November 6, 2019

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:32 pm by suebe2

Patron Saints of Nothing
by Randy Ribay

For years Jay and his cousin Jun wrote each other — not e-mails, not texts but real paper letters.  Jay was born in the Philippines but raised in the US while Jun remained in the island nation, growing up in an exclusive gated community.

Jay has started to hear back from colleges when he learns that his cousin has been killed.  Although his Filipino father refuses to tell him anything, his mother reveals that Jun had been using drugs.  His death was one of many sanctioned by Philippine President Duterte in the nation’s war against drugs.

Jay knows this can’t be true.  Jun was ridiculously smart and often at odds with his father, a high ranking police official who rules the family with an iron fist.  Jay decides to give up his spring break to travel to the Philippines and find out what really happened.

I’m not going to spoil the plot. If you want to know what happened, you will have to read the book. Suffice it to say that Jay’s eyes are opened when he returns to the country of his birth.

Author Randy Ribay has done an excellent job in creating a complex situation that is not as simple or straight forward as many people would believe.  In Jay, he has also created a character that defies stereotype.  Readers will realize just how little they know about the Philippines, both historically and in terms of the geography and culture.

What authority does Ribay have to write this book?  Like his character, he was born in the Philippines but grew up in the Midwest.

One thing that would have helped me was a Tagalog glossary since phrases in this Filipino language pepper the text.  Then again, the omission of a glossary may have been intentional since its absence left my floundering alongside the main character.

While mature middle school readers could deal with the content, I’m not sure they would find Jay’s concern about his college applications interesting or relatable.   This book is definitely worth sharing in the classroom as it is sure to spark discussions on diversity, media, and more.   An excellent choice for book club reading.


December 1, 2017

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 6:07 pm by suebe2

all the crooked saintsAll the Crooked Saints
by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press

The Soria family doesn’t exactly welcome visitors to Bicho Raro, Colorado.  But still the visitors come, drawn by the promise of a miracle.  And visitors aren’t all that’s drawn to Bicho Raro.  So are owls of all kinds who gather whenever a miracle is imminent.  Good or bad, it doesn’t much matter to the owls but it does matter to the Soria.

Whenever Daniel Soria, the handsome teen who is the family’s current saint, performs a miracle for a pilgrim, it always does more than expected.  The first miracle addresses the pilgrim’s problem but it also unleashes their inner darkness.  A predatory priest who loves the ladies just a little too much finds that he now has a coyote’s head. A pair of twins who can’t quit bickering are joined by a cantankerous snake. Until they resolve this darkness, they are stuck with it and cannot leave.

But a Soria who tries to help may unleash his or her own darkness and Soria darkness is something to be feared.  This means that the family refuses to speak or interact with the bizarre cast of characters with whom they share their ranch.

And, as is always the case in a Stiefvater novel, the characters are amazing.

Daniel seems sweet but he was a hell raiser as a teen.  His cousin Beatrice has a scientific mind but believes she has no emotions.  Joaquin spends his nights running a renegade radio station with the help of his cousins.  His parents don’t know about his radio personality – Diablo Diablo – and would be horrified given the power of Soria words.

Stiefvater’s latest novel is set in Colorado in the 1960s.  It is a world of ranches, rodeos, and radios.  I’ve only touched on the characters because I don’t want to retell the entire novel and, as is always the case, it is hard to talk about a Stiefvater novel without giving too much away.

All the Crooked Saints is magical realism at its finest.  Magical things happen and no one bats an eye.  Unless, of course, the particular event warrants a reaction.  Out in the larger world, there may not be any magic but in Bicho Raro, miracles rule, a spirit owl can hold onto a person’s eyes until they need them again, and a radio DJ from back East becomes a towering giant.  And the desert is a character as influential as any human in the book.

This is a story, and a land, where magic and love are equally strong and capable of doing both great and terrible things.

I plan to add this one to my Christmas shopping for a particular niece who loves fantasy.  Share it with the readers in your life who love adventure but aren’t afraid to step beyond the world of the ordinary.


August 31, 2017

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:04 pm by suebe2

One of Us Is Lying
by Karen M. McManus
Delacorte Press

As the story opens, five students are serving detention. They are a varied group with one thing in common – they are all in detention because a tech-hating teacher found a cell phone in each of their packs.  He has a no phones in class rule and all of them observe it but each was caught with a cheap phone that didn’t belong to them. Who could have set them up and why bother?

