4 Stars

What was he thinking?  Did Quince actually think he could trick her into kissing him, and she'd just fall madly in love with him based on his kissing performance?  Seriously?  Sure...he was an annoying, killer-bod kinda way.... Quince, though, drove Lily mad.  He did everything possible to get under her fins.  Quince knew her true love was Brody.  Now thanks to that one unsuspecting kiss, everything was ruined.  Lily was bonded to Quince for life.

  Now she had to tell him the truth - the truth about being half-human and half-mermaid.  Lily's only hope was to leave the land and return to her underwater home, Thalassinia.  Lily's father ruled their underwater paradise, and only he could perform the separation ritual to free Lily and Quince. 

Despite her family and friend's affection for Quince, Lily is finally able to convince her father that it's Brody, not Quince, who Lily is destined to be with.    Finally they are separated...and Brody even asks Lily out!  Things could not be more perfect for this fish out of water....why, then, can Lily not stop thinking about Quince?

Very sweet love story about a mermaid teen girl and a human teen boy falling in love.  The charming descriptions of Thalassinia make the underwater palatial city seem real to the reader.  The epilogue promises more excitement and conflict to come in the sequel,  Fins Are Forever.

I wanted to like this book...After reading numerous reviews comparing Enclave  to Hunger Games and Divergent, I couldn't wait to devour another exciting novel.  Unfortunately, though, this book fell flat.  The top reasons I won't be including Enclave on the Top Tiger Book List:

1.  The characters are not well-developed.  I never really bonded with Deuce -   no specific information concerning her former family, the lack of any real detailed interactions with those she considered her close friends, very few flashbacks in the plot revealing her life growing up as a Brat in the Enclave, etc. made me feel as if I never really knew enough about her to ultimately care much about her fate.  In Hunger Games, Collins was able to take a relatively minor character, Rue, and create someone haunting and memorable despite her relatively brief role in Book One of the Hunger Games trilogy.

2.  The plot in Enclave has its moments of excitement but as a whole, it seems pretty unoriginal.  There's been a trend to write dystopia fiction where the futuristic setting actually mimics primitive surroundings, humans are reduced to an uncivilized state in order to survive,  there's a strong heroine who is skillyfully capable of defending herself and others, most of the society is being controlled by a communist-type government which strives to keep their citizens complacent and obedient by using control, fear tactics, etc. and the government typically hiding any signs or relics from the past in order to lie or confuse their citizens about what the world used to be like.

 In order to stand out, there must be something unique within the story.  Divergent implemented intensive battles, fights, and conflicts. The intiation tests of the Dauntless faction differed greatly throughout the novel - increasing the excitement and anticipation of what would be next for the reader. The characters were forced to participate in terrifying scenarios which reflected their deepest, secret fears....The threat was not only physical - but tapped into one's deepest psychological fears...

In Enclave, Deuce and Fade are frequently attacked by Freaks...smarter Freaks....hungry Freaks....a large number of Freaks...Freaks with the ability to reason...again and again.  There's no real creativity in the conflict Deuce, Fade, and the Enclave face beyond attacks from this mutant species.  Even the names given to different groups in the novel, such as Breeders, Brats, and Freaks, lack originality.

3.  Love/Betrayal is just one of the enticing elements in the Hunger Games and Divergent series.  The budding romance between Fade and Deuce seems artificial, undeveloped, and pale in comparison to Katniss/Peeta and Tris/Four.  I did appreciate, however, the surprising love traingle which appears to be emerging at the end of the novel between Deuce and Slash...

4.   The glorified violence was a big turn-off for me as a reader.  Many of the young adult novels in this genre do have frequent epsiodes of violence interwoven throughout the plot  - reflecting how society has become dangerous, apathetic to others, etc. 

