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A book about Alzheimer’s for tween readers


Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, by Jordan Sonnenblick, is one of the funniest, sweetest books I’ve read all year. Yeah, it’s only February, but I bet if you ask me again in December I’ll say the same thing. If you know and love anyone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you’ve got to read this book!

The hook is that fourteen-year-old Peter is reinventing himself after a devastating baseball injury. His freshman year seems to hold promise after he teams up with a pretty girl named Angelika in photography. But at home, Peter watches his grandpa lose his memory bit by bit, and feels powerless to help.

I don’t know anything about photography so I can’t tell if those parts of the book were accurate or not, but the way the author portrayed Alzheimer’s Disease was spot on. It was perfect, absolutely perfect.

Thank you, Jordan, for writing this book, and thank you to Scholastic for publishing it.

Realistic fiction for teens: “Muchacho” by Louanne Johnson

Muchacho by Louanne Johnson tells the story of self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent Eddie, who decides to change his ways after falling for Lupe, a college-bound beauty. This book takes place in New Mexico and is heavily laced with Spanish, slang, swear words and grit. It’s not your typical YA book, but could easily appear on a college reading list for a class on Chicano Literature–even though to my knowledge the author is white.

Johnson is also the author of the memoir My Posse Don’t Do Homework which was portrayed on screen as the movie “Dangerous Minds” with Michelle Pfeiffer. That book takes places in Northern California, whereas the movie version centers on Los Angeles.

This is a big deal to me personally, because I taught third grade in the Ravenswood School District in East Palo Alto–former murder capitol of America–which was the district that fed into the high school classrooms that Johnson based My Posse Don’t Do Homework on. I still don’t understand how Hollywood thinks Los Angeles is “scarier” than East Palo Alto. I had eight year olds drawing pictures of hiding from gangsters with guns.

In Muchacho, Johnson makes fun of white Stanford students (like me) who come to districts like Ravenswood. Although to be fair, it’s hard to tell if Johnson is making fun Stanford teachers or Eddie is. The Mr. McElroy character starts out a bit rough but ends up becoming a pretty good teacher (in my opinion at least).

Muchacho is not your typical YA book, but I enjoyed it a lot. It is a quick read, probably an under 50k word count, an is something that teenage boys would like too.

 

For moms who don’t have time to read

Got a teen in your home? Got a child capable of reading at a high school level? It’s darn near impossible to keep up with what your kids read.

Over on my other site, The YA Gal, I review books as fast as I can get them. And yet…I’m still behind. Here are three books I’ve read recently that parents might want know about–even if you don’t have time to read them:

All last year I felt guilty for not having read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. How could I call myself a YA fan and not have read such a popular book? Well, today I remedied that situation. Start to finish. Cover to cover. Quite a lot of Kleenex.

At its heart, The Fault in Our Stars is a teenage love story set against the backdrop of cancer. Hazel drags her oxygen tank everywhere she goes and Augustus has a prosthetic leg. Both are erudite, witty, and converse in a fashion that I’ve never heard teenagers sound like ever–and I’ve been around a lot of smart teens. Like, literally, I’ve never heard teens talk like that. Still, the Gilmore-Girl-esq dialogue is fun to read, although if it doesn’t come across as realistic.

If you enjoy tear-jerkers, this is a great book for you. If you’d rather not put yourself through an emotional wringer, stay away. The only thing that bothered me was Augustus and his unlit cigarette. Hopefully that doesn’t spawn a fad of cigarettes becoming cool again even if they aren’t smoked.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner is another title in the uber-popular genre of YA books about teenagers in dangerous “fight-to-the-death” games. But in this case, the main character, Thomas, is not on television…probably. He doesn’t really know the truth because his memory is wiped.

Thomas, along with the rest of the cast, are stuck in the middle of the Glade. Right next to them is the mysterious Maze with ever changing walls. Somewhere, deep in the Maze are evil Grievers which are half slug, half robots ready to attack.

Will Thomas be able to solve the Maze and lead the other kids to freedom or is he actually their worst enemy?

