Category Archives: Fearless Fifteeners

Fellow Fifteener: Gail Nall–Breaking the Ice

20662374As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Gail Nall’s middle grade novel, Breaking the Ice  (1/13/2015; Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: Kaitlin has always dreamed of being a champion figure skater, and she’s given up a lot to pursue her passion. But after having a totally uncharacteristic and decidedly NOT figure-skating-approved tantrum after getting her scores at a major competition she’s dropped by her coach and prestigious skating club.

When no other club in town will have her, she’s forced to join the ridiculed and rundown Fallton Club, jokingly referred to as the Fall Down Club. At first Kaitlin thinks this is a complete disaster, but after meeting some of the other skaters, including a boy (who happens to have the most perfect hair she’s ever seen) Kaitlin thinks it might actually not be so bad.

But when she’s tasked with learning a whole new program right before Regionals and figures out that almost all the other skaters target Fallton, she thinks joining the Fall Down Club may just be the second biggest mistake she’s ever made.

In this figure skating themed debut, Kaitlin learns that when you fall down, you have to pick yourself up – even if it’s in front of judges and a crowd.

What I liked about it: Remember these famous faces of athletic disappointment?

Gymnast  Skater

Well, these moments are nothing compared to Kaitlin’s tantrum after a skating competition that ends with medals on the floor and her expulsion from her training center. Kaitlin doesn’t quit, though, and as she trains at the Falton Club, what’s clear is she also doesn’t want to be defined forever by a single moment. What’s interesting, and often true, is that the trait that gets her intro trouble–her temper, passion, willingness to speak her mind–is the same trait that helps her later in the story on and off the rink. You don’t have to be a skater or even an athlete to enjoy this book because it also weaves in funny, heartwarming threads about friendship, family, and first crushes. Nall totally gets middle school girl; Kaitlin makes mistakes but picks herself up time and again as she tries to find her voice while navigating expectations from those around her. As a middle school teacher, I’m always on the lookout for new titles to add to my classroom library. This is definitely one that my students will enjoy.

About the authorGail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She grew up skating, and as a teenager working at the local rink, she rented skates and made nachos (but not at the same time). She spends her early mornings writing contemporary middle grade fiction, her days working at a homeless shelter, and her evenings reading and trying to stay up past eight o’clock. Her obsessions include hiking and camping, travel, history, and food.

Fellow Fifteener: Stacey Lee–Under a Painted Sky

18488397As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Stacey Lee’s young adult novel, Under a Painted Sky  (3/17/2015; Putnam Juvenile). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

What I liked about it: I don’t usually read historical fiction, partly because I had to teach really boring ones to coincide with my school’s US History curriculum during my first few years of teaching. The experience turned me off to the genre for a long time, yet I loved Under a Painted Sky so much that I stayed awake until 3 a.m. to finish it! Stacey Lee’s debut novel is anything but boring. Within the first few chapters, people die and  Samantha and Annamae run away and become wanted fugitives. Dressed as boys, Sammy and Andy meet up with Cay, West, and Peety, three cowboys who help them on the danger-filled trek to California. The characters living out this adventure are layered and relatable. I loved Samantha and Annamae’s friendship from the start, and the cowboys add fun, romance, and more trouble to the story. The diversity in the novel is also worth mentioning. Samantha is Chinese, Annamae is an escaped slave, Peety is Mexican, and they meet Scottish and French people, among others, on their journey. Because of the different backgrounds, Lee seamlessly weaves in the social norms of the time, Christian beliefs, the Chinese zodiac, French, and Spanish. Under a Painted Sky can be read for fun or used in a school’s history or language arts curriculum. Do yourself a favor and add it to your To Be Read list!

About the authorStacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys. She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul. A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall. After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain. She plays classical piano, raises children, and writes YA fiction.

Fellow Fifteener: Kathryn Holmes–The Distance Between Lost and Found

18660756As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Kathryn Holmes’s young adult novel, The Distance Between Lost and Found (2/17/2015; HarperTeen). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues. These are introductions, not reviews, just to let you know what’s coming out in the next year.

