appreciate it the most. I couldn’t have asked for more out of this book. Volchko has made me a fan. I loved the story. I loved the characters. I loved the writing. I would love to read more of her work.

Pages: 265 | ASIN: B079SQYLRZ

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Coin Toss Book Trailer

Jeremy Savage, an 8th grade quarterback phenom, has just been given the offer of a lifetime from Coach Robert Fletcher, a local icon, to come and play football for him at St. Michael’s Preparatory, the best football program in the state. As Jeremy struggles with this choice, the decision becomes increasingly difficult for him as situations arise in which the deep bonds he has with his friends become stronger and stronger. While Jeremy continues to work through his thoughts and feelings, it becomes apparent that there are other forces at play which have a vested interest in his decision. Will he ultimately elect to attend St. Michael’s? Or, will he stay with his friends at Centerville High and attempt to become a local legend?

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Blindsided (Dear Grief Series)

Blindsided (Dear Grief Series) by [Gilbert, Dr. Chenee' L.]

Blindsided opens on a breezy, summery note; twelve-year-old LaTrell attends summer camp where she is thrown into a new group of friends and she wants to make a good impression. But this means defying her father and avoiding his suspicions. Soon it’s clear that she and her family are still dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s death. It shows how the family copes with the changes and react to the events following her death. The book also shows the relationships between LaTrell and her father Luis, and her nine-year-old brother Daryl.

The book is written in a simple way with a positive tone. This allows it to be aimed at families, not just young teenagers. Older children, (like Daryl) would be able to read this book with parents. The book explores a lot of difficult issues, mainly grief, but incorporates cyber-bullying and the general problem of fitting in. The positive tone encourages discussion and leaves the reader with the impression that experiencing these issues is okay.

There are questions at the end of each chapter – such as ‘What would you have done if you were in LaTrell’s shoes?’ These questions are a little unusual in a fictional book, but their purpose is evident. The questions encourage interactive reading. Older children who can read alone may use the questions to reflect on what they have read, or it may allow them to bring thoughts to their parents. For younger children, parents can raise these questions with them to encourage them to discuss their feelings.

The main theme of the book is dealing with grief and it is explored in conjunction with other childhood issues. Throughout the book the children are encouraged to discuss their feelings and any hardships with appropriate adults. This then shows the positive aspects and importance of good family relationships. LaTrell’s friendship with Peaches (who focuses on the relationship with her father) shows how friends can support positive relationships to develop within families, even at a young age and highlights the importance of childhood friends.

Through the strong bond between LaTrell and her father, the importance of mutual respect, compromise and communication is shown. For LaTrell it is important that she has freedom to make her own choices, looks cool and has a good reputation with her friends. So, it is key, that her father listens to her and though he does not always agree, he allows her to express herself in ways appropriate for her age. Through this, it highlights the importance of balance in the parent-child relationship.

Although Blindsided by Chenee’ Gilbert is a book that encourages communication and positive relationships, there is a lot of different events that occur in the book. Each of these is explored but there is room to go into a lot more detail with each one. The book has mostly positive outcomes, but we know that this is not always the case in real life – therefore if each issue was explored in more depth, then perhaps parents would be a little more prepared if their children are not as co-operative as LaTrell. Overall, I thought this was a very good book.

Pages: 206 | ASIN: B077YVWM8C

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Crazy Experiences

Denise Ann Stock Author Interview

Denise Ann Stock Author Interview

Blowout Summer follows Dee Dee as she reflects on one memorable summer filled with surfing, drugs and experimentation. What served as your inspiration while writing this wild summer?

It was a different time. Everything about living in a small beach town was easy. California was changing right under the States noses. People and their crazy experiences during that time, led me to write about their antics.

Dee Dee is a character, I felt, continued to develop as the story progressed. What were some obstacles you felt were important to her characters development?

She was on the verge of becoming an adult and she still wanted to have fun making bad or detrimental choices. She needed to become independent instead of going with the crowd.

This novel takes place in the 70’s when a lot of experimentation was going on. What were some themes you wanted to capture while writing this book?

The world of surfing, clothing styles, and the music of that time.

What is the next story that you are working on and when will it be available?

It features the same characters. They can’t seem to stay out of trouble. It should be done this year.

Author Links: Website | Amazon

Blow Out Summer by [Stock, Denise Ann]

Surf, party, and romance take center stage in the breezy novel Blow Out Summer, as a group of local surfers in Huntington Beach, California, enjoy a summertime of hanging out and having fun.