Enclave, however, goes over and beyond the inclusion of violent acts by including very graphic, explicit detail - bones splitting, guts spilling out, the gouge and subsequent hiss of a stabbed eyeball, the appearance of Freaks engaging in a feeding frenzy when they trap an injured person, kill a human - or even after the death of one of their own.  Though the main character Deuce claims she doesn't believe in violence except in self-defese, she clearly enjoys inflicting pain and death upon her enemies....enjoying the power, pain, and even the appearance of blood - making her at times appear sadistic and to me, unlikeable as a character, much less a heroine.

Sooooo....despite all the accolades and comparisons of Enclave to two of my favorite books (and previous Top Tiger Book Award contenders) Hunger Games and Divergent,  Enclave does have a little flash here and there, but overall the story lacks any real  substance.

4 Stars - great book which emphasizes that life is not always "black and white"

 Tiphanie knew she should be happy.  When her dad got a big work promotion, Tiphanie's family moved into a fancy new house in the suburbs.  New home, new school, new life. ... Tiphanie's parents reminded her to represent the African-American race - show the nearly all-white high school she would be attending and their new well-to-do community her family and race's sense of integrity, intelligence, and pride. 

     Tiphanie wanted to make her parents proud.  When she attends school the next day, though, Tiphanie discovers she is only one of two African-American students, and in 1975, many students and even teachers still resented school desegregation.  It was made clear to Tiph she wasn't wanted there.  Not only was Tiphanie ignored, a school bully targets her, calling her racist names and tripping her in the hallway.

Tiphanie feels like an outcast - until she meets Jackie Sue, that is.  Jackie Sue lives on the other side of the tracks, calling herself walking talking trailer trash.  To Tiphanie's surprise, though, Jackie Sue is fun to be around, smart and sweet - eventually becoming Tiphanie's new best friend.  They are inseparable.

     Things begin to get better for Tiphanie when she starts talking to other students, realizes they aren't all racist, and feels more accepted at school.  She even meets a cute white guy who seems to like her.  All of Tiph's problems don't go away, though.  The blockhead bully at school, Clay, still won't leave her alone.  He even bullies other students when they talk to Tiphanie - especially Jackie Sue.  She's supposed to be Tiphanie's BFF, but Jackie Sue won't even stand up to Clay when he harasses Tiphanie.  What kind of hold does Clay on Jackie Sue and why?

Tiphanie wants to know Jackie Sue's family, just as Jackie Sue begins to get closer to hers.  Jackie Sue seems secretive, though, and doesn't want Tiph to know the truth about her life.....the horrible home life she really had and had kept hidden from everyone.

In the end, Tiphanie learns that life is difficult for everyone  - no matter their skin color.  She would find a way to make friends and make a new home for herself - though she would always have to face ignorance and racism  - no matter where her "home" would be.....


4 stars

     Samuel was a "child of the forest."  Living his entire life with his parents in a remote cabin located far from most civilization, Samuel knew the sounds, smells, and images of the forest.  He was an expert marksman and an excellent hunter - though only thirteen, his parents depended on his hunting skills for survival.  Samuel knew there were other worlds out there much different from his own - things he had only read about.  Despite that, Samuel was happy with the way things were.  Unfortunately, nothing stays the same and during the American Revolution, the madness resulting from the 8 year vicious, bloody war  would turn Samuel's way of life upside down.

   Samuel knew that something was wrong.  Hunting in the woods, Samuel suddenly felt uneasy.  After seeing smoke rise miles away, Samuel knew he had to return home quickly and check on his family.  What he found would change his life forever.  Samuel smelled the blood and smoke.  To his horror, Samuel finds his parent's cabin burned to the ground.  Samuel discovers the bodies....thankfully, not his parents, but his neighbors killed without mercy, hacked, shot. 

Samuel knows his parents were not left behind, but taken as prisoners of war by the British.  Despite the many dangers he would face, Samuel is determined to find his parents and set them free.  Together with Annie, a young girl left orphaned after the brutal attack and slaughter of her parents, Samuel embarks on his rescue mission - facing life-threatening dangers each day.  Samuel must determine who is an ally or an enemy, while using his surivial skills to keep Annie and himself alive.  The odds are greatly against Samuel surviving, but he is determined to find his parents and have his family together once again.