Bronwyn is the school brain.  She’s heading straight for an early acceptance from Yale.

Cooper is a jock with an amazing fast ball. He’s already being scouted by a variety of schools.

Addy dates the school quarterback. She’s sweet and pretty enough to be on the homecoming court.

Nate is the outlier.  A known drug dealer, he doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  He’s focused on convincing his probation officer that he’s doing everything right.

This question seems all important at the beginning of detention but it is quickly driven from one of their minds.  Simon, the outcast of the group, begins to cough.  Soon he is on the ground, red-faced and choking.  Nate realizes Simon is having a severe allergic reaction to something but can’t find the other boy’s epipen.  Cooper, star pitcher on the school baseball team, sprints to the nurses office but the epipens she keeps there are gone.

Now the police are looking at this group and trying to figure out who wanted Simon dead.  The problem is that Simon had only one friend in school.  So it could have been just about anyone.  Simon ran a gossip ap that he used to “out” whoever did anything they wouldn’t want someone else to know about.  Cheating on a boyfriend, casual sex, drunken anarchy.  All could be punished by a post by Simon.

These four students are the prime suspects simply because they were in the room.  The mystery deepens as the posts continue even after Simon’s death.  A post goes lives that implicates everyone who had been in detention.  In spite of the fact that their lawyers have advised them to avoid each other, the four start working together to figure out who really did it and why.

If you’re over a certain age, this will immediately remind you of The Breakfast Club but it’s the BC with a serious edge.  One of the students doesn’t make it out alive.

Because the author switches points of view, allowing each character to speak for him or herself, the reader gets the experience of seeing things from each character’s perspective.  This is an engaging technique that helps the reader identify with the characters.  Not that they need a lot of help.  With this array of characters, there is a great variety.  But this does make it easy to get into their heads.

Readers will find themselves debating, who did it?  Is one of them lying?

Warning.  Here comes a big spoiler alert.

Seriously.  Don’t read on because I may give something away.

In some ways this book is a lot like 13 Reasons Why.  So now you know.  It deals with suicide and mental illness. Because of this, it can be a tough read as the characters figure out what happened and why.  They are to blame but not in the “they drove poor Simon to suicide” way.  “It is a lot more like Simon was a bit unhinged but didn’t use a gun.”

But I think it is a really important read.  It shows how one persons actions impact another.  But it also shows how students can cross boundaries and reach out to help each other.  There is definitely a lot to love about this book.  That said, it is definitely a read for teens, not tweens.



November 19, 2013

Black Heart by Holly Black

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:08 am by suebe2

Black Heart
by Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry

In a world much like our own, magic is illegal.  In our world, that wouldn’t be a huge problem but Cassel was born with magic.  Imagine having amazing abilities and not being able to use them unless, of course, you are willing to be a criminal.  To some people, it might seem like that Cassel was born into a criminal family, small time but a criminal family nonetheless.

One brother, now deceased, was a curse worker.  Another works memories.  Mom can work someone’s emotions.  Cassel?  Cassel is the rarest of them all.  He can transform people, changing faces or changing them completely.  It isn’t surprising then that big criminal families want him for their own and so does the government.

What Cassel wants is getting complicated too.  When he was a child, back before he knew he could transform, he wanted to have magic just like everyone else he knew.  Now that he has it, he wishes that he could forget the things that he’s done with it.  More than anything, he just wants to be a good person, a person his friends can trust.

But how can anyone trust you when you don’t trust yourself?  Cassel has signed a deal with the feds and that should make things easier.  But when your family is criminal, a deal with the feds means death so he has to hide what he is doing.  And then there are the things that they ask him to do.  Transforming a person into a living thing isn’t the same as murder but when they ask him to transform a state governor, Cassel starts to ask himself questions — why have them come to someone with no experience, someone they clearly don’t trust?  And why should he trust them?

This is an amazing conclusion to the Curse Worker trilogy. It isn’t often that the books get better later in the trilogy but that is what Black has pulled off. Themes of goodness and evil, and personal responsibility play out in an amazing way.

