Posted in Preschool Reads

Rock Away the Night with Granny!

Rock Away Granny, by Dandi Daley Mackall/Illustrated by Mike DeSantis, (Apr. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-0835-8

Recommended for readers 3-6

A little girl gets dropped off at Granny’s, and she isn’t looking forward to the evening. She misses her toys and TV, and Granny just sits there in her rocking chair. But once Mom pulls away, Granny taps her blue suede shoes, paints her granddaughter’s nails, gives them both pony tails, and gets ready to rock the night away! Granddaughter and Granny pull out the old records (“a guy named Elvis has a giant stack”) and do the Twist, the Boogaloo, the Monster Mash, and the Bunny Hop before collapsing back into their rockers. When Mom comes back to pick her little girl up, she kisses Granny goodnight and shuffles off to Buffalo, right out the door – until next time!

What a sweet book about grandparent bonding! Kids don’t always remember that grandma and grandpa were pretty darned cool before they had kids and grandkids; Rock Away Granny has too much fun reminding us about that. This book appeals to grandkids and their parents, who will likely remember hearing Elvis, The Twist, and the Monster Mash while growing up. My own mom is a diehard Elvis fan, so the two of us got a great laugh over the Elvis reference in the book. Instructions on doing the Bunny Hop and how to rock and roll end the book on a high note.

Mike DeSantis’ watercolor illustration gives a soft, cuddly feel to his artwork, and I love his movement when Granny and granddaughter dance. The swaying skirts and swinging ponytails, the imaginative underwater sequence for the swim, and Granny’s cat, who gets in on the action, give this happy book a joyful look and feel.

Bring this book on your next visit to Grandma and/or Grandpa’s, and get them up and dancing! Grandparent’s Day is September 10th this year – add this to your read-aloud and give everyone a dance party with a playlist from the ’50s and ’60s.

 

Award-winning author Dandi Daley Mackall has written more than 450 books for kids and adults. You can check out her website for more information. See more of Mike DeSantis’ illustration work at his site.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky

Spin the Sky, by Jill MacKenzie, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510706866

Recommended for readers 14+

Eighteen year-old Magnolia Woodson and her older sister, Rose, have to live with the sins of their drug addict mother, who abandoned them after a tragedy a year before. Living in a small clamming town in Oregon, everyone knows who they are and what happened; the only folks who seem to think differently are Magnolia’s childhood best friend, George, and his mother, who’s taken care of the girls whenever their mother fell short. To change the way the town sees Magnolia and her sister, she decides she need to win the reality dance show, Live to Dance. She and George head to Portland to audition, but they make it! Now the real work begins: will the competition be too much for Mags? Will her friendship with George survive the stress of the show, and will she be able to live in the fishbowl that is reality television, especially with a secret she doesn’t want made public?

Spin the Sky has a strong premise that isn’t afraid to tackle some hot-button topics like drug addiction, sexuality, abortion, and miscarriage. Some of your more conservative readers may shy away from this one; steer them toward books like Sophie Flack’s Bunheads, Lorri Hewett’s Dancer, or Sarah Rubin’s Someday Dancer. Magnolia is a tough character to crack: she’s consumed with what other people think of her, and obsesses over winning the competition, seemingly just so that the town will accept her and her sister. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her mother (understandably), and she has an unrequited crush on George, who she thinks is gay – and is really upset when it seems that isn’t the case. The other contestants all have their own issues that the author briefly touches on throughout the novel.