Gary Paulsen effectively weaves nonfiction facts, details, and statistics, along with Samuel's story, to unveil the brutalities and horrors experienced during the American Revolutionary War. 

*Recommended Read Aloud

       5 Shining Stars~!  

A book which rivals Hunger Games..

      It was the most anticipated day of their lives - the Choosing Ceremony.  Four Factions - One Choice.  Would Beatrice stay with her family and remain in the Abnegation with those who taught modesty and selflessness? Or should she show an aptitude for Candor – who valued honesty above all else?  Would she show an inclination for the Dauntless – the fighters, defenders, those with raw courage and bravery?  She could also choose the Erudite - the intellectuals or Amity -  those that believed in peace and unity.  Even Beatrice wasn’t sure in which faction she belonged.    

     The aptitude tests were supposed to reveal the prevalent faction best suited for each teen and could help him/her in making a wiser decision during the Choosing Ceremony.  Beatrice’s testing results, however, were different. Tori, the test administrator, seemed frightened when she tells Beatrice her results were inconclusive, indicating that Beatrice is a Divergent – one showing aptitude in more than one faction.  Tori warns Beatrice never to reveal what she is but make her own choice during the Choosing Ceremony.    

     Confused and afraid, Beatrice selects Dauntless and decides to never look back on her decision.  Beatrice changes her name to Tris, her appearance, and her entire way of life.  Determined to prove she was not this reserved, petite, weak Abnegation girl, Tris takes more risks than the other initiatives and soon begins to stand out.  Despite the violent, frightening initiation tests administered by the Dauntless instructors, Tris learns to find others’ weaknesses and use her own courage to excel all the way to the top of the list of new trainees.       

     Tris’s success is short-lived.  When one of her best friends tries to kill her in order to advance himself in the rankings, Tris realizes the danger not only lies in the tests they must undergo, but also within the people of her own faction. 

     Tensions continue to rise when Tris learns of the plot of the Erudites.  They will join the Dauntless in order to overthrow and murder the leaders of the Abnegation – including Tris’s own family and her father.  Tris has chosen a faction being trained to murder, not to protect.    

     Together with her newfound love, Tobias, Tris must find a way to use all of her talents as a Divergent to stop the bloody war that she and all the Dauntless trainees have been programmed to fight.Breathtaking excitement…page after page!

4.5 Stars - Another great novel by Watt Key

     Labeled a troublemaker and juvenile delinquent, Hal was determined to stay out of trouble at Helenweiller Boys’ Home in the hope that he would be released before his eighteenth birthday.  His dad had stopped drinking, was working a steady job, and Hal had met a beautiful girl named Carla who cared for him despite his rap sheet. 

     Hal actually believed he could one day have a life, especially when his attorney tells him the judge was considering early release if Hal stayed out of trouble and followed the rules.    Hal tried to make himself invisible and focused solely on getting out.  Hal, though, can only keep his temper under control for so long.  Though Hal could throw a punch and was stronger than most of the boys there, he repeatedly endured brutal beatings and harassment for his refusal to join one of the  gangs , either the Death Row Ministers or the Hell Hounds.     When Hal goes to Guard Pratt for permission to stay inside during their outside play period to avoid any confrontations, his request is denied.  Hal realizes that the director and guards often ignored the violence and seemed to even instigate conflict between the boys.    

     Soon Hal is beaten so brutally by the Hell Hounds he ends up in the infirmary; Hal begins to fear he may actually die before he is released.  All hope for release is soon gone, though, when the director falsifies conduct reports, blaming the fights on Hal and altering his medical records which detailed all the beatings he endured.      

     The enemies are not the Hell Hounds or the Death Row Ministers – it’s the Staff at the boys’ home.  

The only hope Hal has is to somehow expose the corruption and stay alive at all costs….. Companion novel to Alabama Moon

 4.5 Stars

It was supposed to be a routine trip to the pharmacy.  Cheyenne’s stepmom had agreed to leave the keys in the car while she retrieved Cheyenne’s antibiotics for her worsening respiratory infection.   In the matter of minutes, everything changed.

