The Calculus of Change by Jessie Hilb

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Aden has a great relationship with mathematics, but the rest of her life is up-in-the air. The family is still reeling from the loss of her mother. Her best friend is boy-crazy and intent on starting an affair with one of her teachers. Aden has never dated and thought that part of her life was fine until Tate came into her life. Tate wears his yarmulke and a grin to school and is a friend to everyone. Aden is fascinated by him – especially that he is not afraid to openly display his religious convictions.

When Tate needs help with his calculus class, Aden steps in and helps him with his homework. Aden knows she is drawn to Tate, but he is dating another girl. I was feeling very impressed with Tate and Aden’s relationship at the start. He talks to her about his faith (She is also Jewish), and takes her to meet with a rabbi. But I lost that view of the relationship when he invites her to his house one night, gives her alcohol and proceeds to have sex with her. Worse yet is the fact that he gets up and leaves her in the bed with no explanation, does not even tell her ,”Goodbye.”

The redeeming part of the tale is that this did not destroy Aden, but she realizes that she cannot be around Tate. Girls who read this may understand that they don’t have to get “mushy brained” about love relationships.

I believe this must be an informed purchase for the high school library. The characters are very believable, and there is an over-all good resolution. However some schools may object to the sexual scenes. Also, the best friend does have sex with the teacher, but does not in trouble for it. The friend, Marissa, becomes pregnant, but she also had sex with another student about the same time so the fatherhood of the child is unknown. The teacher tells Marissa that his wife forgave him and that he is staying with her. That resolution bothers me. I don’t want to NOT recommend the book, but if it is purchased, it definitely needs to stay in the high school library.

Sometimes You Have to Cross When It Says Don’t Walk by Lesley Visser

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I rarely ever do not recommend a book, but that is exactly what I am doing with this one. While this book is about a highly acclaimed female sports writer (the first one ever inducted into the Football Hall of Fame) it is not a book that young people will pick up and read.

It is a memoir of the life of a woman in her 60’s. There are no chapter titles to help the reader find things. There is no index. There is a chapter of acknowledgements that goes on for 12 pages that are mostly a list of names – page, after page of them.

The writing is rambling and very disjointed. A written organization of some sort, perhaps chronological or a type of sport being covered would perhaps have helped. There are at least seven pictures that are clearly labeled, but the person standing with Lesley in these pictures are NOT mentioned in the text where they are placed. All pictures are grainy, but that might be better in true publication because the copy I read is an advanced publication. I see no possible use for this book in any school library.

 

The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

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Aventurine is a young female dragon who wants to explore the world outside her family’s lair. Her adventure into the unknown has disastrous results when she meets a food wizard who gives her enchanted chocolate which turns her into a human.

Aventurine falls madly in love with chocolate and wants more of it. She eventually is taken in as an apprentice to a famous chocolatier and begins to learn how to make the best chocolate in the kingdom. She also makes a friend of a young girl in the town.

Unfortunately, her dragon family is trying to find her, and Aventurine must decide how to stop them from destroying the world she must now live in. This is a cute story for elementary readers, grades 3-6. I recommend its purchase because it is a very unique approach to dragon tales.

The Knowing by Sharon Cameron

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  This book is actually a sequel to The Forgetting, but it can totally stand alone. In this story over 300 years have passed since the first pioneers from Earth arrived aboard Centauri I at the planet they had called Canaan.  Now explorers from Earth have once again arrived on a ship called Centauri III.  Their job is to see how the original pioneers have done in building a new civilization on the new planet. They are directed not to interact with the inhabitants – only to observe and report their findings.

Of course, Beckett and Jillian, the two young observers from the ship, find themselves in a situation that demands that they get involved. How they interact with Samara, a girl from the city of New Canaan, moves the story along to a most unexpected conclusion.

The people who live inside of New Canaan are incapable of forgetting anything – even pain and emotions.  They remember everything except for what happened 300 years ago.  This constant bombardment of remembering leaves them incapable of developing emotional attachments because the loss of someone they love causes them tremendous emotional pain every time they think about that person.

On the positive side, they never forget anything that they have read, seen or heard which makes Samarra extremely important as Beckett and Jillian as they try to find out what really had happened to the people on Canaan and to keep the rest of the explorers on board Centauri II safe.

There is nothing about this book that would cause reservations about its purchase for the high school library. It does contain violent scenes, but sex and language are absent. If you have not already read The Forgetting, you will want to do so after reading this book.

The author leaves the reader wondering about what happened to the ship Centauri II. Another spellbinding tale must be forth-coming.

Girl in a Bad Place

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Mailee and Cars are two high school best friends who always look out for each other.  They both have issues that cause them to rely on each other.  Cara, the logical organized one, gets drawn into a survival cult that is living in the mountains near their town.  Mailee is not pleased with the was Cara is getting involved with the cult, but she is unsure about how to help her.

Cara invites Mailee to visit the commune, and Mailee becomes even more uneasy when she meets the leader of the group. Mailee stumbles on something outside the camp that terrifies her.  She knows she has to get Cara away from the group, but her effort to do so may get her killed.

The price that one must pay for true friendship[ is the theme of the book.  The characters are very well developed, and the plot is tightly constructed.  There is some sex alluded to but nothing graphic.  I highly recommend its purchase for the high school reader.

Solo by Alexander Kwame and Mary Rand Hess

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Wow! Reading this story of the life of the son of a rocker told in free verse is like getting inside the mind of the main character and wondering if there is a good way out.  The two authors tell the tale in a poetic style through a point, counter-point exchange of words and feelings.

The son, Blade Morrison, is a part of a very wealthy, very dysfunctional family.  He has suffered the death of his mother and survives the many alcoholic/drug induced downward spirals of his father.  He has one true love, Chapel, a girl from a conservative Christian family; and he holds on to her as his lifeline.  Then his whole world is turned upside down, ad he finds that he no longer has her lover and that he is not even who he thought he was.  His search for reality takes him half way around the world.

