"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

29 August 2014

No Boundaries

Ford, Donna. No Boundaries. Bold Strokes Books. 2014. $16.95. 256p. SC 978-1-62639-060-7.

Gwen has just moved to rural Tennessee to start her life over again. She and her dog need a fresh start away from the mistakes of her past. Andi lives in the same small town, where she, too, is hiding from a difficult past. The locals are used to Andi’s reclusive ways, and naturally become curious when she and Gwen start spending time together. Gwen and Andi are attracted to each other from the start, but Andi keeps pushing Gwen away, and when her secret past comes back to haunt her, she has to decide whether to tell Gwen the truth about her past or to spare her the pain and break up with her.

This is a romance novel with a fairly standard plot: person #1 and person #2 are perfect for each other, but at least one of them is hiding a secret, and when it finally comes out, they both have to decide what to do about it. There isn’t a lot of action to this story; it’s the relationship between Andi and Gwen that carries the story along. The characters are very real and well-defined, and a willing suspension of disbelief allows the reader to agree that two lesbians could both flee to the same rural town in Tennessee. This book would make an excellent addition to a public library’s romance novel collection, and is recommended as a beach or poolside read for fans of Karin Kallmaker’s writing.

28 August 2014

Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, and the Crime that Changed America

Cook, Kevin. Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, and the Crime that Changed America. Bold Strokes Books. 2014. $25.95. 242p. HC 978-0-393-23928-7.

In 1964, Kitty Genovese was murdered as she returned home after her job as a bartender. This event led to the development of the “bystander effect,” where crowds of people can watch a violent crime occur and choose not to help if they can believe that someone else will step up and help instead. This much-discussed case led to the creation of Good Samaritan laws in many states. Cook maintains, however, that although it is true that people did not choose to help Kitty when she was being stabbed by her murderer, the story is not as simple as it seems.

Drawing from eyewitness accounts, court transcripts, interviews, and newspaper articles, Cook paints a picture of a neighborhood where some people may have chosen not to act, but where most people were likely asleep or assumed that the noise, typical in a growing city where people stay awake throughout the night, was simply the scream of a silly, possibly drunk young couple out too late at night. While it is true that Kitty was a lesbian and that she was murdered, her murder was not a hate crime, but rather a crime of opportunity.

This true crime story is excellently told. Cook gives an appropriate amount of background both for Kitty and her murderer, leading up to the night the two of them met on the street and Kitty was killed. The aftermath, including Winston Moseley’s trial, conviction, escape, and return to prison. The author also details the sociological results of this event and how a newspaper story led to the common belief that thirty-eight people heard Kitty cry for help and chose to ignore her. This book would be a fantastic addition to a public library’s true crime section as well as an academic library’s collection.

27 August 2014


Taite, Carsen. Switchblade. Bold Strokes Books. 2014. $16.95. 231p. SC 978-1-62639-058-4.

The third book in the Luca Bennett mystery series, this novel picks up as Luca heads to the bondsman in order to get some more work so she can pay her bills. In the course of rounding up the usual suspects, Luca finds herself in possession of both a dog and a mystery involving corrupt cops, drugs, and a rookie who has taken the fall for what was obviously someone else’s work. Luca also must decide if she wants to be friends or more-than-friends with her ex-girlfriend or the new woman on the scene. Between her love life and her working life, Luca has a lot on her plate.

While this book is very much a typical mystery/private investigator story along the lines of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, this genre writing did not detract from the story itself. Luca is a very flawed, very believable main character who is struggling both with her own personal problems and with solving the case she’s taken on for work. She typifies the standard private investigator character, with a scruffy appearance, rundown apartment, and a savings account that she keeps in a coffee can. The mystery’s solution was fairly obvious from the beginning, but it was enjoyable to watch Luca struggle through the story and discover the answers on her own. The compelling pace and suspenseful tone of this book will keep readers turning the pages to see if their suspicions are correct. This book would be a great addition to a public library’s mystery collection.

26 August 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish

Holm, Jennifer. The Fourteenth Goldfish. Random House BFYR, 2014.

Ellie is in 6th grade, and she's finding middle school to be a difficult adjustment. On top of that, she doesn't really understand her parents' obsession with theater. When her mother brings home a thirteen-year old boy who has a startling resemblance to Ellie's grandfather, Ellie begins to question what she knows about life.