Though Cheyenne was blind, she knew immediately something was wrong – the slam of the car door, the smell of cigarettes, the man’s voice, cursing, as he started the car…

Griffin didn’t realize that he was also stealing her – a 16-year-old girl lying sick on the backseat.  Griffin just knew he had to bring home something that would make a profit or his dad Roy would make sure he’d pay…

Cheyenne gave the best fight she had.  She attacked Griffin as he was driving, tried to make him stop the car and let her go….Griffin had a gun, though, and Cheyenne was too weak to keep fighting

When Griffin returns home, Roy is furious at his stupid mistake.  Once he sees Cheyenne’s prominent father on television pleading for his daughter’s safe return, though, Roy decides to let Cheyenne live a little longer in order to demand a ransom from her family in exchange for her supposed safe return.

Griffin doesn’t care about the money, he finds himself caring about Cheyenne – her beauty, her honesty, her strength and kindness.  Cheyenne finds herself trusting Griffin – her kidnapper turned protector who makes sure she is taken care of and not left alone with Roy and his friends.  As time passes though, Cheyenne realizes her chances of being released alive are slim.  Despite her blindness and unfamiliarity with the area, she knew she had to escape in order to live.  Cheyenne had to take out anyone in her way – including Griffin.

*Recommended as a read aloud

   3.5 Stars - Fast paced mystery

     Logan is shocked to learn about the murder of Mrs. Donaldson, the older lady who previously owned the home he and his family just bought.  Though it was creepy that someone had been killed in his home, Logan's family assured him that it was in the past - a random murder/robbery that went wrong. 

     Logan's new neighbor Arthur thought otherwise.  After researching the cold case, both boys are convinced that Mrs. Donaldson was targeted.  She had been accused of embezzling money from Magic Forest - the town's closed amusement park.  Many people felt like the real reason the old lady was murdered was because she simply knew too much - knew who really had stolen the money - and the killer found a way to keep her permanently quiet.

     Logan and Arthur decide to investigate further.  After finding a note written by Mrs. Donaldson left in Logan's attic, Arthur and Logan are determined find the money Mrs. Donaldson had hidden so many years ago.  What seems exciting and fun quickly becomes very serious - the closer they get to finding out the truth, the closer the killer follows behind them…patiently waiting on the chance to silence the boys forever  - just as he did many years ago to Mrs. Donaldson.

   4 Stars - Hilarious hijinks
Dave's dad is determined to teach him to be responsible.  He demands that Dave spend the summer before tenth grade working a job and earning his on spending money.  Working?  What about having fun with his buddies?  Picking up chicks?  Getting a good tan?  Dave isn't alone in his misery.  His best friends' dads are all on board with this idea - demanding that Curtis and Victor also work during their summer vacation rather than "goof off."  The three teens decide that they are creative enough to fool their parents by telling them they had a summer job, but actually come up with their own ways to earn money fast and then spend the summer doing whatever they actually want.  And it almost works at first.  Almost….

   After cleaning out their most prized possessions, the three teens earn over $5,000 at a yard sale - too bad they accidentally damage a brand new sports car during the sale and have to use all the money for repairs.  Not to be discouraged, the boys keep trying.  They even do the unlikely - case out the local bank that has been robbed and are able to find out who is responsible.  Too bad an old lady heard them talking and claimed the reward money for herself!  Readers will get a lot of laughs at the trouble and BAD luck the trio keeps encountering.  Dave, Victor, and Curtis end up spending much more time coming up with ways to get out of working than they would have actually working a summer job!  In the end, though, their determination NOT to work actually pays off in a big way.  Great read for students who enjoyed Happy Kid!  and Diary of a Wimpy Kid! 

5 Stars - "Feel good" book done right

     A new home for Matt was no big deal.  She'd been bounced around since the age of five from home to home after her mother died.  Maybe died wasn't even the right word.  She had been murdered by Matt's own abusive, alcoholic father.  Matt not only witnessed the beatings, she experienced her father's cruelty firsthand.