If you have readers who love reading about dance and are interested in reality television, Spin the Sky is a good backup for your shelves.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Paranormals address conservation in Earning My Spots

earning-spotsEarning My Spots, by Mark Eastburn, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510707788

Recommended for ages 10+

Sam isn’t having the easiest time in his rural Vermont school. He’s bullied, he’s not terribly popular, and he’s tired of eating roadkill for dinner. Before you call the authorities: he’s also a were-hyena. Looked upon as the scavengers of the animal world (that Lion King movie did his kind no favors, either), the werewolves at school are jerks that constantly gang up on him. The day a new kid, Manny, shows up and sets off Sam’s “shape-shifter sense”, he defends Manny from the wolves and discovers that Manny and his  mom are were-jaguars, and that she’s brought them to Vermont in search of a great hunter. That night, Sam’s family is attacked by were-harpies who take his family, sending Sam and Manny on a quest that will take them to Louisiana and South America, where Sam will meet more hyenas and learn about his true heritage, and discover a plot to overthrow the no-tails – that’s you and me, folks – that are destroying their planet and encroaching on their lands.

Earning My Spots is an interesting and unexpected take on human impact on wildlife and the environment. It’s a paranormal middle grade story that carries a deeper message; using shifter were-animals, we get the a side of the story we don’t usually hear, because shifters can speak for animals and humans alike.

There were ups and downs for me while reading this one. I really liked learning about the hyena heritage – the whole time spent in Louisiana was the highlight of the story for me. Other facets of the narrative, like Sam’s seeming obsession with his and other animals’ bite force (pressure behind their bite) and detailed descriptions of marking his territory, dragged down the flow of the story for me.

If you’ve got paranormal fiction readers, this may draw them in and give them an awareness of environmental conservation. For me, it’s an additional purchase for when my current paranormal collection needs refreshing.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Creepy historical fantasy: Fear the Drowning Deep

drowning-deepFear the Drowning Deep, by Sarah Glenn Marsh, (Oct. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.89, ISBN: 9781510703483

Recommended for ages 12+

Sixteen year-old Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her grandfather drown himself, called by mysterious music that only he could hear. She was ridiculed for saying that the sea took her grandfather, so she’s learned to keep to herself, but things are changing in her Isle of Man village. A dead girl washes ashore, and so does a handsome young man, still alive but bleeding from something that attacked him in the water. Bridey calls him Fynn, because he claims no memory of anything that happened or who he is, and she finds herself falling for him. But things are getting worse when other girls start disappearing, and the town starts pointing their fingers at Fynn. Bridey – who’s now apprenticed to the village witch – knows there is something in the water that’s to blame, but no one wants to listen to her, except for the woman she’s apprenticed to; and she’s got secrets of her own. Can Bridey save everyone she loves from walking into the water and never returning?

Set in 1913, Fear the Drowning Deep is good, creepy historical fantasy. Setting the story on the Isle of Man in pre-World War I era Europe gives a true feeling of isolation, providing an almost claustrophobic mood as Bridey tries desperately to unlock the secrets of the water before it takes any more of her friends or family. Every single character in this book has depth and lends something to the narrative. The prose is beautiful; literary and fantastic all at once; the dreamlike haze she spins for the water’s victims almost lulls readers into a similar, comforting feeling before the author chills you with the revelation that someone has been taken. The relationship between Bridey and Fynn will please YA romance fans, and the pairing of Bridey and Morag, the village witch, is wonderful: atagonistic yet loving, strong and supportive. There’s intrigue, secrets, and revelations to be had all around, making this a solid dark fantasy/romance read for your teens. Pair this with Ananda Braxton-Smith’s Merrow for a pair of water-based mysteries with a touch of the paranormal.

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen

Advice blogging goes haywire in How to Make Out

how-to-make-outHow to Make Out, by Brianna Shrum, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1510701670

Recommended for ages 14+

Sixteen year-old Renley needs to make money fast: she’s dying to go on the math club’s got a trip to New York City, and she needs to raise $3,000. She gets part of the money from her dad and – ugh – stepmother, and she decides to raise the other part of the money by blogging life advice as a “certified expert”, calling herself SweetLifeCoach. She monetizes the site and money starts rolling in, but the questions her audience asks her get more and more uncomfortable; Renley starts acting in a very un-Renley-like manner; it seems like there’s nothing she won’t do for her audience, and her best friends are worried that she’s losing herself – especially when she finds herself in the with in-crowd when she starts dating hearthrob Seth Levine. Renley eventually finds herself facing some tough decisions, not all of which involve the math club trip.