Their story takes place in the mid 1970s, when no one was paying much attention to the drugs being brought into California at an alarming rate. But Dee Dee’s eyes are about to be opened.

Dee Dee lives in a very well-to-do area and is introduced to social drug experimentation and drug trafficking while maintaining a normal family life. She and her friends enjoy the surf up and down the coast of California.

Her friends run the gamut from the very wealthy to beach bums she met at the pier. Dee Dee’s lazy summer is spent under beautiful sunny days with slow drifting clouds and perfect barrel waves. But the ups and downs in her relationships and the dangers of dabbling in drugs ultimately force her a decision that will change her life.

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Blowout Summer

Blow Out Summer by [Stock, Denise Ann]

Dee Dee is a surfer, an aspiring tennis player, and a girl who is always up for a good party. One summer in particular stands out in her memory as she reflects upon her life. With her close band of friends around her, Dee Dee sets out to thoroughly enjoy her summer off and does not hesitate as she goes about seeking the company of friends new and old. Her “blow out summer,” as she calls it, teaches her some valuable lessons and gives her time to reflect on her own choices as she learns who is worthy of her affection and trust and who falls short.

Set in Huntington Beach, California, Blow Out Summer, by Denise Ann Stock, reads less like a novel and much more like a memoir. The conversational tone of the book makes it a quick and easy read. Dee Dee’s reflections on her experiences with the drug trade and her laid back approach to her participation in drug trafficking read shockingly smoothly. For as deeply involved as Dee Dee seems to be in buying and selling illegal substances, she seems much less concerned than she should be. I attributed her naivety and lack of real concern to the time period, the mid 70’s.

I found myself waiting for that one point in the story that would point to a gripping climax. Everything in Dee Dee’s eventful summer points to an action-packed high point. However, with all her close calls, second guesses regarding her associates, and her relationship woes, there never came that one moment where the entire book seemed to pull together. Reading much more like a diary of the summer, I was a little disappointed not to see a resolution to many of the dilemmas created by the main character and her friends. I believe I was more determined to find answers than Dee Dee herself.

The one scene providing the most harrowing visual comes when Dee Dee’s friend, Jaycee, makes a frantic call about a possible overdose. I felt, as a reader looking for answers, this was an ideal opportunity for the plot to tie neatly together with some life-changing decisions being made on the part of both Dee Dee and her friends. As in real life, however, secrets prevail, and not much changed for those most deeply entangled in drug use and trafficking.

As pleasant as Dee Dee seems throughout the story and as much as her remembrances of her eventful summer kept me interested, I felt the overall story was missing something. The memoir style of writing Stock uses is appealing and will suit readers seeking a fairly light read without highly stressful rising action.

Pages: 360 | ASIN: B01C58JXJI

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The Geyser Girl of Yellowstone Park Book Trailer

In Yellowstone National Park, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a girl of mysterious origins is adopted from infancy by Old Faithful geyser, and by a mother buffalo named Bearer of Song. Beloved to all the park, Flower of the Steam Basin grows up with their stories, proverbial sayings and teachings.

In time, having met a child her own age and her parents, trust ripens between families, and Flower of the Steam Basin gains a closely protective circle of human friends. At nine years old, she is brought face-to-face with Retired Lieutenant Ned Halpen of the Yellowstone Cavalry, whose exemplary career embodied the role of protector of Yellowstone’s spiritual and physical heritage.

In the wake of Lt. Halpen’s passing one year later, her sacred vow to continue his legacy brings both reward and mortal danger. And when the circle is breached, Flower of the Steam Basin and her father are forced to choose between her own safety and well-being and the performance of her sworn duties.

This is her story, as seen through the eyes of Yellowstone.

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Tell Us The Aftermath

Douglas Wells Author Interview

Douglas Wells Author Interview

How We End Up is an intricate contemporary story that follows the lives of three strangers and shows how people can intersect at life changing moments. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel? 

I used to walk the beach in a park near my house. The park gets numerous visitors, mostly families, and I would frequently walk by young children playing in the surf. This area is known for its rip currents, and there are always news stories about people being caught in one and having to be rescued. It occurred to me that one day I might have to jump in after someone, particularly a child. Fortunately, I never had to. It got me thinking about how these rescues are often called “miracles,” but the story stops there. It did not, of course, tell us the aftermath, so I began formulating a story that shows us how they were brought together and tells us what happens to these people over a long span of time.