No reason to dwell, Matt thought. She was tough, right?  Just look at her appearance:  the piercings, dyed jet-black spiky hair, heavy combat booths...she looked like a freak, a goth, an emo kid.  Whatever - it worked.  It kept people away...that is until she moved in Jessica and Sam.

Living with a family of Quakers?  God had a pretty odd sense of humor, Matt thought.  Not to mention the other foster kid - drooling, "developmentally challenged," icky, and annoying...Matt just needed to graduate, keep quiet, and then move to Canada where she could be legally emancipated.

Jessica and Sam pretty much forced Matt to attend the Quaker meetings.  LIke she'd rather stay at home and babysit the blob?  Truth was, the meetings were not so bad, though.  They just sat there....meditating in their own thoughts....while sharing any feelings or experiences if they felt like it.  Rather than being super-religious, the members just seemed to want to create a better world, to be kind to others, and to promote peace.  Considering the violence Matt experienced growing up, she could live with those concepts.

Unfortunately, everyone around Matt doesn't want peace.  Her Western Civilization teacher Mr. Warhead, as Matt called him, was a war fanatic.  He quickly decided to target Matt due to her anti-fighting, anti-war beliefs.  The school bully soon joins in - making Matt's life a living hell at school.

Matt just wants to be invisible to everyone.  Jessica and Sam refuse to let that happen.  They continued to include Matt, considered her their daughter, talked to her about their own lives, and treated her with kindness, love, and respect.  Matt is shocked to discover she actually likes living with them, and for the first time, she is really part of family.  Will Matt be able to hold onto her happiness?

Some of the radical townspeople believed that the Quakers were anti-American and needed to be taught a lesson concerning what it meant to be patriotic and a "good American."  The only way to prove their point was to shut down their meeting place, wiping out some of the members and leaders in the process.

 Matt knows she has to stop the violence - despite her quaking fear of being hurt again and getting hit.  This time she wasn't going to lose the family she had grown to love.

Touching story which made me cry - more than once~!


     4.5 Stars - Suspenseful, hip, funny new Hex Hall trilogy

  Sophie Mercer learned early in life she was different from everyone else.  Raised by her single mother, Sophie knew little about her father except that he was a male witch or warlock.  Sophie herself discovered that she also had supernatural powers and using them could create a little fun at times, though, her spells could cause a lot of trouble.  Casting a love spell for a nerdy girl who was crushing on the popular guy at Sophie's school led to disaster at Sophie's school dance.  As a result, was sentenced to Hecate Hall until reaching the age of 18.  Once Sophie moves into Hecate Hall, trouble in Sophie's life really begins.

Hecate Hall, or Hex Hall as the students call it,  is no ordinary private school.  It's a reform school for supernaturals.  Sophie's human classmates have been replaced with teens who are witches, faeries, shapeshifters, werewolves, and even vampires.

Life at Hex Hall isn't so great for Sophie to put it mildly.  Archer, who could pass for an Abercrombie and Fitch model, did save Sophie her first day of school when one of the werewolves decided she would be a nice snack for him between classes.  Too bad Archer was already dating another witch - the impossibly beautiful Elodie. 

The classes sure were different from regular high school courses.  Sophie would learn to cast powerful spells and use her magic to defend herself should she be hunted by a member of the L' Occhio di Dio - a group based in Rome whose single puprose was to wipe out the existence of all supernaturals.  Right now, however, Sophie was helplessly behind all her classmates.  Raised by a human parent, she didn't have the benefit of being taught how to use her power and magic as the other students had.  Not only did she feel like the biggest loser next to them, Sophie's teachers seemed to always target her in front of others.  Why did they dislike Sophie so much? 

On the bright side, at least Sophie had a cool roommate.  Jessica may be a Vampire, but as a friend, she was fun and full of life.

Things at Hex Hall quickly begin to spiral downward when the witch Chaston is nearly killed...left alone on the bathroom floor with bite marks on her neck.  She wasn't the first student to be attacked.  First there was Holly, Jenna's old roommate, who also appeared to have been attacked by a vampire.  Sophie can't believe her new BFF Jenna would hurt other students...but others are convinced that she is the culprit and Sophie herself could be her next victim.