How to Make Out wasn’t really my book. I didn’t like most of the characters in the book, particularly Renley, the main character. She was vapid and one of those kids I warn my own kids against becoming: the kid who will do anything the crowd pushes her to; in this case, because she was hooked on her own blog hype. I questioned how teens would pay to read blog posts on topics that you can easily find on the Internet, including first-hand anecdotes from other teen bloggers. Renley’s father and stepmother were one-dimensional, and a potentially interesting subplot with Renley’s absentee mother was relegated to passing references and one text message. Drew, the boy next door who’s in love with Renley, had the potential to be a solid character but ended up being a sex-obsessed teen boy who’s working out his issues in the bedroom. I wish there had been more depth to the characters.

This was a relatively quick and light read – a good beach read or, for this time of year, winter vacation read for teen romance readers.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen

The Well of Prayers continues the Temple of Doubt series

well-of-prayersThe Well of Prayers, by Anne Boles Levy, (Aug. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781634501934

Recommended for ages 13+

The second book in Anne Boles Levy’s Temple of Doubt series picks up soon after the events of Temple of Doubt. Hadara, now 16, works as a healer’s apprentice. Her father has been promoted to portreeve, a local official. The Azwans are keeping an eye on Hadara and her family, and they’re also cracking down on the community. Homes being searched for heretical items – strictly in the eye of the beholder – and anyone branded a disbeliever is punished severely. Hadara is horrified when she sees one of her neighbors in custody, and tries to think of ways to hamper the culling and mass punishments.

She also discovers that Valeo, the guard she thought dead, is very much alive; it brings up feelings that she thought she successfully pushed down. This, mixed with her continuing suspicion of the god Nihil, and her own concerns about the demon they may or may not have destroyed at the end of Temple of Doubt help set plans in motion that could put Hadara, her family, and possibly all of Port Sapphire in Nihil’s sights.

I really enjoyed the second book in the Temple of Doubt series. I felt more comfortable with the characters, the setting, and the overall faith structure running throughout the book, something that confused me a bit in the first novel. The continuing struggle over who decides what is “faithful enough” vs. “sinful” is all too relevant today; teens will be sucked right in, particularly with Hadara’s mixed emotions about herself and her place in this world, her feelings for Valeo, and her questions about her faith. Give this series to your high fantasy fans and booktalk Hadara with other positive female protagonists like Katniss, Celaena (from Throne of Glass), and Greta from Scorpion Rules.

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Love, Lucas is in paperback! Read an excerpt.

61608104718690LLove, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (2015, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510709928

Recommended for ages 13+

 

I reviewed Love, Lucas when it was originally published in hardcover last year. You can read my review here. To celebrate the book’s paperback release, I’m posting a 5-page excerpt, courtesy of Sky Pony Press. Read on and enjoy!

Love, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (Excerpt)

CHAPTER 1

Everyone tells me funerals help with the grieving process, but I think those people are full of crap. If anything, they make you more depressed than you already are.

I stare at my brother’s casket as we gather around the gravesite. A few inches of snow covers the ground around us and I shiver at the cold breeze biting at my skin. Dad blows his nose and I glance over and see Mom crying into the shoulder of his coat. I’m not sure how she even has tears left.

I know I’m supposed to feel something. Anything. Relief that Lucas is out of pain. Anger that he was taken so early from us. Sadness that I’ll never hear his laugh or see his smiling face again.

Instead I feel only a hollow emptiness inside my chest. He took part of me with him. I can already feel the hole he left behind, waiting for something to fill it. But I know no one can ever take the place of my best friend.

Mom grabs my arm and gives it a squeeze. She holds out a tissue but I don’t take it. I haven’t cried since the night at the hospital. The night he left us. I know so much emotion is built up inside of me, looking for a chance to escape, but for some reason I can’t, no, won’t let it out. Something’s wrong with me.