This is a weird, weird book. Ellie's grandfather has been trying to discover the fountain of youth, which he apparently found in some jellyfish's DNA. So now he looks thirteen and has to live with Ellie and her mom. He teaches Ellie a lot about science and helps her develop her interest in it, a topic he loved and his daughter, Ellie's mother, rebelled against by joining the theater. Ellie helps her grandfather attempt to retrieve the rest of his jellyfish from his lab and makes some decisions about the cycle of life. All in all, this is pretty obviously a "shove science in front of kids to make them want to learn about it" type of book, but the entertaining story will keep many middle graders interested, and this would be a great read-aloud book for an upper elementary science class.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alike: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.

25 August 2014

Paper Cowboy

Levine, Kristin. The Paper Cowboy. Putnam Juvenile, 2014.

Tommy is a bully who gets away with things because he's a cute kid. He picks on the weaker kids and school and even picks on his own friends. At home, though, Tommy has a lot to deal with. His mom has an undiagnosed mental illness and frequently vacillates between extreme happiness and beating Tommy for the smallest infraction. Also, Tommy blames himself for an accident that happens to his older sister, so he's feeling guilty on top of taking care of his younger sisters and his house and covering his older sister's paper route. Things come to a head as Tommy realizes that all actions have consequences and that sometimes all a person needs to do is ask for help.

This was an excellent book, although it wasn't an easy book to read. Tommy is not a likable character, but the glimpses into his home life help explain why he is such a jerk to the people around him. I could very easily use this book as a read-aloud in an upper elementary or middle school classroom. There is a great discussion of the Cold War and McCarthyism throughout this book, as well as dealing with bullying, abuse, and mental illness.

Recommended for: middle grade, tweens
Red Flags: abuse (mom beats the kid on several occasions)
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Paperboy, Okay for Now, Dead End in Norvelt

22 August 2014

For Today I am a Boy

Fu, Kim. For Today I am a Boy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Peter and his three sisters grow up in their small-town Canadian home. Peter is transgender, but his father insists that Peter embrace his masculinity.

This book is marketed as a young adult novel, but it reads much more like an adult memoir. There's no plot at all, and the book, rather than being a cohesive narrative, is a jumbled collection of stories and memories of Peter's childhood, none of which tell us much at all about Peter himself. This was almost worse than a stereotypical trans* book because there's nothing going on. I would not in any way recommend this to my students simply because they would be bored to tears. Adults would probably enjoy this book, so if I were in a public library, I would shelve this in the adult collection and pair it with memoirs since that's what it reads like.

Recommended for: adults
Red Flags: none stand out
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

21 August 2014

The Summer I Wasn't Me

Verdi, Jessica. The Summer I Wasn't Me. Sourcebooks Fire, 2014.

Have you watched the movie But I'm a Cheerleader? If you have, then you've already experienced this book, and in a way that is much more entertaining than the book itself actually is. Lexie's mom magically divines from Lexie's sketchbook that Lexie has a crush on her best friend, so she sends Lexie to New Horizons, a religious camp dedicated to turning gay kids into straight kids. Everything is stereotyped: the girls wear pink and learn how to do housework while the boys wear blue and learn about playing football. Much emphasis is put upon finding one's "father wound" - the big bad thing that must have happened to turn a person gay. Lexie is really trying because she wants to make her mom happy, but eventually she chooses to remain true to herself instead.

Similar to Caught in the Crossfire, this camp didn't seem very religious to me, nor did the campers themselves. I wasn't that surprised that Lexie decided to go to this camp to stop herself from causing her mom any more grief, but I was surprised that she was seventeen when she did it - her actions seem more like that of a fourteen or fifteen year old. The stereotyped "recovery" activities the teens had to do didn't surprise me, either, nor did the non-plot-twist of the camp director abusing one of the kids. The book has a Disney-esque happy ending, so it meshes nicely with the cheerleader movie, except this book is trying to be serious and the movie is obviously meant to be funny. I won't be adding this to my library's collection.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: gay-shaming language, one attempted rape, alcohol use, language, lots of heteronormative talk and actions (girls are forced to wear nightgowns instead of pajamas, etc.).
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

20 August 2014

Fan Art

Tregay, Sarah. Fan Art. Katherine Tegan Books, 2014.

Jamie is in love with his best friend, only he's terrified to tell him for fear it will ruin their lifelong friendship. He keeps his attraction deeply hidden, or so he thinks. But after a fellow student submits a comic for the school paper that depicts two boys who are in love, Jamie has to decide whether he should follow his heart or do what is easy.

