Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Middle grade paranormal thrills: Future Flash

Future Flash, by Kita Helmetag Murdock, (Jan. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510710115

Recommended for readers 10-14

Laney has the ability to “future flash”: she often gets glimpses of the future when she makes physical contact with someone for the first time. She’s spent her life knowing Walt, who claims to be her dad, found her as an infant, in a car seat and wrapped in a blanket. She knows Walt isn’t telling her the whole truth when he talks about being her dad and about her mother, who died when she was a baby. She meets Lyle, a new kid in school, and flashes on him covered in blood and engulfed in flames. She tries to stay away from him, but unfortunately for both Laney and Lyle, the school bully has them both in his sights. As Laney tries to keep Lyle safe from both Axel, the bully, and from the future she saw in her flash, she will discover much more about the circumstances of her birth than she ever expected.

It’s not often you get a middle grade character with these kinds of circumstances – this tends to be more of a YA situation, so I happily tore through Future Flash. It’s a page-turner with a solid female character dealing with some way out-there circumstances. I have to wonder why Lyle kept coming back for more after their first meeting, but I did enjoy the development of their friendship. Things wrap up neatly enough that a sequel isn’t likely. Discussion questions are available at the end of the book.  Kita Murdock’s got a writing style that will keep you turning pages and in the action. Give this to your thriller and mystery middle graders, and your reluctant and struggling YA readers.

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 Science Fiction, Steampunk, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Time fractures can cripple cities in Timekeeper

timekeeperTimekeeper, by Tara Sim, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781510706187

Recommended for ages 13+

My first entry in this year’s Diversity Reading Challenge is Tara Sim’s Timekeeper, a steampunk story taking place in an alternate Victorian London, where clock towers control time. A damaged clock affects the populace, and if a clock is badly damaged or loses a vital part of its machinery, the town “stops”: no one dies, but no one can leave; the citizens are stuck in a time loop. That’s what happened to 17 year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart’s father three years before, and Danny’s become a mechanic in the hopes that he can free his father one day. On an assignment to a clock in the London borough of Enfield, Danny meets Colton, who throws a figurative wrench in all of Danny’s plans. Colton is a clock spirit – the essence of time for the Colton Tower clock – and the two boys fall in love. Danny knows this can’t end well, but he risks everything to be with Colton, who will find a way to keep Danny coming back to Enfield.

Some of the people of London are against the clock towers. They want time freed, uncontrolled, and stage protests that get heated. Clock towers are attacked, and Danny is blamed. He has to find a way to clear his name, keep Colton safe, and keep his father’s town safe so he can bring him home alive.

Timekeeper is the first in a planned trilogy by debut author Tara Sim. The story is very detailed – budding clock aficionados, and readers interested in the science of time (horologists – thanks, Google!) will fall in love with the lyrical way Sim discusses the delicate parts of the clocks and the idea of a spirit manifestation of each clock tower. The romance between Danny and Colton is sweet and gentle, and Danny’s feelings for men is more or less accepted, with some minor snark from the novel’s bully.

Shadowhunters fans will love this one. Get your steampunk on and put this with your Gail Carriger books, your Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and your old school Jules Verne and HG Wells collections.

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 Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

An excerpt from The Temple of Doubt

I recently reviewed Anne Boles Levy’s sci-fi/fantasy YA novel, The Temple of Doubt. The book is about to hit shelves, and I’m able to bring you an excerpt… you know, to whet those appetites. Here you go:

temple of doubt

“Brown snakes as thick as a man’s arm slid from branches on either side of our punt and into the water, where they writhed across the murky surface. The boat paused to avoid them and then skirted the narrow, spiked waterwood roots that poke above the water line. A pole wedged between several roots the puntsman couldn’t see, and he twisted it free. 

I shared the narrow craft with Mami and S’ami and two guards to prod us along. It was a tight fit, and knees would knock at any unexpected turn of the craft. I wasn’t going to make good on my days-ago wish of throttling S’ami with my head scarf, but it did take effort not to wince whenever he looked my way. He was the only Azwan with us. The other Azwan and half the guards had remained behind in the expectation S’ami would die.

I’d forced myself to keep my head straight and not glance around, feverishly looking for Valeo. I hadn’t made up my mind whether I wanted him there nor not. I didn’t want anyone I knew, even slightly, to be out in the wilds with us. But I also didn’t want to die alone here without a single ally among the hulking Temple Guards. Who else besides Valeo would care even a little whether Mami and I made it back?”