Dad wraps an arm around my waist. I don’t move. My arms are like weights at my side. Lifeless. Like Lucas.

Mom says something to me and presses a long stemmed rose into my hand. I stare at it and say nothing. I’ve always hated flowers at funerals. They’re supposed to make you feel happy. Not depressed.

People around me move one by one toward the casket and place their roses on top. As I watch them, my fist closes and I crush the delicate petals of my flower into my palm. The maimed rose slides from my fingers and drops to the ground.

I can’t handle this. Everyone is so sad. Red faces, puffy eyes. The world seems to move in slow motion as Dad places his rose on the casket. Mom does the same. My breath catches as I notice everyone staring at me, waiting for me to do something. Anything.

Dad urges me forward to take my turn, but my feet refuse to move. He keeps his hand on my back and I take a deep breath before I look up at him. His eyes are sad as they fall on the pieces of the rose at my feet. He doesn’t say anything about it, just grabs my hand and meets my gaze, but the look

he gives me while his eyes fill with tears is more than I can handle. I have to get out of here. I step away from him, take one last look at the casket, and turn around.

“Oakley? Where are you going?” Dad asks.

I don’t answer, just push past him and move through the crowd as my heart hammers in my chest.

Mom calls my name. Dad calls for me, too. I keep walking and don’t look back.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

My parents are arguing again. Mom quit her job at the bank. It didn’t go over very well with Dad, who has thrown himself into his job like a madman. I know they’re both grieving in their own ways but they should talk to each other about it, not fight. Fighting gets you nowhere.

I listen to their raised voices for a moment and put on my headphones when Mom starts crying. I can’t handle hearing her sob all night again, so I turn my iPod on and music blasts in my ears. Nothing like a bunch of guitars and screaming to drown out my parents and my own thoughts. If I can’t hear them, they’re not there.

I lie on my bed and stare at the glow-in-the-dark stars that light up the ceiling. Lucas bought them for me for my sixteenth birthday. He even made his own constellation out of them and called it Luca Major. Stupid, but funny. It makes me miss him even more.

The light flips on and I turn my head to see Mom standing in the doorway. I pause my music and sit up.

“Sorry,” she says. “I knocked, but you didn’t answer.”

I shrug. “It’s fine.” My voice is hoarse. It was so hard for me to say those two words. I haven’t spoken since the funeral three days ago, and no one’s really spoken to me either.

She hesitates in the doorway but finally comes to sit on the edge of my bed. “Oakley,” she starts. She takes a deep breath and reaches out to tuck my dark hair behind my ear. I pull away from her touch. After all the time and energy she’s spent on my brother the past few years, it’s foreign to me. “Your father and I have been talking. I’ve decided to go live with Aunt Jo for a while. Maybe just until summer. I need some time . . .” She swallows and blinks back the moisture in her eyes. “I need time away

from here for a while.”

“Okay . . .” I say. Great. She’s abandoning me. First Lucas, now her. I breathe in and out. I still don’t feel much. Just empty.

“I wanted to see if . . . well . . .” She smoothes my hair down, and though I consider protesting, I let her. “Honey, I want you to come with me.”

My heart races. “You’re not getting divorced, are you?” I pray she says no. I can’t handle anything else going wrong. Not now. Not when I need at least some normalcy in my life.

She shakes her head. “No. Your father and I are fine. We just . . . grieve differently.” The way she says it confirms that they’re not fine. She takes a shaky breath. “Anyway, just think about coming with me, okay? You don’t have to be in school since you graduated early, and you don’t have a job or anything. I think it could be good for you to get away from everything.”

I think about her offer. Even though I’ll miss Dad, I’d love to get away. I could leave my depressing life behind for the spring and maybe heal a little before I have to decide what to do with my life. College and all that crap. I’ll leave my house and put all the memories of Lucas and my old friends and their whispers behind my back. It would be nice to get away from it all. Away from the uncomfortable silence whenever I see anyone who knows me. I know they aren’t sure what to say; I mean, what do you say to someone who just lost her brother? Even if they have something to say, I’m not sure I’d want to hear it anyway.