Here’s the description: Ever since the night of the incident with Luke Willis, the preacher’s son, sophomore Hallelujah Calhoun has been silent. When the rumors swirled around school, she was silent. When her parents grounded her, she was silent. When her friends abandoned her…silent.

Now, six months later, on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains, Hallie still can’t find a voice to answer the taunting. Shame and embarrassment haunt her, while Luke keeps coming up with new ways to humiliate her. Not even meeting Rachel, an outgoing newcomer who isn’t aware of her past, can pull Hallie out of her shell. Being on the defensive for so long has left her raw, and she doesn’t know who to trust.

On a group hike, the incessant bullying pushes Hallie to her limit. When Hallie, Rachel, and Hallie’s former friend Jonah get separated from the rest of the group, the situation quickly turns dire. Stranded in the wilderness, the three have no choice but to band together.

With past betrayals and harrowing obstacles in their way, Hallie fears they’ll never reach safety. Could speaking up about the night that changed everything close the distance between being lost and found? Or has she traveled too far to come back?

What I liked about it: Kathryn Holmes does a great job of blending the adventure/survival story with contemporary YA issues. First, on the survival front: Holmes does not go easy on her characters. Hallie, Rachel, and Jonah purposely leave their group and figure it would be easy enough to find their way back. Right. The physical challenges they face include a limited amount of food and clean water, poison ivy, and a severely sprained ankle–for starters. Things get worse. Much worse. The increasing tension related to their survival make you care about the characters and their fate, as they in a life or death situation.

Next, on the social/emotional front: Being stranded in the Smoky Mountains would have been enough as far as conflicts go, but Holmes adds another layer. These teens are on a religious retreat rife with gossip and back-stabbing, stemming from an incident that happened much earlier. Hallie’s pain is real and raw. She has to dig deep into her physical and emotional reserves not only to survive this situation but also to get through it with renewed faith in herself, God, and those around her.

About the author: Kathryn Holmes says on her website that for as long as she can remember, she’s wanted to write and dance. Now, she’s lucky enough to divide most of my days between words and movement, as an author/freelance writer and a contemporary dancer. She’s a Tennessean-turned-diehard Brooklynite, an aspiring yogini, a cat person, and—of course—a voracious reader.

Fellow Fifteener: Kerry O’Malley Cerra–Just A Drop of Water

20344662As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Kerry O’Malley Cerra’s middle grade novel, Just a Drop of Water (9/2/2014/Sky Pony Press). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues. These are introductions, not reviews, just to let you know what’s coming out in the next year.

Here’s the description: Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

A gripping and intensely touching debut middle grade novel by Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Just a Drop of Water brings the events of September 11, which shook the world, into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event.

What I liked about it: Kerry’s novel allows young readers to experience the events of 9/11 through the eyes of Jake Green, a character their own age. As a teacher, I think this is an ideal way to introduce students to tough subjects and moments in history. The description of the attacks on 9/11 gave me chills, and the things that happen with Jake’s family and friends afterward are examples of what happened throughout the country. Kerry also “gets” middle school boy in that Jake is confident one minute and confused the next, all the while believing he is right and can fix things :.)

About the authorKerry O’Malley Cerra is a former high school history teacher who often enhanced textbooks with historical fiction to bring time periods to life. Just a Drop of Water was inspired by a deeply personal experience following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Though she’ll always consider Philly her home, she currently lives in Florida with her husband, kids, and three poorly behaved dogs. You can find her on Goodreads and Twitter.

Fellow Fifteener: Jen Brooks–In A World Just Right

18304348As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Jen Brooks’ young adult movel, In a World Just Right (4/28/2015; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues. These are introductions, not reviews, just to let you know what’s coming out in the next year.

Here’s the description: Imagination takes on new meaning for a uniquely talented teen in this debut novel that is a breathtaking blend of contemporary, fantasy, and romance.