My nine-year-old son loves, loves, loves The Maze Runner. He read it start to finish in one day. To me as an adult it seemed predictable but fun. I wish there were more female characters but I appreciate Dasher’s brilliance in crafting a book that makes adolescent boys want to read.

The Soulkeepers by G.P. Ching might be on your teen’s e-reader right now because it’s free. Usually free books are hit or miss, but this book is amazing.

The last place fifteen-year-old Jacob Lau wants to be is living with his Uncle John in the middle of nowhere. But in the wake of his mother’s disappearance, Jacob has no place else to go. The kids at Jacob’s school act like they’ve never met an Asian American before, and make mixed-race Jacob feel like a freak. His only source of comfort is Malini, a bright and beautiful transplant from India.

Meanwhile, Jacob is seriously spooked by Dr. Silvia, the ghostly pale women who lives in the Gothic Victorian next door. When Jacob breaks one of her stained glass windows he’s forced into her servitude, scooping compost and working in the garden. Jacob can’t figure out if Dr. Silvia is a witch or a trusted mentor–which is too bad because some strange things have been happening to Jacob recently, and he needs all the help he can get to figure out what the heck is going on.

The pacing of this book is perfect. The characters suck you in right away and make you care about them. The suspense makes you want to turn pages as fast as possible. But under all of it, is a deep heart. The Soulkeepers is a book that makes you think.

I was unfamiliar with G.P. Ching until I read The Soulkeepers and since then I’ve cyber stalked her in the most friendly way. I’ve also signed up for her newsletter. I’m pretty darned convinced that Genevieve is a brilliant writer and marketer. I can see why traditionally published authors would be jealous. But this woman is also a class act. G.P. Ching is full of grace and friendly advice for writers and teens alike.

“Both of Me” by Jonathan Frisen

Both of Me by Jonathan Frisen is YA book with a unique concept. Clara is an older teen girl traveling around the globe, fleeing her past when she accidentally switches bags with the airplane passenger sitting next to her–a good looking but aloof guy named Elias who clearly has Autism Spectrum Disorder. When Clara tracks Elias down to retrieve her bag, she gets sucked in by the mystery of his condition because–here’s the twist–Elias only exhibits ASD traits half of the time. The other half his personality shifts into a charming, brilliant young man who steals Clara’s heart.

I give Frisen major kudos for writing a book that’s not another rip-off of the last YA book I read. There are a lot of other things to like about Both of Me too. The dialogue is funny. The narrative is completely unpredictable. But there are a lot of “thin” characters like Kira and ideas that are never really explained like the borders and what exactly Elias does when he’s with them. I felt like the story needed another 100 pages to flesh things out.

However, my major issue with Both of Me is that I’m not okay with using ASD as a plot device. I know and love a lot of people with ASD and none of them can flip back and forth like that. Plus, without giving away any spoilers, the end of the book provides an artistic explanation for Autism that is pure BS.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Booklook in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

“The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong” by L. Tam Holland

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I’ve been excited to read The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong, by debut author L. Tam Holland, ever since I saw it listed in the Stanford alumni magazine. You might even say I had outrageously high expectations for the book. Luckily, Holland did not disappoint! The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong is hysterically funny, tense in all of the right moments, and poignant, especially at the end.

Vee Crawford-Wong is half Texan, half Chinese, and that’s about as much as he knows about his personal identity. His mom and dad refuse to tell him one tidbit of information about where they come from. On the rare occasions when his dad does say something about China, it’s usually something about American Chinese food. Vee’s mom tells him more about their 2005 Toyota named Fanny, then about her aging parents in Ding Dong Texas.

When Vee’s history teacher makes the class write a five page paper about their ancestry, Vee makes a bunch of stuff up. One lie leads to another and soon the Crawford-Wong family is headed towards China and a truth that nobody wants to reveal.

This book is rich enough for a ninth grade English class–if the parents don’t complain about all the almost-sex scene. The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong also has something missing from a lot of YA bookshelves these days, a non-white main character.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks!

“Rebels” by Jill Williamson

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Rebels is book three of The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson. (You can read my review of Outcasts, here.) The novels take place in a dystopian future where pleasure is promoted at the expense of real relationships and ethics. The heroes of the story are religious people from a patriarchal family where the men are always in charge and the women stay home to do laundry and homeschool children. The few instances where women step out on their own, something bad happens like they get captured. It’s like the antithesis of girl-power.