The authors’ use of tying the more famous songs of rock and roll into the tale lends reality to the characters and to the action.  Each of the sections referring to one of those songs is prefaced with discography of the song so that the reader may actually hear the words from the artists themselves if they so desire.

Telling a tale in a long narrative to young reader of this generation is a great undertaking.  Using that style to tell the tale and yet being able to develop other believable characters and to hear their voice in the poem is a phenomenal undertaking. Alexander and Hess have accomplished this feat.

The reader will not find sexual scenes or bad language. The book could be used in English classes as a novel/poetry study, but it should definitely be included in the high school library.

Curious Minds by Ty Kolstedt and Azeem Z. Vasi

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Curious minds

The authors have provided the middle school to high school reader with a fascinating book of various experiments in all fields of learning – including Language Arts and Social Studies.  Usually, books of experiments are limited to mathematics and/or science.

Each chapter begins with a topic to pique the interest of the reader.  The “Content Area” and “Primary Skills’ being taught by the experiment, along with the “Mission Objective” begin each chapter.  These sections are followed by “Learning the Lingo” in which the reader learns the terms pertinent to the topic at hand.  Next comes the list of materials needed to perform the experiment, followed by the “Plan of Attack,” or the steps in the experiment.  Finally each chapter ends with “Take it to the Max,” an attempt to get the reader to go beyond the given experiment and to discover more about the subject on his/her own.

This book is for younger readers, but it may well be used by a teacher or a homeschooling parent for extra activities.  I recommend its purchase, but a librarian may have trouble cataloging it because of its broad range of subjects.

Darkest Hour by Carolyn Tung Richmond

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darkest hour  As a spy of the Allies during World War II, sixteen year-old Lucie Blaise was not always the most proficient.  She had messed up two operations already, and the commander of Covert Ops was nearly ready to send her back to the U.S. before she could do any serious damage to the operations.

Then came the assignment to track down and interrogate a Nazi traitor who was offering the Allies important information about a new “weapon” than the Germans were about ready to release on the world.  Lucie and two other Covert Ops girls set out through France into Germany to complete this mission.

These types of assignments are always dangerous, but the girls nearly get themselves killed several times.  How they found the spy and then were able to destroy the lab where the weapon was being created is only a part of the story of espionage and intrigue. Lucie discovers that Covet Ops has a mole, and she must figure out who that is before someone dies.

The reader should be ready for a thrilling adventure as he/she sits down to read.  The fact that there actually were many real-life women operatives during World War II makes what might seem fantastical come to life.  I recommend the purchase of this book for readers in grade 7-13.

Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

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safekeeping

What would you do if you had been out of the country for several months to help outhers and then returned to find your life has totally changed; your family is gone; you have very little money; your credit cards do not work; and you think the government is trying to arrest you?  Would you do what Radley did – start walking to the Canadian border?  Radley runs into another girl on her way to Canada.  She, too, is obviously running, but she doesn’t communicate much to Radley.  The two of them make it, but they are too afraid to let anyone know that they are in the country or that they need help. They forage for food and then a mysterious benefactor begins leaving them things to help them survive the winter in the cabin they found in the woods.

This is really a story of friendship in times of chaos, but it is also a story of how drastic changes in government might affect the lives of people.  Radley eventually learns the truth about what happened to her parents, and the truth about her traveling companion; but she also learns that life is too precious to live with regrets and sorrows.  I definitely recommend this for high school readers.

I included the picture from the paperback I had for reviewing.  I noticed that there is a different cover on the hardback version, and in some ways I think that cover more accurately depicts the walk of Radley.  If you go looking for this book do not let my picture influence your decision as to which book you are getting.

The Book of What If: Questions and Activities for Curious Minds by Matt Murrie and Andrew R. McHugh

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Book of What If

This is an interesting book of scientific and philosophic trivia.  It poses 84 questions such as: What if we could be young forever?  What if nanobots joined in the fight against cancer? What if walls could talk? and What if there were no luck? Each question is followed by a discussion about that question, and an activity related to it.  A short biographical sketch about a person who is involved in some way with the topic under discussion is included.

The questions posed also have comments about them from various teenagers.  Some questions have a technical corner explaining or introducing something that already exists and is relevant to the question.

The author also included a very detailed end-note section.  Many of these references are on line and might lead the reader to do more exploration on their own.  They have also included other resources that will help the curious minded to go on further thinking explorations.

I realize the copy I was reading was a reader’s copy for critics, but I would hope that the editors could make the student comments more readable before it hits the market.  The typeface I was trying to read was grey-on-grey in that section and I found it very difficult to read those student comments.

I’m trying to pinpoint an audience for the book.  Students who love trivia or are just naturally curious about many things will enjoy it; other than that I believe the student audience is limited.  I truly liked the book, but its best audience might be for the teacher to use as class discussions or as writing assignments.  It is intended for the high school audience, but good readers in elementary school might enjoy it.

I was enjoying the mental gymnastics asked for by the book when I ran across the question: What is awesome didn’t exist? – not an unusual question for that book.  What blew my mind was that the example of “awesome” was Harvey Milk, and everything said about him related to the gay community and his actions for that group.  This chapter seemed to be out of place because this was about a person – not about an idea, and that really didn’t fit into the concept of the book as a whole.  It seemed to me that someone had told the authors they MUST have something in the book about the gay community, so this got stuck in to make some publisher happy.  It was totally unnecessary! I do not think it is necessary to stress the sexuality of Milk and to do so in context with the word “awesome.” This inclusion will also make some homeschooling parents and libraries think twice about purchasing it.