Sometimes Jonathan Aubrey wishes he could just disappear. And as luck—or fate—would have it, he can. Ever since coming out of a coma as a kid, he has been able to create alternate worlds. Worlds where he is a superhero, or a ladies’ man, or simply a better version of himself. That’s the world he’s been escaping to most since sophomore year, a world where he has everything he doesn’t have in real life: friends, a place of honor on the track team, passing grades, and most importantly, Kylie Simms as his girlfriend.

But when Jonathan confuses his worlds senior year and tries to kiss the real Kylie Simms, everything unravels. The real Kylie actually notices Jonathan…and begins obsessing over him. The fantasy version of Kylie struggles to love Jonathan as she was created to do, and the consequences are disastrous. As his worlds collide, Jonathan must confront the truth of his power and figure out where he actually belongs—before he loses both Kylies forever.

What I liked about it: In addition to being a blend of fantasy, contemporary, and romance, Jen’s debut novel is also a bit of a mystery–at least it was for me. As I read, I definitely got the feeling that something wasn’t quite right, that Jen was holding back on a significant plot point, but I couldn’t figure it out! Sure enough, something revealed late in the story adds a whole new layer to the narrative. I’m not a book spoiler, so I won’t go there. But it surely was one of those “Ohhhhhhh, wow!” moments. I also loved how she blended Jonathan’s fantasy worlds and real world down to the end. Again, not going to go into details. At the heart of the novel, is a broken, grieving boy who needs to heal after a tragic loss, which appealed to the contemporary YA lover in me. The mixing of genres here means there’s a little something for everyone.

About the author: Jen Brooks has a habit of being deeply moved by profound ideas, and her writing reflects her interest in exploring human goodness, relationships, and the feeling of being a part of something greater than oneself. She loves the science fiction and fantasy genres because of their dazzling possibilities for portraying characters and ideas. She credits her undergraduate experience at Dartmouth College, her MFA at Seton Hill University, and her fourteen years of English teaching with shaping her writing.  She is grateful to her family, friends, and students for inspiring her to write. You can find Jen on Twitter and Goodreads.

Fellow Fifteener: Mary McCoy–Dead to Me

18460455Note to pre-published writer friends: When you do get an agent and sell your book, be sure to join an online community for debut authors. I’m in the Fearless Fifteeners and the Class of 2k15. Not only are these groups a great source of support, but you will get to read Advanced Reader Copies! ARCs are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. This starts at least six months before the final, corrected, hardcover is officially released. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are starting to receive their ARCs and are sending them on ARC tours to the rest of us. We read, write notes in the book, and then send it to the next person. Very cool. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading, which is the least I can do to help my 2015 debut colleagues. These are introductions, not reviews, just to let you know what’s coming out in the next year. First up is Dead to Me by Mary McCoy (Marc 3, 2015/Disney-Hyperion).

Here’s the description: LA Confidential for the YA audience. This alluring noir YA mystery with a Golden Age Hollywood backdrop will keep you guessing until the last page.

“Don’t believe anything they say.”

Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace. Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her–and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away.

When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her. But Alice isn’t a kid anymore, and this time she won’t let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly. The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets–and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime. What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie’s attacker behind bars–if Alice can find her first. And she isn’t the only one looking.

Evoking classic film noir, debut novelist Mary McCoy brings the dangerous glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age to life, where the most decadent parties can be the deadliest, and no drive into the sunset can erase the crimes of past.

What I liked about it: This isn’t a mystery about who the bad guy is. He’s openly bad. (Note: the *psychopathic* movie star in the description.) Mary keeps you guessing about the other characters’ actions and motives. People are not who they seem throughout the novel. Mary’s love for and knowledge of Los Angeles are also obvious, as the city and time period are brought to life in her descriptions.

About the author: Mary McCoy is a writer and librarian in Los Angeles. You can find more of Mary’s writing about Los Angeles’s notorious past at the 1947project and On Bunker Hill. She is also a contributor to Sleuths, Spies, & Alibis, and you can find her on Goodreads and Twitter.

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