Sophie thinks she is defenseless should she ever face an attack.  Her powers still don't measure up.  What Sophie doesn't realize is she is actually the most powerful of them all.  The danger Sophie fears does not lie in the outside world but inside the halls of Hex Hall....the enemy wears their school uniform...and Sophie is the next target. 

It will be up to Sophie to find out who is hurting her classmates and how she can use her powerful magic in order to save them all....

4.5 Stars

Savvy never wanted to move to her aunt's farm in Rhode Island.  She knew that in order for her family top get back on their feet financially, though, it had to be done.  Savvy was determined to make the best of it - unlike her drama queen older sister Callie.  

Savvy ate, drank, and slept basketball.  Standing at 6'2", Savvy knew she would be a shoe-in at the middle school girl basketball try-outs.  When Savvy meets Gonzo, another 8th grader trying out for one of the district basketball teams, she finds out the team to aim for is the highly coveted, competitive, winning Varsity Girl's Basketball team.

Savvy knew as an 8th grader that making the team would be a long shot, but she always loved a good challenge.  To Savvy's surprise, she makes the cut!  Life after making the team, however, is anything but a slam dunk. 

 Coach Fitz tells Savvy she has mad talent but unless she boosted her game to the varsity level, she'd spend most of her time sitting on the bench.  Savvy's teammates were resentful that former players lost their positions on the team to make room two middle school girls.  Savvy thought she at least had one sure thing going for her - the attention of the hottest guy on the Varsity Boy's Basketball Team - until she sees him making out with her older sister at their summer barbecue back to school party.

Determined to still be a stand out, Savvy's hard work to boost her game to a higher level soon gets noticed.  The Coach begins playing Savvy and her teammates begin to accept and like her, realizing they ultimately need Savvy to take them to season playoffs. 

Life for Savvy becomes much sweeter....until someone discovers the steroids hidden in her gym bag... 

 4.5 Stars - Great start to a suspenseful trilogy

Chloe just wanted to be accepted.  After her mom died when Chloe was just five years old, she had moved frequently - one luxury apartment after the next...never making friends or feeling like she really belonged.  It wasn't until she started attending a boarding school for the arts that Chloe finally felt like a regular teenager....normal...until she had a mental breakdown.

 Admitted into Lyle House, a group home for mentally troubled or disturbed teens, Chloe tried to forget about the corpse....the man who had appeared to her at school, grabbing her, chasing her....insisting that she help him.  She was hallucinating, right?  Just like when she was younger and would go to the basement in her childhood home.  The voices....the ghosts...the spirits...all part of her active imagination, noone else saw them...they weren't really there.

Chloe accepts her doctor's diagnosis of Schizophrenia.  She faithfully takes her meds...jumping through the hoops so she could be released and move on with her life.  It didn't stop, though.  Chloe still saw them...they cried out...lurked around her...would not stop begging Chloe to help them finally be at peace.

When Chloe admits her secret to another teen patient, she learns that several of the teens who had been admitted seem to also have unusual powers or supernatural abilities - abnormal strength and heightened sensory preceptions, the ability to move things with their minds, to start fire spontaneously without ever striking a match.  Chloe finally realizes her supernatural ability enables her to communicate with the dead - she was a necromancer. 

Why were all the teens there?  Was it a coincidence?  Or were they being held there to suppress their powers - kept prisoners, labeled "mentally insane," never to be free again?  What secrets were the teachers and doctors of Lyle House hiding?

When Chloe's friend Liz becomes too outspoken, she suddenly disappears from Lyle House.  The staff claimed Liz was discharged and released. Why then was Liz appearing to Chloe in the form of a if she had died?

Chloe and her newfound friends soon realize the greatest dangers they face are by staying complacent, accepting their mental "diagnosis," and keeping quiet.  They know that they must somehow escape - before it's too late...  