And, the reality is, that the louder Cassel shouts that he is bad, the more convinced the reader is that deep down he is a good person, a person who cares deeply about even those who have hurt him.   That said, he has a truly wicked sense of humor that will appeal to male readers.


April 1, 2013

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:26 am by suebe2

My Life Next Door
by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Dial Books
AR 4.4

Samantha has lived next door to the Garrett’s for years.  The Garrett’s are a big, boisterous family with a yard full of toys and a house full of love.  Unfortunately, all Samantha’s mother sees is the disorder.  Disorder has no place in the life of her mother, the Senator.  The woman is so “orderly” that she actually vacuums her way out of the house to keep from leaving tracks on the carpet.

But outside Samantha’s second story bedroom window is a the perfect vantage place on the roof.  Perfect for watching the stars.  Perfect too for watching the Garrett’s from a safe, envious distance.

Little does Samantha know that one of the Garrett’s has been watching her right back and one day he invites himself up the trellis to say hello.  Before she knows it, Samantha is spending almost every day with the Garretts, slipping back home right before her mother walks through the front door and sometimes sneaking off again at night.  It doesn’t take long before she’s in love with Jase Garrett and his family too.

I know I fell for the Garrett’s and fell hard.  My favorite may very well be worry wart George — a preschooler who gathers facts the way some kids pick up interesting rocks.  Unfortunately, he not only gathers them, he worries about them from black holes and tornadoes to blue ring octopus and whether or not bacon comes from Wilbur.

I can’t say a whole lot more without giving away plot that you must discover on your own.

Admittedly, I initially thought I had stumbled across a piece of chick lit.  Samantha and Jase are two beautiful people madly in love.  Sure, Samantha’s mother is a controlling loon but she’s a rich controlling loon and Samantha actually has it pretty easy even if she does have to listen to her mother’s lectures about bad choices resulting in a tough life.  Mom loves to deliver this lecture whenever she sees the Garretts and their many children.

But then Samantha begins to spot imperfections in the lives of those around here and I don’t mean the Garretts.   Soon she’s wonders how long she’s been lying to herself about people she’s known her entire life.

Yes, the book has a 4.4 reading level (4th grade, 4th month) but this is not a book for the grade school crowd.  These characters ultimately deal with drugs, alcohol, sex and a felony (I won’t say what because, again, I simply refuse to spoil this plot).    Everything that happens on screen is fairly mild so this book would be okay for a middle schooler but, again, not a grade schooler.

There’s a lot that goes on here but it would still be a good summer read.  There is tons of humor (oh, thank you, George) but enough substance to make you want to continue reading.  Fitzpatrick has created a book that deals with personal responsibility and appearances and is a must read for teens dealing with both in a society that emphasizes how you look to far too great an extent, over who you are and how you treat those around you.


April 26, 2012

I’m Not Her by Janet Gurtler

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:05 am by suebe2

I’m not Her
by Janet Gurtler
AR 4.2

All that Tess can think about when her sister drags her to a party is getting out. After all, her sister Kristina is the wildly popular gorgeous one that everyone wants to be around.  In fact, the only guys that talk to Tess all evening want to talk about Kristina.  Simply put, Tess is sick and tired of being in Kristina’s shadow.  She doesn’t begrudge Kristina her life, at least not much, but she’s sick of simply being Kristina’s little sister.

Then the unthinkable happens.  The pain in Kristina’s leg is much more than a strain or a bruise.  Its cancer.  As treatments begin, first Kristina gets violently sick, then her beautiful hair falls out.

As one procedure follows another, Tess must spend each day in school misleading those around her.  The problem is that her Kristina doesn’t want anyone’s sympathy.  She doesn’t want teary visitors or half-baked sympathy.  But what can Tess say when people ask her how Kristina is doing, especially as her sister’s absence stretches into long weeks.  Now she isn’t just Kristina’s sister, she’s Kristina’s alibi.

The stress that Tess is under stresses her friendships even as she gets to know a new circle of teens who first want to know how Kristina is doing but later come to worry about Tess as well.

Throughout it all, Tess has to find a way to stay true to who she is, to make people see her for what she values and to help her sister stay strong and true.

In spite of the lower reading level, this book is definitely young adult. There is alcohol and sexual situations and many, many dark moments.