Instead of a central protagonist, Rebels jumps around between three brothers: Levi, Mason and Omar, as well as two sisters: Jemma and Shaylinn. There are also a bunch of kids, kindred folk, city people, bad guys, criminals, medics and other characters to keep track of. Even though I was already familiar with the series, it was really hard to remember who everyone was. To add to the confusion, a few of the characters have two different names.

On the plus side, Jill Williamson deserves a lot of credit for managing a very complex plot and tying up the threads neatly together at the end. At the two thirds mark of Rebels, I was wondering how the heck she was going to pull it off, and yet she did. The ending answers all questions, and provides a satisfactory conclusion. The only lingering concern I have is the book’s message that husbands are usually right and wives should do almost all of the housework. That type of future truly qualifies as dystopian!

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Exciting News!

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Dear Teaching My Baby to Read followers,

I’ve waited years to write this post. Today, Publishers Marketplace announced my two book deal with Georgia McBride at Month9Books. BLANK SLATE will release in 2016 and is about an 18 year-old girl whose lack of a virtual footprint makes her so valuable that she is auctioned off to the highest bidder. The sequel will come out in 2017.

Here’s the link to my brand new author page at Month9Books: http://month9booksblog.com/authors/jennifer-bardsley/, my new Facebook page: The YA Gal, and my new homepage: http://jenniferbardsley.net.

I’ve got so many people to thank that my acknowledgement page will be a mile long. But none of this would be possible without the incredible dedication of my literary agent, Liza Fleissig, of the Liza Royce Agency.

I've wanted to be an author since I was 11 years old.

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 11 years old.

On this blog I’ve talked about the importance of empowering our kids to become resilient. This is a lesson I hope to teach my own children by example. Three blogs, five manuscripts, 100+ “I Brake for Moms” columns in The Everett Daily Herald; I’ve put in 10,000 hours of writing and my family knows what this dream has cost.

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But it’s worth it.

In 2016 there will be an author box in our family library with my name on it.

I hope when 2016 comes, you’re still with me. I hope you love my book and write glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I hope you tweet about it to all your friends!

In the meantime, my mission for Teaching My Baby to Read remains unchanged. My dream is to spark a national conversation about how massive parental involvement is the key to high quality education. Resiliency will make it happen.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your readership.

Jennifer Bardsley

 

 

“Muse” by Erin Mcfadden

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“Clean” YA can be hard to come by so I was especially excited to read  Muse (Descended From Myth Book 1), by debut author Erin McFadden.

Anna is unaware that she is a Talent, capable of impressing her will upon other people and inspiring them to greatness, until a Guardian named Daniel explains her powers. As their two fates intertwine, Anna and Daniel face danger, darkness, and the irresistible draw to each other, even though Talent/Guardian relationships never work out.

At 181 pages,  Muse is an enjoyable read. I found the story engaging and the characters likeable. The way McFadden alternates between Daniel and Anna POV chapters keeps the pace moving.

The author also peppers her novel with a lot of good lines. A favorite was from page 53: “I’m a very mature nineteen year old. People tell me that all the time! Of course it’s usually when they’re trying to get me to babysit their kids.”

This book is definitely a keeper, and I look forward to reading the second title in the series, TALENT.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

“Call Me Grim” by Elizabeth Holloway

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Call Me Grim by Elizabeth Holloway is the perfect book for a misty October night.

Libi should be dead right now, except for creepy-stalker-guy Aaron saved her moments before a truck would have ended her teenage life. The catch is that Aaron is a local Grim Reaper and he wants Libi to take over his job.

As the clock ticks Libi has a multitude of decisions to make. Quick death or immortal discord? Best friend Kyle or Mr. Aaron RIP?

I was really impressed by how the story’s premise held together so well. There were lots of parts where I found myself thinking “Wow! That is sooooo cool!”

