Defiance: A Post-Apocalptic YA Tale of Survival / by L. R. Burkard. (Pulse Effex series, 3) 10.16.2017

Lilliput Press     ISBN 9780998966304

YA     Grade 10 and up     Rating: 4

With Defiance, L. R. Burkard concludes her story of three teen girls (Andrea Patterson, Lexie Martin, and Sarah Weaver) living in a post-apocalyptic United States. The story is told through their viewpoint, as they experience life after an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) disaster.

Over the course of the three books, the girls grow from spoiled, self-centered girls to mature young women, capable of holding their own in a world very different from what they knew. They learn to value simpler things, to work as a team, to see value in life as it now exists. In the face of foreign soldiers, nuclear strikes, and guerrilla armies, the girls learn to adjust to life beyond survival. They make the best decisions they can, given the circumstances, relying on God to get them through the darkest of times. Can they face these times with defiance and carve out a new life for themselves?

Burkard excels at telling an engaging story; the first-person point of view helps to create real characters the reader can relate to, even if the reader doesn’t agree with their choices. Unlike the earlier books in the series, in Defiance other characters’ points of view are added to the girls’ voices in the narrative. Andrea and Lexis have teen romances, but their relationships are chaste. Adults will find it a clean read (no drugs, alcohol, or sex) with no graphic violence, and it may cause them to think about how they would face such a disaster.

Recommended for public and school libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: Pulse (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016), and Resilience (Jan/Feb/Mar 2017).

Over the Ocean / written and illustrated by Taro Gomi. 10.13.2017

Chronicle Books ISBN 9781452145150

PRI PS-Grade 1 Rating: 5

A child gazes across the ocean and wonders what is on the other side in Taro Gomi’s Over the Ocean.

More ships? Big farms? Cities, small houses, and stars? Gomi’s bright illustrations show the reader all that the child can imagine: far-away people and animals, a fair with fun rides, a country made of ice, and perhaps even another boy or girl gazing back from the opposite shore.

A single boat moving across the water in the distance connects the vibrant scenes, which are rendered with clever detail and a richly-hued palette. The author/illustrator places the reader behind the child on the beach, as if sharing in his or her gentle contemplation.

This picture book was originally published in Japan in 1979 and, upon translation into English and release in the United States, received the 2017 Mildred L. Batchelder Award. With succinct text and a relatable theme, Over the Ocean is a soothing and thoroughly enjoyable read-aloud that speaks to the power of imagination and wonder.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

A Teen’s Guide to the 5 Love Languages: How to Understand Yourself and Improve All Your Relationships / by Gary Chapman. 10.12.2017

Northfield ISBN 9780802414359

YA Grades 7 and up Rating: 5

Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, is joined by Paige Haley Drygas in this book aimed at teenagers and their relationships.

Chapman builds on the concepts he first wrote about in the first book: (1) service, (2) words, (3) gifts, (4) touch, and (5) time. The premise of A Teen’s Guide to 5 Love Languages is that if someone is speaking our primary heart language, we feel loved. Everyone wants to be loved but how we want to be loved is different. By learning about one’s primary language, it is easier to learn another’s language. We tend to show our love through our primary language, but that might not be the way others experience love.

The authors apply these languages to a teen’s relationships: friends, dating, and family. By understanding one’s primary language, a teen can strengthen their friendships, decrease conflict, socialize comfortably, connect more deeply with others, and lessen relationship drama, especially when dealing with anger and forgiveness.

A Teen’s Guide is a short but practical book–less than 200 pages. It has a number of illustrations, quizzes, reflection questions, main points set in a different font and type size (making them easy to find), and everyday examples to demonstrate different dialects of these languages. For example, words have the following dialects: appreciation, encouragement, praise, and kindness. For the language of words: it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Recommended for teens and young adults, school libraries, and public libraries. Sixteen young adults and teens wrote reviews praising this book–although it is aimed at a teen audience, adults and parents could benefit from reading it.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Arena / by Holly Jennings. 10.11.2017

Random House ISBN 9781101988763

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 4 (Not Recommended)

Among virtual reality athletes, Kali Ling is the best. She glorifies in killing other gamers and putting on a bloody show for her fans. But as soon as Kali unplugs and returns to the real world, she feels out of her element. The celebrity life barely tides her over—provocative photoshoots, screaming fans, drugs, and extramarital sex—until she can return to the game.

Her handler dubs her first female captain in RAGE tournament history and life couldn’t get better…until she wakes up next to her overdosed lover/teammate.