This book was simply adorable. I loved the comic, I loved how clueless Jamie was about how "out" he actually was, and I was glad that this book was more about Jamie's choices as an editor for the school literary mag and that his orientation was more of a side issue. This book reminded me a lot of The Year They Burned the Books, but with a more modern feel (which makes sense, since that book was published when I was a high school senior!). I could, and probably will, recommend this book to my students.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, alcohol use
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

19 August 2014

A Girl Called Fearless

Linka, Catherine. A Girl Called Fearless. St.Martin's Griffin, 2014.

Avie is growing up in a home without a mother, but her situation is reflected in most homes throughout the United States. After a hormone in beef killed most of the women and teen girls (except for vegetarians or those without ovaries, obviously), the new generation of girls who have grown up in motherless homes are now priceless treasures. They are carefully protected, since everyone wants access to a disease-free womb. Avie is happy going to school and is excited about attending college when her father breaks the news to her: she has been promised to a man as part of a business deal her father has made. Not wanting to marry this man, Avie has to decide how she can save herself.

This is another book in a long line of dystopias. It's not a bad story, per se, but it's so similar to a million other books that it's not that interesting anymore. Also, for those who have grown up in patriarchal cultures like the fundamentalist and evangelical Christian cultures of the United States, this story will sound all-too-familiar and possibly triggering. For example, college becomes forbidden to girls because it's too dangerous for them to be outside the home, and when Avie is betrothed, she has to have a physical exam to prove that she's still a virgin and is told that she must give her husband sex whenever he wants it and however often he wants it. There are other, better dystopias out there, but for a patron who has read every dystopia and can't wait for the next Hunger Games or Divergent, this book would be acceptable.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: lots of triggering discussions of girls being treated like property.
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

18 August 2014


Swain, H. A. Hungry. Feiwel and Friends, 2014.

Thalia has never eaten a meal in her life. The earth is destroyed, so people are inoculated against hunger and drink a product called Synthamil (like True Blood for humans). But the inoculations aren't working anymore. Thalia is feeling hungry and, for the first time in her very privileged life, is beginning to question what she's been told her whole life.

The only thing that sets this dystopia apart from others is that the MC is one of the privileged class instead of one of the lower class; it's like having the Hunger Games told from Effie Trinket's perspective. The MC really was clueless about how "the other half" lived. Also, she did the Uglies-esque transition from one tyrannical government system to another just as tyrannical cult-in-the-jungle. And eventually everyone lives happily ever after. Fortunately, this doesn't look like it's going to be a series, which is a relief.

Recommended for: fans of dystopia, teens
Red Flags: minor violence
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

15 August 2014


Duyvis, Corinne. Otherbound. Amulet Books, 2014.

Nolan has a seizure disorder, and none of the medications he has tried are helping. Nolan's seizures aren't typical seizures, though: each time he closes his eyes, he is transported to another world and sees that world through the eyes of Amara, a healer whose entire job is to protect the lost princess from a curse that would mean both of their deaths. Nolan's and Amara's worlds continue to collide as Nolan has to decide what's most important: saving Amaraand her world, or saving himself?

I wanted to like this book much more than I did. I was glad for the diversity of characters, and I understood that the narration style was intentional - Amara's world breaks into Nolan's consciousness, so that also happens in the narration, breaking the readers' concentration - but I didn't learn much about either world or either character enough to sympathize with them, and while the Amara chapters were complete, the Nolan chapters were so fragmented it was difficult to keep interest in the story. Nonetheless, I could easily convince some of my stronger readers to give this book a try.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: violence when Amara is punished - she is beaten, drowned, burned, etc., but she self-heals, so she is punished pretty severely for very small infractions.
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

14 August 2014

The Vigilante Poetsof Selwyn Academy

Hattemer, Kate. The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy. Knopf BFYR, 2014.

Ethan and his friends are tired of their school being used as the backdrop for a reality TV show, and they determine to demonstrate to the world how harmful this show is to their education. But when one of the group does something unexpected, the remaining trio have to decide whether it's worth it to continue or if they should just give up and let the chips fall where they may.

As a former English teacher, I loved that the English teacher in this story had the same favorite punctuation mark as I do and that he actually wore an interrobang t-shirt to work one day. I also loved the extra poetry lessons thrown in throughout the book and could easily recommend this as a read-along for an English class during National Poetry Month. I think the reality show tie-in would make this book an easy one to recommend to students. This book was entertaining, funny, and enjoyable to read.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-alikes: Reality Boy, Something Real

13 August 2014


Benincasa, Sara. Great. Harper Teen, 2014.