4.5 Stars - Must read for middle school students

     Eric hated being the new kid in middle school.  To his surprise, though, he is asked to join a popular group the first week of his 7th grade year.  Griffin seemed to be the leader of the group - he was goodlooking, charming, popular, and all the parents and community members seemed to love him.  It wasn't long, though, before Eric saw Griffin's dark side.

Griffin loved to bully others - hurt them, scare them, steal their most treasured possessions.  Being in Griffin's circle came at a cost.  You were expected to participate in Griffin's "fun activities" or look the other way.

When Eric sees how Griffin tortures David, a 7th grader labeled an outcast, he finally decides to take a stand.  Eric tells Griffin he's antics are stupid and mean.  Eric will no longer be a bystander and watch Griffin run all over everyone.

Griffin has a lot of buried anger.  He doesn't like being confronted by anyone.  Now Eric has decided he want be a bystander anymore, Griffin decides to make him his next target....

*Recommended Read Aloud


Summer Reading Book Reviews

Students may post their summer reading book reviews here!  Just select the comments link and include your first and last name (do not include your email address).  The blog post should be a minimum of 3-4 paragraphs and include the following:  summary paragraph, description of major characters, setting of novel (if relevant), and the novel's theme.  The book review should include enough specific details which indicate that the student has read the novel in its entirety.  Please note that it may take several days before the book review becomes published onto the blog's site.
D.R. Hill Middle School teachers love reading our Top Tiger book titles, also!  Select the comments link below to read their reviews of the 2011-2012 Top Tiger Books~!

 4 Stars - Not as suspenseful as The Compound, but still a good read

      Mason has been plagued with problems his entire life.  At the age of five he was viciously attacked by a dog and still had the scars left behind from his face being savagely ripped and torn.  Mason's mother drinks too much and her job frequently doesn't provide enough money to cover their bills.  The only connection Mason has with his father is a faceless video recording of him reading Runaway Bunny to Mason when he was just a toddler. 

     Despite his past, Mason is determined to have a better future.  His classmates were used to seeing the scars and no longer reacted much when they saw him.  Mason was hopeful that his grades and an athletic scholarship would provide the tuition needed to one day attend Stanford University.

Things quickly changed, though, when Mason's mother discovered his application for the summer program at TroDyn Industries.  Mason didn't understand why she demanded he stay away from TroDyn.  After all, the industry owned half the town and the facility was established for a worthy cause after all - to sustain our environment against the threat of global warming. 

Mason learns his mother has her reasons.  A former worker at the facility, she had inside knowledge about the horrific  experiments using young children, the children of their own employees, nevertheless.  TroDyn scientists claimed their work would eventually sustain life during an environmental crisis and the seemingly cruel experiments were designed to ultimately save future populations.  But what about the young children they were sacrificing today? 

Mason knew his mother had left her prestigious job in order to save him from also becoming part of the experiments, but he didn't understand why she ignored what they were still doing to the other ones left behind.

Mason takes matters into his own hands when he meets the impossibly beautiful young girl who was being locked up in the nursing home where his mother currently worked.  Despite what they said about the girl being catatonic due to a brain injury, Mason knew otherwise.  The young girl could speak and think, and she's desperate for him to help her escape, to hide her from "The Gardener".....

What had they done to her?  Who was the Gardener?  How could he save the girl who had captured his heart?

Readers will be amazed when they, like Mason, learn the shocking truth...

  5 Stars - Great read for football fans and nonsports readers alike!

Though Marcus hated being the new kid in town, he was determined to stand out and prove  he was worthy of a spot on the town's coveted championship football team.

  Practice makes perfect, and thanks to Marcus's new friend Charlie, Marcus becomes an even more exceptional player during the summer before varsity tryouts.  Even though he was middle-aged, Charlie loved the sport as much as Marcus did, and to top it off, Charlie was a remarkable football player.  Charlie would tackle Marcus, smash him, make him feel the "pop" of a hard-hit delivered by his opponent.  It only toughened Marcus and took away his fear of being hit during the game.  Marcus not only learned to take the pop from Charlie, he also became proficient at taking down the opponent.  Charlie becomes a friend to Marcus - great player and crazy prankster, even for an older guy.