“Remember, Jo lives in California now, if that makes a difference. Huntington Beach. She has a really nice house with room to spare.”

I crack a smile. It feels strange on my lips but it’s a start. If I go with Mom, I could use my camera again. The thought of taking pictures comforts me. Just a little. I turn toward her and meet her eyes. “Okay,” I whisper.

She puts her arms around me in an awkward hug. I’m not sure what to do with my own arms, so I lift one and softly pat her back. Physical contact has been nonexistent with her for a while now. She’s not the touchy-feely type. We get along well enough, but for her to hug me . . . I’m sure it takes a lot.

“We’re going to be okay,” she says. It sounds like she’s trying to reassure herself more than me. She pulls away, pats my leg, and stands. “We’re leaving tomorrow morning, so you’d better start packing. I’ve already booked the flights.”

I frown. That doesn’t surprise me at all. “So . . . you were going to drag me there whether I wanted to go or not?”

She shrugs. “I think it will be good for you. For us.”

I want to say something else but don’t have the energy as thoughts of Lucas pop into my head again. Instead, I swallow the lump in my throat, give her a quick nod, and she leaves me alone.

Spending the next few months with Aunt Jo might be a good thing. She’s a marine biologist or veterinarian or something, so maybe she’ll distract me with some of her work. And I’ve never been to a real beach before since our family doesn’t really leave the state of Utah. The only beachy place I’ve been is Antelope Island. This tiny island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake that’s covered with mosquitoes, flies, and brine shrimp. As for animals, I’m sure there are a few antelope here and there, but I’ve never seen any. Just a whole lot of buffalo. Antelope Island . . . covered in buffalo. Go figure.

A real beach. The thought sounds amazing. I’ve only seen pictures of Aunt Jo in the ocean. I’d love to have some photos of my own to hang on my wall. I climb off my bed and go look for a suitcase. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

My ears pop as we land in California. Mom grabs her

carry-on from the overhead compartment and passes me my guitar. I already have my backpack on my lap. We both keep our jumbled thoughts to ourselves. When the line starts to move, I stand, and we follow the crowd and exit the stuffy plane.

Aunt Jo is waiting for us at baggage claim. She runs to Mom and they hug forever, even though they saw each other at the funeral four days ago. Everyone around us is staring, so I move away from them and wait for our suitcases to come down the chute and onto the turnstile. I don’t want to talk about Lucas, so I let them have a moment to themselves.

“How are you doing, Oakley? You hangin’ in there?”

I flinch at Jo’s hand on my shoulder. “I’m good.” I grab my suitcase and she lets go. I don’t miss the look she gives Mom.

They’re worried about me. They can see through the fake smile I put on for everyone who asks how I’m doing. I don’t know why I pretend everything’s okay when clearly it’s not. Lucas is gone. How can anything be okay when he’s not here? He was the only person in my life I could count on.

“Oakley, honey, you ready?” Mom looks over at me with a sad but hopeful smile.

“Yes.” I throw my backpack over my shoulder and my guitar over the other and follow them to the car, dragging my suitcase behind me.

The drive to Jo’s house is quiet. I study her and my mom for a while. It’s weird that they’re even sisters. They look nothing alike. Mom’s short dark hair is neat and straight, while Jo’s is long with light wild curls. Mom is pale with soft skin, and Jo is tan and rough-looking from being outside all the time. I look like Mom. Dark hair and pale skin. Sort of like death.

They’re so different. Their lives especially. Mom married Dad when she was only nineteen. They were high school sweethearts. Obviously it isn’t working out too well. I wonder why Jo never married, but I don’t ask. I’m not in the mood for conversation.