I felt that this novel was about the characters and how people change over time. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story? 

The central male character, Jackson, rescues nine-year-old twin girls. Although they they are twins, I saw them as being very distinct from each other, and I imagined they would lead dissimilar lives. Not only are their sexual orientations different, but one is worldly and self-destructive, while the other begins as a bit naïve, which leads them both to disastrous circumstances. Jackson, who achieves literary fame by writing about the rescue, suffers from a case of hubris, which results in his star falling. Their personas and their relationships, particularly their romantic entanglements, are affected, often negatively, by both the inner conflicts of the three characters and by chance. I see this as something we all endure. Some things we decide upon by choice, while others are left to happenstance and over which we have no control. All of these experiences lead to “how we end up.”

When you first sat down to write this story, did you know where you were going, or did the story develop as you were writing?

The “skeleton” of the story was apparent to me from the start, but as I continued writing, the details—specific events, relationships, and the consequences of the characters’ reckless behavior—appeared. This is pretty much my writing modus operandi in general. For me, writing is a discovery process.

What is the next book that you are working on and when can your fans expect it to be out?

My next book is about a character who leads five different lives, each detached from the others. It is somewhat experimental, maybe, but this is all I presently can say about it. If fortune smiles upon me, I might finish it within 6-8 months; after that, I would think publication would follow in about the same amount of time.

Author Links: FacebookTwitterGoodReadsWebsite

How We End Up by [Wells, Douglas]

BEING RESCUED IS NOT THE SAME AS BEING SAVED.

Jackson Levee, a professor and writer, plucks two drowning twin girls from the Gulf of Mexico. Their attractive single mother has her own ideas about how to thank the hero. Jackson and their family go from being complete strangers one day to intimate friends the next. Jackson soars to literary fame after writing about his rescue of the twins, while the girls mature into beautiful but troubled young women. Over the next twenty-five years, everyone’s recklessness in love, marriage, and life produces wild and devastating results, forcing the three of them to struggle as they try to realize their destinies and find balance in life.

Douglas Wells crafts an intoxicating story teeming with passion and exhilaration to danger, addiction, and despair.

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A Game of Life

A Game of Life by [Musewald, Anna]

After a serious car crash, Stefan comes round from a coma with a case of amnesia. Eva, his younger sister, is the only one who can see that Stefan is not really Stefan at all…When a strange letter arrives, written in gothic handwriting and addressed to Stefan, saying there has been a terrible mistake and signed by a mysterious ‘Hyacinthe’, the puzzle starts to unravel. Along with Eva, Stefan’s friends, Kim, Thomas, Harry, and Andrew must try to solve the mystery but to do that they will have to take part in a dangerous race, called The Game of Life.

Anna Musewald’s A Game of Life is a YA fantasy and mystery novel which draws you in from the first page. The prose is so easy to read; it is witty and enchanting and feels perfect for a YA audience. In spite of the simplicity of the language, it doesn’t feel at all patronising or one-dimensional. The ‘game’ from the title is quite complex, with lots of imaginative systems and challenging tasks set for the players which really immerses the reader in the experience. I loved the inclusion of Greek myth, such as Apollo and the Sirens, woven through the narrative. The plot is in the vein of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire which could make it seem derivative, but with an original and inventive spin, it manages to feel fresh and exciting. Meaningful themes of friendship, loyalty and bravery flesh out the fun storyline.

The pacing is excellent; I was instantly engrossed by the opening chapter and the book never let me go! We are drawn in by the question of what has happened to Stefan and led through a number of rabbit holes and strange happenings. The revelation isn’t made until the end which kept me greedily turning the pages, and there are also plenty of action scenes to keep the reader hooked until the final page.

I had total belief in the characters, who all have distinctive personalities, and I loved the way that the friendships and rivalries are portrayed, showing the tangled and complex nature of relationships. The relationship between Stefan and Eva is particularly poignant and depicts the protective and intuitive nature of sibling relationships. The dialogue is funny and clever, and the conversation seems very authentic for a group of young people.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most was the setting of Parsi and the fully formed ‘underground’ city created by the author which is full of fantastical and magical detail. Musewald excels at writing surroundings and conjures up place in a beguiling and descriptive way so that the reader feels as though they are on the journey with the characters.

This is a great addition to the young fiction genre, full of twists and turns, mystery and suspense; I enjoyed the journey immensely. I gobbled it up in one go, and I can’t wait for another riveting story from Anna Musewald.