In spite of this, I give this book two thumbs up.  It is an amazing story about self-discovery, the human spirit, and true friendship.  You may need a few tissues at various key moments but you will come out of it with a feeling of hope for Tess and the future of strong young women like her.


September 9, 2010

Suspect by Kristin Wolden Nitz

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 5:14 pm by suebe2


by Kristin Wolden Nitz

Seventeen-year-old Jen has plans for the summer when Dad tells her that she is needed at the Schoenhaus, the bed-and-breakfast inn owned and operated by her grandmother.  One of her regular staff has been injured and a themed weekend is coming up.  Guests will gather together and spend the weekend acting out and solving a mystery.

Jen resists until Dad tells her a bit about the mystery.  It is loosely based on the disappearance of Jen’s mother some 13 years earlier.  Her grandmother may need help but Dad is more than a little worried about why the woman is suddenly determined to prove that a murder took place years earlier.

Reluctantly, Jen agrees to help and soon finds herself not just cleaning room but playing the part of the victim, a character based on her own mother.  To complicate matters, the victim’s boyfriend is being played by Jen’s handsome un-cousin, a boy related to her grandmother’s second husband.

Again, I can’t give too much more information without giving away some serious plot elements which I am entirely unwilling to do.  This is, after all, a mystery.  As a mystery, it passes two big tests for me:

  1. It hooked me and wouldn’t let go.  I picked up this book while I was packing for a lakeside weekend.  I planned to read it because the author is a personal friend.  I did not plan on staying up until the wee hours of the morning to find out who the murderer was.
  2. I didn’t figure out who the murderer was and that is a huge compliment because, very often, when I read a mystery I do figure it out.

Nitz plants clues in sight of the reader but she also has created a complicated enough story complete with red herrings that the clues don’t stand out.

The main character is an athlete and sports are frequently discussed but the book will probably have a much greater appeal to girls than boys.   It would also be suitable for advanced younger readers — no sex (just romance) and no drugs although the main character does have a glass of wine with dinner but even that plays into the mystery.

Give this book to the tween or teen reader in your life, but you might want to wait until they get their chores done.


June 29, 2010

Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:00 pm by suebe2

Rules of Attraction
By Simone Elkeles

As a boy, Carlos wanted nothing more than to big like his big brother, Alex, a smart, tough member of the Latino Blood.  Carlos’ world flips upside down when Alex chooses to get jumped out of the gang, not for his family but for a girl.  A gringa.

Carlos, his younger brother and Mama all return to Mexico where they can live in safety until Carlos too joins a gang.  Alex thinks he knows the answer.  Bring Carlos up to Colorado.

But ties with a gang aren’t all that easy to break and Carlos isn’t willing to leave the fast life behind, not when it means going back to school and doing homework.  Still, he can have a bit of fun tormenting Kiara, the straight-A student assigned to shepherd Carlos around his new school.

For her part, Kiara gives as good as she gets and soon she has Carlos way off balance.

When Carlos is set up on a drug charge, one of the university professors steps forward to take responsibility and take him into the family’s home.  Kiara’s home.  Now Carlos is around her 24/7 and even when they aren’t together, he can’t seem to get her out of his mind.  Still, he can’t act on his feelings — it would mean pulling her down to his world and disappointing her parents who have risked so much to help him.

This is the sequel to Perfect Chemistry and an excellent book for summer reading.  Why summer reading?  Because that way when you stay up late to find out what happens (ask how I’d know), you don’t have to get up early for school the next morning.

Elkeles writes with true honesty for teens.  This means that they deal with things that might not be suitable for younger readers — there is “on camera” drinking and drug use and sex as well (although the act itself is off camera).  This isn’t voyeuristic as all is essential to the plot and none of it is treated flippantly, but it is something you might want to know if your child is a younger advanced reader.

Elkeles characters are beautifully complex and well worth getting to know.  Carlos may be a gang member but she still shows him playing action figures and soccer with Kiara’s kid brother, someone he seeks to protect.  Kiara, the outdoorsy, brainiac isn’t an angel either although her pranks are nothing compared to the world Alex has come to know.  Secondary characters from the Professor to Tucker, Kiara’s best friend, are just as well drawn and sure to help pull in readers looking for a great novel.


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