You can buy The Temple of Doubt on August 4th. Check out the Sky Pony website to order your copy; while you’re at it, follow them on social media. They’ve got some great books coming out!

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Temple of Doubt brings fantasy, magic, and a struggle with faith

temple of doubtThe Temple of Doubt, by Anne Boles Levy (Aug. 2015, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781632204271

Recommended for ages 13+

A falling star crashes into the marshes on a planet called Kuldor and a young woman’s life is forever changed. Fifteen year-old Hadara is the wilder child of her parents’ two daughters, the “natural” to her younger sister’s “pious”. Living under a strict religious rule, where medicine is heresy and only magic provided by their god, Nihil, is acceptable, Hadara longs to join her mother, who clandestinely gathers herbs and plants to keep handy for quiet requests.

The star brings religious leaders and soldiers to Port Sapphire, where Hadara and her family live. The leaders insist that a demon inhabits the star, and they must go into the marshes to retrieve it: and Hadara and her mother are pressed into service to lead them there. Hadara, whose faith has already been tested by the priests and the soldiers’ presence, finds herself chafing under the continued requests put upon her and the behaviors she witnesses, but this is only the beginning. The things she will discover on her journey will throw everything she’s ever been taught to believe into chaos. Is she strong enough to emerge unscathed?

The Temple of Doubt is sci-fi/fantasy, but readers will find many parallels to our current religious and socio-political climate today. The reliance on a deity to heal – but only if you have enough faith – versus faith in medicine and nature; the right of the religious right to tread wherever they feel is necessary to root out evil, and the struggle of a young woman dealing with coming of age and questioning her faith and beliefs are all very familiar scenarios that will draw readers into Ms. Levy’s story.

There is a great deal of world-building that will appeal to some readers, but may not catch reluctant or struggling readers.  Focus on the teenage aspects of the story – rebellion, frustration, sibling rivalry, and questioning – to spark a lively booktalk. The Temple of Doubt an interesting first book in a series that should appeal to sci-fi and fantasy readers.


Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Boys Camp: Zee’s Story is a good summer read for middle-graders

boyscamp Boys Camp: Zee’s Story, by Kitson Jazynka and Valerie Tripp/illus. by Craig Orback, (2015, Sky Pony Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1629147543

Recommended for ages 8-12

It’s summertime, and Zee is excited to return to Camp Wolf Trail and hang out with all of his friends, especially his best friend and partner in pranks, Will. But things are a little different this year when Will gets angry at Zee for including other friends in their camp fun. Zee is worried about the infamous Will and Zee dynamic duo coming to an end, but heads out on an kayaking trip with his camp group, where he finds himself in some serious danger – can he navigate his way out of the rapids before it’s too late, and reconcile with his best buddy? It’s going to be a heck of a summer at Boys Camp!

This is a great book for my more conservative readers, who’ve been on my mind since reading the article about serving more conservative teen patrons in School Library Journal. I’ve got quite a few groups of kids who want something without a lot of negative connotations or perceived bad behaviors. These are the kids that are still my ardent Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys readers, My American Girl readers, and now, I imagine my Boys Camp series readers.

Co-authored by National Geographic books for kids author Kitson Jazynka and American Girl author Valerie Tripp, Boys Camp: Zee’s Story is good, lighthearted storytelling. These are good kids that like to have fun, enjoy working together, and yes, experience conflict. What you’re not getting are mean-spirited kids, ghost stories, or wisecracking kids that outwit adults on a regular basis. Conservative teens start out as conservative middle-grade readers, and finding books for this group isn’t always the easiest. Books like Zee’s Story are great for me to give to my younger readers and readers from conservative families, because the characters are multi-ethnic, work together, and form respectful relationships with the adults in the camp. The story itself is light and fun, and set within a larger Boys Camp series from Sky Pony, allowing return readers to make new literary friends and return to a favorite place. Illustrations by Craig Orback flesh out the readers’ imaginations and add some tension to scenes like the kayak ride by the rapids.

I’m glad this book is going on my shelves, and can’t wait to order the other Boys Camp series. I know I’m going to have a very happy group of boys in particular that will be enjoying this book over the summer.