When Coach recognizes Marcus has talent he decides to give him a chance.  Troy, the star quarterback, is less than thrilled and makes no attempt to hide it. Troy knew competition when he saw it, and he instantly labeled Marcus a threat - not only for Troy's star quarterback position, but also a threat to his relationship with Alyssa, the gorgeous captain of the cheerleading squad. 

Imagine Marcus's surprise when he finds out that his new friend, Charlie, is actually the father of his rival, Troy.  Not only does their friendship make Troy more angry, he seems desperate to keep Marcus away from his prevent Marcus from learning the truth about his father...

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this novel.  The end will leave you gasping.  Another touchdown by Gordon Korman!

*Recommended Read Aloud


4 Stars -

Victoria tried to ignore the little boy and his teen mom.  You couldn't help but overhear the mom's angry, biting words to the young toddler, though....or see how she jerked him up by the arm and the bruises that were already there from the many times she had been rough with him before.

It bugged Victoria that the little boy wasn't treated decently, but she had to focus on other things - like meeting her dad at the train station.  Victoria was spending the summer with her dad in New York for the first time since her parents divorced.  There wasn't anything she could do about the young toddler's situation.

When Victoria's father didn't show up on time, she walked slowly back to the train -  to her surprise, she sees the teen mom exiting the train alone...where was her sweet little boy?

Anger and frustration overtake Victoria as she thinks about the neglected little boy, and how she herself had been shuffled around since the divorce, feeling abandoned and forgotten by her father.  She knew how the child felt - how hard it was not to have a real home anymore or a real family.

No matter what, Victoria wouldn't let that happen to the little boy.  He was not going to slip through the cracks.  She would find the little boy who was left alone on the train, take him away from his uncaring mother and her boyfriend Jake - who was angry she had brought her son with her and probably a worse parent than the girl even was.  Victoria would do what she had to do in order to make sure the little boy had a safe, loving home before she would ever return him.

Victoria had no idea that she was carrying thousands of dollars - drug money - stashed into her bag on the train when she wasn't looking.  Jake doesn't care about the little boy, but he wants the money.  He'll hurt Victoria and the child to get it back. 

Victoria can only run for so long...Her face is shown all over the news.  To the police and press, she's not a heroine.  Victoria is a kidnapper.  If she keeps running, Victoria could be arrested and lose her entire future...but what about the future of the young child?  Didn't he deserve more?

     -    4 Stars

After getting into a violent fight which ended up with his opponent being hospitalized, Alex tries to make a fresh start at Glenarvon Academy.  It wasn't long, though, before things began getting a little crazy.  Suffering from insomnia, Alex takes a walk around campus to settle his nerves. 

Then Alex hears a scream of terror.  Running quickly to help, he stumbles across a dead body - freshly killed in a brutal way.  Looking away in horror, Alex sees a young girl  running away.    Intending to help her, Alex pursues the girl in white - only to have himself brutally attacked, not by a young girl, but by a ferocious vampire.

Alex manages to injure her and escape.  Although he decides to keep his little adventure quiet and to forget what happened,  the vampire does not forget.

Soon Alex finds out that he is being hunted by a clan of deadly vampires - ones who are all too familiar with the family name "Van Helsing."  Alex also learns that his teacher is not just an instructor but Secret Agent Sangster who works for the Polidorium - a group founded in order to hunt and destroy evil vampires.  To Alex's shock, he learns the group of agents once included his own ancestors and counted among its members today Alex's own father and mother. 

 Alex's superior combat skills and his sixth sense in detecting the presence of evil are no mishaps.  Alex knows he is destined to join the fight.  His skills and determination are put to a test when Alex's friends from school are kidnapped by the vampire clan and Agent Sangster is injured and unable to help.  Alex knows what he's up against, but he can't sit back when his friends are taken as a sacrifice.  He has to find them and rescue them before it's too late...