The VR organization hides his cause of death, and Kali is traumatized by how cruel reality can be. Their new teammate seems to be nothing more than a pretty face, but Kali knows he’s hiding something.

With the pre-season ending and the fight for the RAGE championship beginning, Kali must reunite her team before she goes from the top of the gamer world to the bottom. But when you die hundreds of times like Kali, the bigger battle may be remembering which world is the real one.

Holly Jennings’s Arena paints a picture of the famous lifestyle that leads readers to understand why many celebrities turn to substance abuse and scandal to survive. Kali begins as a selfish, unlikeable character but develops into a dynamic teen who fights to overcome her addiction to the VR world by committing to a greater cause. Her teammates, though unchanging, are solid supports for Kali’s development, and the ominous pressure from her fans and the RAGE sponsors provide enough resistance for the change to seem challenging.

While this book cannot be recommended because of vivid violence, descriptive sex scenes, extreme substance abuse, and overuse of obscenities, the story arch for this Alex Award-winning novel is phenomenal. Through beautifully descriptive language, the book shares the dangers of virtual reality and great reasons behind why we should place our identity in more than the opinions of others and our jobs. Readers will feel compelled to hunt for overlooked atrocities and seek ways to correct them.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

They All Saw a Cat / written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. 10.10.2017

Chronicle Books ISBN 9781452150130

PRI PS-Grade 3 Rating: *5

A child and assorted animals show their individual perspectives in They All Saw a Cat, a Caldecott Honor Book written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel.

As a brown and tan cat wanders “through the world” it is viewed by a young boy and 11 different animals, each seeing the cat in a distinct way. For example, the boy sees a pet, the fox sees prey, the fish (through its bowl) sees a blurry pair of eyes, the mouse sees a giant monster, and the flea sees a mass of cat hair.

With simple rhyming and use of repetitive phrasing, They All Saw a Cat entertains with a lively, playful tone. Author/illustrator Brendan Wenzel delivers a wonderful amalgam of color, drama, and humor with each turn of the page. His drawings are a creative mix of paints, pastels, pencils, and digital art that yield a bounty of scenes from pastoral to bold. Even the inside cover pages are imaginatively conceived.

They All Saw a Cat shows that we all see the world through different eyes. At the conclusion of the book, the cat sees its own reflection in the water–a reminder that we also see ourselves from a unique point-of-view.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives / by Kenneth C. Davis. 10.9.2017

Henry Holt and Company ISBN 9781627793117

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

This very interesting, eye-opening book written for young people is certainly of great interest to adults as well. The lives of five black enslaved people are highlighted along with much of the history of slavery and the involvement of four of our US presidents, including their own history with slaves and their opinions and actions concerning slavery.

Billy Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings, and Alfred Jackson all have a story to tell–stories that have been mostly missed in history books although their owners all hold their own place in our country’s past. Their stories allow readers to understand those whose enslavement helped to build our country but were not conceived in chains rather than liberty.

The book is filled with photos and includes timelines between each long chapter. It is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

The Ballad of a Broken Nose / by Arne Svingen. 10.6.2017

Simon & Schuster ISBN 9781419721304

YA Grades 6-8 Rating: 4

Bart loves boxing and has a ton of friends—at least, that’s what he tells his mother. As a Norwegian middle schooler, Bart has become a compulsive liar to cope with his rough life. When his mother stumbles home from the pub each night, Bart tucks her in and reminds her that they will have a better life soon—not that he believes that. His father left before he was born, his public housing apartment is dirty, and he lets others get bullied so he won’t get hurt.

Bart has a secret: he loves singing opera music. When his cute classmate Ada finds out, she can’t keep her mouth shut. She volunteers Bart as the special closing act in the school talent show. Horrified, Bart doesn’t know how to lie himself out of this one. Stage fright may not be the only thing hindering his big break. When Bart’s mom ends up in the hospital because of her addiction, Bart must decide what is most important: making a new life for himself or pursuing his mother’s dream of a better one.

Arne Svingen excels at exposing a range of socio-economic diversity in this Batchelder Honor Book. Bart can’t afford to eat multiple meals a day, yet Ada lives without basic worries. When they cross into each other’s worlds, the awkward tension tells just how different two friends can live. Despite their differences, Ada chooses to believe in Bart and encourage him to follow his dream in his time of need.