Naomi travels to the Hamptons to spend the summer with her mother. She doesn't fit in with the entitled teens around her, and she's expecting to spend the summer bored out of her mind. Enter Jacinta, the mysterious girl next door who throws lavish parties. This modern retelling of The Great Gatsby will ring true with readers who have already loved Gatsby; for those who have not yet read Fitzgerald's classic, this story will still entertain.

I enjoyed this story as a retelling of Gatsby, but I don't see this being a popular book at my middle school library. I could easily sell it to high school readers, though, and were I still an English teacher, I could offer it as a bonus read to students who have read Gatsby.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: alcohol use, drug use, language
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-alikes: Drama Queens in the House, The Great Gatsby, We Were Liars

12 August 2014

Everything Leads to You

LaCour, Nina. Everything Leads to You. Dutton Juvenile, 2014.

Emi works on set designs in Hollywood, and on a hunt to find just the right pieces for a particular set, she finds a letter from a famous actor. This mystery begs to be solved, so she spends time tracking down people and making connections while still working on her set design. And she tries not to start dating the same girl again who has broken her heart over and over.

This wasn't a bad book, but it's weird to read about the uber-privileged. Not many teens get to work on actual movie sets, and most of them go to school instead of driving around to actors' estate sales to purchase set pieces. That facet lead an air of unreality to this particular story, although the actual plot - a girl who tries to not date the same girl who's already broken her heart - was a good one. This would be a good book for fans of chick lit.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

11 August 2014

The Reappearing Act

Fagan, Kate. The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians. Skyhorse Publishing. 2014. $24.95. 200p. HC 978-1-62914-205-0.

Kate Fagan’s memoir recounts her life on the University of Colorado’s women’s basketball team. Though not from a religious family, Fagan aligned herself with the evangelical Christians on her team, attending Bible studies and worship services and attempting to convince others to repent. However, Fagan soon realized that she was a lesbian, and she found her new-found faith to be in conflict with her newly-discovered orientation. This memoir describes her struggles to reconcile her beliefs and her orientation and the effect of those choices on her relationship with her teammates.

This is an unusual memoir, not because of Fagan’s struggle with her beliefs and her orientation, but rather because Fagan was not raised in a religious home. Rather than growing up with internalized homophobia, as many religious persons do, Fagan chose to spend time with evangelical Christians during college because they were part of her basketball team. Although she recounts many occasions where she attended Bible studies or prayed or worshiped with others, Fagan never states that she had a conversion experience. In the language of the evangelical Christians whom she befriended, she was never “saved” or “born again.” So her struggle with her orientation focused more on how her teammates would react, rather than how God would react. Also, although she did, in fact, come out to a couple of teammates, there was never a big “coming out” experience where she admitted to the entire team that she was a lesbian and had to deal with the ramifications. Fagan herself states that she has chosen, as she posits many others in college sports do, to keep her orientation to herself and a few close friends. In spite of the somewhat misleading title, this book will be popular among college basketball fans and would be a good addition to a public library’s collection.

Recommended for: basketball fans, teens and adults
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

08 August 2014

An Unspoken Compromise

Timane, Rizi. An Unspoken Compromise: A Spiritual Guide for LGBT People of Faith. HawkFish Publishing. 2013. $19.99 178p. SC 978-1484872468.

Rizi Timane was born and raised in Nigeria, West Africa. He realized early on that he was a boy, even though he had been born with a girl’s body. However, African culture and the fundamentalist Christian beliefs of his family taught him that being LGBT was a cardinal sin. He struggled for many years with his identity, coming out first as a lesbian and finally as transgender. He had to reconcile what he knew to be true about himself with what he thought to be true about God. This book is Timane’s message to the LGBT community, especially those who are struggling to reconcile their orientation or gender identity with firmly held religious beliefs.

The title of this book leads the reader to believe that the book will be a sort of spiritual reference book, similar to Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian or Justin Lee’s Torn. Unfortunately, of the 178 pages in this book, the first 100 are dedicated to describing the author’s childhood, young adulthood, coming out experiences, and transition. Two dozen at the end constitute an appendix that serves as a memorial to LGBT persons who were victims of homophobic rape in Africa. A mere fifty pages sandwiched between barely glance at the so-called “clobber passages” from the bible and Timane’s interpretation of these passages. While it is important to discuss these passages and their application to LGBT people of faith, this has been thoroughly covered by other authors. This book would serve better as a memoir of Timane’s growing up, coming out, and transition experiences, but the title will mislead readers to believe the book will be a guidebook when instead it is an autobiography. The fate of LGBT persons in Africa is certainly an important topic, and it is hoped that other works detailing these experiences will soon be available.