Pages: 202 | ASIN: B01M0ZBKXP

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Life Sliding

High school, a time for learning who you are, what your values are, and what matters in life. Gavin is the popular, most liked guy in his school. He is the trend setter and his hand-picked friends are at the top of the social pecking order. When they start planning their last summer bash before becoming seniors; he is quickly ripped out of his comfort zone when his dad decides he needs to spend his last vacation giving back to the community. Gavin is going to spend his summer working as a volunteer for camp Lift Me Up, it is a camp for kids with life threatening illnesses, a chance for them to feel normal. Here Gavin reconnects with an old friend Jacob, and they befriend Marissa, a girl with a lot of emotional baggage. Together the three of them bond and look to make their senior year one to remember not just for them, but for the whole school.

Gavin is your typical self-absorbed teenager, he’s on the football team, one of the popular kids, and comes from a family of money. Everyone knew that kid in high school, if you were not part of that crowd chances are you despised him, if you were in the crowd you looked up to him, or at least followed so not to lose your standing. When Jacob stopped following the cool crowd Gavin abandoned him. He never looked into why his best friend suddenly changed over the course of a summer. Gavin soon learned with his service at Lift Me Up what brought about the change in Jacob. Following the back and forth between Gavin and Jacob is exciting, you are never quite sure what their feelings for each other really are. Seeing Gavin grow is emotional, he learns that there is a lot more to the world than his little bubble, and he learns to really care for other people. This awakening is uplifting, it gives you hope that society is not doomed.

One of the most predominate themes in this novel is that love has no boundaries or appearances. High school romances are often flirty and based on who is who and what social class you fall into. While this novel starts out following those trends and is easily relatable to readers, it soon twists and becomes so much more. The story of Caleb, the boy with leukemia, that latches onto a resentful Gavin is a catalyst for the change in Gavin. His memory is a constant reminder of how fragile life is and that you can’t live your life trying to live up to everyone else’s standards. I was really touched by Caleb and how his short time impacted so many lives. It is a reminder that it doesn’t matter how long we are here on earth, but what we do with the time we are given. Caleb melted the heart of Gavin and reminded him there is more to life than his little social circle. Gavin and Jacob’s relationship is touching and so fluid you just can’t help but want to see how life goes for them both. Everyone should have a friendship like that in life, someone that loves you unconditionally and is there for you no questions ask. Life Sliding by S.L. Mauldin is a touching novel, thought provoking and full of compassion and hope.

Pages: 169 | ASIN: B01BBCY5RO

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Titch the Itch

Titch the Itch

Titch the Itch, written by B.C.R. Fegan and illustrated by Lenny Wen, is the tale of an animated little itch who wants nothing more than to make friends the only way he knows how–by doing his job. When his wayward, “no-reason-at-all” itching isn’t appreciated in the home of one large family, Titch the Itch seeks to make friends outside the home. Trying his luck with a cat, a neighbor, a police officer, and a park full of children, Titch learns that life is hard for an itch of his sort. His journey leads him to the hospital where he soon learns that he has had a bigger impact than he realized.

B.C.R. Fegan has constructed a touching story centered around the personification of a lowly itch. The author has managed to take a difficult concept and design a precious plot surrounding the poor little itch’s desire to be needed and to have lasting friendships. Titch is a memorable character with whom young readers will empathize. As he moves from one character to the next, he experiences rejection and disappointment. Fegan has included some important lessons in this wonderful picture book. In addition to friendship, the author teaches the benefits of being determined and the results of perseverance.

As with any children’s book, it is essential to include those moments of humor. Fegan does not lack in this area. The unforeseen circumstances surrounding the conclusion of the book are whimsical and encourage children to reread the book to find things they may have missed–a wonderful aspect to include to inspire young readers to delve further into the intricacies of text. As a teacher and parent, I more than appreciate those small amounts of mystery which energize readers. Kudos to the author!

The illustrations for Titch the Itch are fantastic. Lenny Wen’s vision of Titch is a cross between a ghost and a friendly dust bunny–exactly how one might visualize an itch. The facial expressions of Titch absolutely make the story. His woeful looks tug at the reader’s heartstrings. The color schemes chosen to brighten the pages make this a beautiful story to read aloud.

B.C.R. Fegan’s story of the needy little itch just looking for friendship is a sweet tale perfect for teaching young readers about the value of friends and loyalty.

Pages: 33 | ASIN: B076342B9D

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