As YA books go, Call Me Grim is PG in terms of cleanness. It’s not too scary or too racy but it is definitely “I’ve-got-to-read-this-in-one-day!” material. I look forward to reading more books from Elizabeth Holloway in the future.

P.S. For the #YABookCook version of this post, head on over to JenniferBardsley.Net.

“Survival Colony 9” Makes Boys Want to Read

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In a post-apocalyptic world turned to dust, Querry Genn’s amnesia is either his greatest strength–or his downfall–depending on whom you ask. That’s the premise between Joshua David Bellin’s brilliant debut novel, Survival Colony 9. I was so excited to read this book that I preordered it from Amazon.

Survival Colony 9 was everything I hoped it would be. Scary, suspenseful and also thought provoking. Even better, it’s “clean” enough for my nine-year-old to read, so he’s pretty stoked.

The descriptive passages in this book were especially well written. I kept picturing the movie “Empire of the Sun” in all its ghastly glory. If Survival Colony 9 ever becomes a movie, John Malkovich should definitely play Querry’s father.

Some of you may recognize Bellin from my blogroll. He’s the creator of YA Guy, a blog that strives to highlight books that would interest teen boys as well as teen girls. As a teacher, reader and parent, I appreciate that mission!

Destined for Doon

Destined for Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon is the second book I’ve read in the Doon series. (See my previous review here.) Both books are YA meets Brigadoon the musical. Two modern girls from Indiana, Veronica and Mackenna, are magically transported to the world of Doon where dancing, fashion, evil curses and two Scottish princes await. In this second installment Mackenna is brought back to Doon to assist Veronica in defeating a zombie fugus that is invading the land.

A real positive of the series is that both Veronica and Mackenna are intelligent, take-charge young women attempting to make good decisions for their lives. Veronica is more studious, but Mackenna is career driven. The story alternates chapters from each protagonists’ viewpoint.

I especially loved the line from page 220 “In the meantime, do what you can, and when you canna do any more, pause to honor the people in your life that make it worth living.” What a beautiful sentiment to share with young readers.

Not being a teen girl myself, a question I have is whether or not a fifteen-year-old would pick up all of the Broadway references that are packed into the Mackenna chapters. Almost every other thought she has is a clever allusion to “Tell Me on a Sunday”, “The Chorus Line” or “Les Miserables”. One of the funniest sections was a mash-up of the beginning of “Into the Woods”. If you’ve seen “Into the Woods” this is hilarious, but otherwise you might be confused.

Still, Destined for Doon  was smart, fun and engaging.  This book is definitely a keeper for when my daughter grows up. Thank you BookLook for providing me with a free copy in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Jupiter Winds, by C.J.Darlington

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C.J. Darlington’s newest book Jupiter Winds is smart, suspenseful YA–that somehow manages to stay PG. It’s Sci Fi reminiscent of Mind-Hold, by the brilliant Wilanne Belden.

The hook of Jupiter Winds is that two sisters, Grey and Rin, are fighting for survival on a future Earth controlled by an Amazon-like corporation. Books are ancient history and life is controlled by computer dots implanted in a gullible public. Looming over everything is the distant planet Jupiter which may or may not have been colonized–depending on whom you ask. When Grey is kidnapped by an evil general, she learns the depths of her own ignorance, especially about the secret lives of her parents.

This weekend I left Jupiter Winds on the coffee table and later caught my 9-year-old reading it. He was so engrossed I had to tear it from his hands. I panicked because I hadn’t read enough of it to know if it was R rated. Luckily the answer is NO. So tonight I handed Jupiter Winds back to him and he’s reading away with glee.

As a clean YA book, Jupiter Winds is a rare find in a genre defined by vampires and child killers. How often do you encounter a story that Mom, teen and kid can love?

BTW, you might be interested to know that C.J. Darlington is a homeschool alumna. She sent me a free copy of her book in exchange for my honest opinion and review.


Jupiter Winds

The Outcasts, by Jill Williamson

Outcasts, book two of The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson, creeps me out for all the wrong reasons. The writing is strong and the character development excellent, but there’s a thread of borderline-abusive paternalism running through the book that really bothers me.