Recommended for: people interested in the LGBT experience in Africa
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

07 August 2014

We Were Liars

Lockhart, E. We Were Liars. Delacorte Press, 2014.

Cadence's family is rich, rich enough to own an island where her grandparents had one house and her mother and her aunts each had their own house as well. Each summer the family gathers there to vacation together, to socialize, to relax. This summer, though, Cadence is having difficulty relaxing. An accident a couple of summers ago has left holes in her memory and no one seems willing to help her fill in the gaps. Any more details would constitute epic spoilage, so I will leave it at that.

This is an excellently written book. The lyrical writing style draws the reader in, as does the mystery of what has happened to Cadence. The ending was not remotely surprising to me, but I truly enjoyed the journey of this book.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, alcohol use
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

06 August 2014

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me

Peters, Julie Anne. Lies My Girlfriend Told Me. Little, Brown BFYR, 2014.

Alix's girlfriend Swannee dies suddenly, and when Alix finds Swannee's phone filled with messages from "LT," she starts to dig deeper and discovers that Swannee had been leading a double life. Alix continues to untangle the threads of her late girlfriend's lies and uncover the mystery of LT.

This wasn't a bad book, per se, but I definitely didn't like Swannee's mom's choice to raise her daughter to have open relationships. Is it true that most high school romances won't last? Definitely. However, would Swannee's relationships with LT and Alix been better if she had been honest with each of them? Most definitely. The one refreshing thing about this book was that it wasn't a coming-out story; the story was focused on Swannee's lies and Alix's untangling of those lies, rather than either of them coming to the realization of her orientation.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: mild language
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

05 August 2014

Cruel Beauty

Hodge, Rosamund. Cruel Beauty. Balzer+Bray, 2014.

Nyx is betrothed to the "gentle lord," an evil ruler who has taken over her kingdom. She has been trained by her father to infiltrate the ruler's castle and destroy him, thus freeing her people. But Nyx soon realizes that the situation is much more complicated than she and her father could possibly have imagined, and now she has to sort through her conflicting emotions and limited information to decide what would be the best move.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and while I admit that the narrator did a fantastic job at creating a creepy atmosphere, I wanted to read the print version instead simply so I could get through the book more quickly. The ending seemed to drag out unnecessarily long, so I would recommend this book only to my strongest readers, as I think my weaker readers would probably not be invested enough to finish the book.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: sex is discussed, although it isn't explicit or graphic (Nyx is told what she is expected to do on the night of her wedding)
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

04 August 2014

Drama Queens in the House

Williams, Julie. Drama Queens in the House. Roaring Brook Press, 2014.

Jessie's family owns and runs a theater company, and they are happily celebrating Jessie's early graduation from high school when she discovers that her dad is cheating on her mom ... with a man. Jessie spends a tumultuous year adjusting to a new family dynamic and trying to discover her place in the world.

I really liked the premise of this book, and I love that the narrator is a POC, but the book isn't just about the Jessie's race. However, Jessie seemed very immature for sixteen. If I imagined that she was twelve or thirteen instead, then the book made perfect sense, but Jessie did not read like a high school graduate trying to find her way in the world. I could easily recommend this book to the middle school students in my library, and even some upper elementary students, but it would not fit a high school audience.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Better Nate Than Ever

01 August 2014

Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders

Herbach, Geoff. Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders. 2014

This book is a copy of Gabe's testimony after he and the other "geekers" - band geeks, chess nerds, etc. - waged war against the cheerleaders who have stolen their funding and eliminated band camp. Gabe is telling his side of the story to a lawyer, and interspersed with the tale of Gabe's arrest we find out about his family life, the teasing he puts up with at school, and his job at the donut shop. Gabe doesn't hold anything back, and his story is hilarious. Throughout the story we do get to watch Gabe take control of a life that has spun very far out of control, all the while laughing at his crazy antics.

I picked this book up about six times before I actually checked it out of the library. The cover and the title told me the book should be funny, but I was afraid I'd be disappointed in what would count as "humor." I shouldn't have worried. This book is really funny, and teens who have grown up on a diet of Diary of a Wimpy Kid will enjoy this book. I always enjoy books where the spineless protagonist eventually realizes s/he has a problem and takes control; this is one of those books. See below for other funny read-alike suggestions.

Recommended for: young adults
Red Flags: language, some minor violence, minor use of alcohol,
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Notes from the Midnight Driver,  Butter,  Steering Toward Normal,  Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong,  Ungifted