Jo’s house is beautiful. It’s right across the street from the beach. There are windows everywhere. Huge rectangular windows that face the ocean. I’ve always dreamed of living in a house like this. It seems so peaceful. Safe from whispers and gossip. Just what I need.

“You like it?” Jo asks.

I meet her eyes in the rearview mirror and smile. “It’s perfect.”

She puts the car in park and glances at Mom for a second before looking at me again. “I fixed one of the guest rooms up for you so you’ll have some privacy while you’re here. I remember what it was like being a teenager. And your mom told me you like your space. Hopefully you can call it your home away from home for a while.” She gives me a wink before she gets out.

I open the door and step outside as well, breathing in the salty air. It’s strange and different from what I’m used to back home, but right and wonderful at the same time. This is where I’m supposed to be right now and I’m so happy I came.

Palm trees peak around the edge of the house and I have the sudden desire to climb one. I breathe in the ocean air again and grin. For some reason I feel lighter than before. Like all my troubles will magically melt away the moment I step into that beautiful house. But as memories of the past few weeks slam into me again, I realize the depressing fact that fantasy never wins over reality. Even when it should.

We unload our bags and I follow Jo and Mom up the front steps. Jo opens the door and Mom steps back so I can go in first. My jaw drops as I look around.

The inside is gorgeous. Sunlight spills in through the windows, making it almost as bright as outside. The rooms are open. Not stuffy or crowded, but roomy. I’m surprised by Jo’s color choice. The furniture is white, with yellow flowers and throw pillows to accent the living room. A perfect choice for a house like this.

I drop my bags near the door for a moment and take my time walking around the front room, admiring the little seashells accenting the tables. Of course they’re not plastic. They’re very real, and that makes me happy.

Mom’s heels click on the white tile floor and echo through the house. She turns around and smiles. “Jo, I love it,” she says. “It’s amazing.”

“Thanks. It was a bunch of work fixing it up, but I think it turned out nicely.” Jo smiles and turns to me. “Your room is the last one on the left if you want to check it out.”

I grab my bags as I make my way down the hall and open my bedroom door. My eyes widen as I see how big it is. A bed dominates most of the room, with a dresser and mirror across from it. The same sort of decorations are in here as well. Seashells on the glass nightstand near the bed and a few pictures of the ocean hung up on the walls. I throw my backpack on the ground and set my guitar on the bed. My fingers skim the pretty white bedspread. It’s not quite my style, since my room back home is decorated with orange, pink, and lime green, but it works.

I glance around and notice a walk-in closet. Nice. Not that I have a ton of clothes, but still. My favorite part of the room is the French doors that lead outside to a small covered patio. I peek out the window and grin. There’s a hammock and lounge chair and a huge swimming pool. It’s nice and blue. Clean. I wonder if Jo has a pool man, since she obviously makes a ton of money to live in a place like this.

I walk around for a while and go through the fence to the front yard. It’s surreal to be so close to the ocean. My feet start walking on their own and I cross the street and head toward the sand and waves. My first time ever at a beach, and I’ve heard Huntington is really nice.

My flip-flops are covered in sand so I slip them off. I smile at the feel of the sand between my toes. Again, I feel safe. Free. Ready for a new beginning.

The beach is different than I imagined. In all the pictures I’ve seen, there are always a ton of people lying on the sand, tanning. I look around. There aren’t a lot of people out at all. At least not today. An older couple sits a few yards away under big umbrellas. The lady is reading a book and the man I assume is her husband is taking a nap. A few people are playing volleyball further down the beach and there are some surfers bobbing in the water.

It’s like heaven. I walk until I feel the icy ocean water touch my feet. It sends a little shock through my body, but I don’t care. It’s awesome. After a few minutes of watching the tiny waves roll up around my ankles while my feet sink into the mud, I walk back up the beach and sit down in the sand. It’s warm, but a cool breeze caresses my skin. Fascinated, I watch the waves crash into the beach and the surfers riding them so effortlessly.

I sink my toes deeper into the sand and smile. I think I’m going to like it here.