The basic premise of Outcasts is that in a dystopian future, humans either rock out in the Safelands addicted to drugs and slowly dying of disease, or else are part of a counter-culture movement living off the grid in sewers and underground bunkers.

The heroes of the story all chose to resist and are organized in a close-knit, male dominated hierarchy. Older brothers are in charge. (Male) elders have a say in whom a young girl marries. When an orphanage gets raided, the mothers stay at home and pray while the men go collect children they don’t even recognize. When young women do step out on their own, they risk getting kidnapped or raped.

The heroes are also given a religious veneer. Sine they read the Bible, it makes it appear that the author is totally okay with a legalistic, umbrella of authority model like Bill Gothard promoted before he stepped down from IBLT after 34 women came forward with sexual harassment claims.

There are lots of types of Christians in the world and not all of us believe the Bible sanctions male relatives to be our boss!

However, I was encouraged on  Jill Williamson’s website to see how important it is to her to write high quality material for teen readers. Since this is book 2 of a 3 part series, I’m holding out hope that there will be a breakthrough moment in the concluding book where the young women step out from the umbrella and stop letting older brothers control their lives. Maybe the author has a master plan that will blow my mind.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

 

Merlin’s Shadow, by Robert Treskillard

I was expecting to be entertained–but not educated when I picked up the YA book Merlin’s Shadow by Robert Treskillard. Lucky for me I got both!

The premise of  Merlin’s Shadow is that Merlin, his fiancé, a baby Arthur, and a few Druid and Christian tagalongs, are on the run from the evil king Vortigern. Their only escape is to head north into the hands of the blue Picti.

This book is a real page-turner, but at the same time Treskillard weaves an extensive amount of Celtic history into his new interpretation of the Arthurian legends.

But (insert evil laughter), I can take Treskillard’s fascination with obscure history, and up the notch of nerdiness. This past fall I studied Celtic Christianity along with the rest of my local United Methodist church. One of the favorite books I read was Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Sprirtuality by J. Philip Newell.

Our Advent spiral from church.

Our Advent spiral, complete with harp music.

After the Romans left the British Isles, Celtic Christianity developed into it’s own culture, without interference from Rome. Whereas Roman Christians revered Peter and believed infants were inherently evil, Celtic Christians looked towards the apostle John and believed that God’s creation was naturally good, but that free will led to sin.

The famous Celtic Christian Pelagius, is either a heretic or a saint, depending upon whom you talk too. He encouraged women to read scripture and think about spiritual things.

The Iona Abbey in Scotland is still active, and people from all over the world travel there to learn about God and ancient spiritual practices that still have meaning today: praying while you work, blessing your children before they walk out the door, and enjoying nature.

If you take all of that history and put it side by side with Merlin’s Shadow, it becomes even more interesting. Treskillard is writing about a world right after the Romans left, when Celtic Christianity is just getting a foothold. Druids like Caygek, have their own sense of morality that will eventually be enveloped into the Celtic Christian church; the Earth is sacred because it is God’s creation.

I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in the Merlin’s Spiral series.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

First Born: A Novel, by Lorie Ann Grover

Firstborn: A Novel by Lorie Ann Grover is Dystopian Fantasy meets giant birds. It reminded me a lot of The Golden Compass.

The hook is that Tiadone, a declared male in a society that kills firstborn females, must join the army, suppress her femininity, prove her worth and survive. Her greatest ally is her familiar, a goat-sized bird that can hear her thoughts.

Firstborn: A Novel is published by Blink, a teen imprint of Zondervan that is quickly proving itself a supporter of edgy, compelling YA books that are clean without being preachy. (Other Blink titles I’ve reviewed include Doon and Like Moonlight at Low Tide.) Please note, some Christians might question my label of “clean fiction” to describe Blink books. I’m Methodist, and these books seem clean enough to me. In Firstborn, for example, there is a kissing scene that goes above the waist. I wouldn’t even mention that, except I know that some of my blog readers have different standards than me of they want kids/teens to read.

I thought Lorie Ann Grover did an excellent job with world building in this book. The concept of the bird familiars was really cool, and I rooted for Tiadone the whole way. This book is definitely a keeper. I think my son might like to read it in a few years too, as well as my daughter.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®