As a first-person narrative with a journal-like style, The Ballad of a Broken Nose is sprinkled with humor and harsh revelations of childhood. Some material in this book may not be appropriate for all middle school audiences. Because Bart is a middle schooler and so close to his own story, some details are washed over (such as his mother’s drunkenness, skipping school, and swear words) and new perspectives are homed in on (such as his drug-using neighbor’s kindness). This book gives two great lessons: never judge a person based on his background and pursue your dreams despite adversity.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Over Maya Dead Body / by Sandra Orchard. (Serena Jones Mysteries, 3) 10.5.2017

Revell ISBN 9780800726706

Adult Rating: 5

Sandra Orchard returns with a final installment in her Serena Jones mystery series, and this is the book her fans have been waiting for!

In Over Maya Dead Body, FBI Special Agent Serena Jones is on Martha’s Vineyard to celebrate the engagement of a family friend. Almost immediately she is embroiled in a murder investigation involving smuggling antiquities. In the meantime, her two beaus–Nate Butler and Tanner Calhoun–arrive to support her, keep an eye on her, and win her heart. Whom will she end up with? Will she uncover more of the truth before someone else is harmed? Orchard keeps the reader guessing on both the romance and murder/smuggling fronts.

Orchard uses a light touch in depicting the FBI, and does an excellent job in her character development. Serena is not looking for romance even though she has not one, but two, eligible bachelors: Nate (her building superintendent who is a kindred spirit) and Tanner (her mentor and former FBI partner). This is a mystery romance with plenty of twists –a delightful twist was asking her readers (after the second book) to vote on which suitor would win Serena’s heart!

Overall, the series has a very light romance and humor on the side. The faith element is light, but the series is a good, clean one with red herrings and suspects to delight any mystery lover.

Recommended for school and public libraries, for older teen and adult readers.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: A Fool and His Monet and Another Day, Another Dali (November 2016).

The Only Road / by Alexandra Diaz. 10.4.2017

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781481457507

YA Grades 5-9 Rating: 4

When you’re a kid, the most you should have to stress over is doing your homework, and the biggest fear should be a zit in the middle of your forehead just before your birthday party. Not so for 12-year-old Jaime and his 15-year-old cousin Angela.

The Alpha Gang has targeted them to become new members–an order, not a choice. The death of Jaime’s cousin and Angela’s brother Miguel remains engraved in their memories, fresh and tangible proof of what will happen to them too if they refuse to join.

Alexandra Diaz’s realistic and tense drama takes us into the heart of Guatemala and the depths of despair as one close-knit family makes the gut-wrenching decision to send the two children away–in order to save their lives.

The money for the “fees” to travel to El Norte, sewn into the waistband of Jaime’s pants, weighs heavily upon him, along with the realization that his family has plunged deeper into debt for his sake. Now their future–and his–depends upon his making it to the United States. Jaime and his cousin dodge rogue border guards and endure hunger, thirst, fear, prejudice and hostility as they travel illegally from Guatemala into Mexico and then, hopefully, into the United States.

In an age of peoples displaced due to wars and catastrophes, and controversy over immigration issues, this title serves as a reminder of the reasons why many leave their countries for the dream and promise of America. The Only Road, a Pura Belpre Honor Book, reminds the reader that sometimes flight is the only option, and that love, at times, demands great sacrifices.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Then There Was You / by Kara Isaac. 10.3.2017

Bellbird Press   ISBN 9780473396534

Adult  Rating: 4

Kara Isaac returns with another contemporary romance, this one about an American and an Australian.

In Then There Was You, Paige McAllister wants to make a big change in her life. She flies to Australia, leaving behind a dead-end job in Chicago, a deadbeat boyfriend, and a music career she gave up after she was severely injured and her brother died. Struggling with the pain of her past (including her experience in a legalistic megachurch), Paige becomes the logistics planner for an Australian megachurch–the type of church she despises. But the job is only for six months, and will look good on her resume.

Josh Tyler is a member of the church’s world-renowned worship band. Neither of them makes a good first impression to the other. Josh, her boss’s son, is determined not to let this American get under his skin. She manages to disrupt his orderly life, and sparks fly! Having experienced heartache and loss, both close themselves off from being vulnerable with others. When they are thrown together to organize the band’s next tour, will they move beyond their preconceived notions and painful past to take a risk with one another?

Isaac pens another novel with endearing but flawed characters. Readers will empathize with Paige and Josh as they push each other’s buttons. The faith element is present but not overbearing. Then There Was You gives the reader a peek inside the inner workings of a megachurch. Isaac’s novels are lighthearted romances that will have the reader chuckling over the interactions of the main characters, as well as experiencing a range of emotions.

Recommended for adult collections in public libraries and school libraries; it is a clean read for adults.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com