Posts Tagged ‘Young Adult Fiction’

Wrapping up the year… 2014 best books for middle grades

Posted on December 26th, 2014 by Jody

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Best Books 2014 - 1prncs shares her favorite titles for middle grade readersI always say this but I can’t believe it’s the end of another year. How? Especially since so many of the days seemed so very, very long. Trying to remember what I did yesterday is painful, but I’m going to attempt to recap the best books I’ve read in 2014.







Middle Grade/ Young Adult

2014 best books for middle grades including The Shadow ThroneThe Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The final book in a trilogy that captivated not only my whole class, but me. A book I’ve recommended countless times. The main character is one that everyone can identify with in some way. The action is gripping as Sage/Jaron shows readers what being courageous really means.

The Shadow Throne: Book 3 of The Ascendance Trilogy at Amazon.com

The Shadow Throne: Book 3 of The Ascendance Trilogy at Amazon.ca

My True Love Gave to MeMidnights by Rainbow Rowell

I should be honest and tell you that this author could write a to-do list on a paper towel and I would love it. There is something about every one of her books that grabs me so strongly, I have to remind myself that, she doesn’t actually know me, but somehow, she gets me. And then I remind myself that she doesn’t actually write her books just for me. Elenor and Park is in our elementary library but I think the subject matter is above grade six. However, this is one of those reads that would delight an early middle school reader as much as it did me. It’s a beautiful and sweet short story.

It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins

A new author for me that I discovered because she edited the collection of short holiday stories in which Midnight was the first. Aimed at teens and up, it was just absolutely delightful to read.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories at Amazon.com

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories at Amazon,ca

2014 best books for middle grades including Will Grayson, Will GraysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green

I can’t read Fault in Our Stars. I know my limits, I read within them. However, I’ve read just about everything else he’s published. This one is my favourite by him. It’s an excellent teen read that speaks to acceptance, diversity, adversity, and the amazing relationships that can stem from being in the same place at the same time.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson at Amazon.com

Will Grayson, Will Grayson at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades Including Are You There God? It's Me MargaretAre you there God, it’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume

I re read this for the first time in many, many years. I wanted to read it with my daughter and I was so pleased she enjoyed it as much as I did, both then and now. If there was a “what’s it like to become a teenage girl” book award, this would be it.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at Amazon.com

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades including Hook’s Revenge by Heidi SchulzHook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz

This is a fun book with quirky characters that made the students laugh. Determined to avenge her father’s death, Jocelyn sets out on an adventure that teaches her as much about herself as it does about her past.

Hook’s Revenge, Book 1 at Amazon.com

Hook’s Revenge, Book 1 Hook’s Revenge at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades including Dork DiariesDork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell

I started reading these with my daughter this last year. They are laugh out loud funny and so easy to connect with. Nikki is a great character and the teen drama she faces, and how she deals with it, is authentic.

Dork Diaries Box Set (Book 1-3) at Amazon.com

Dork Diaries Box Set (Book 1-3): Dork Diaries at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades Including Sisters by Raina TelgemeierSisters by Raina Telgemeier

My 11 year old read this first and then I read it with my 8 year old. It’s funny and cute and true to life in that, it’s not always easy being a family. But, when you need them, they’re there.

Sisters at Amazon.com

Sisters at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades Including FrindleFrindle by Andrew Clements

This is an awesome book. I read it with my 8 year old and it made me laugh even as it opened the door to great conversations with her. The main character makes up a new word for what we call a “pen”. A great read about the power of words and how they impact our actions.

Frindle at Amazon.com

Frindle at Amazon.ca

2014 best books for middle grades Including Wonder Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I haven’t even finished this book but I can tell you without one tiny hint of doubt that it will be one of the best reads ever. Not just this year.

Wonder at Amazon.com

Wonder at Amazon.ca

Picture Books

(contrary to some beliefs, these are not only for small children)

2014 best books for middle grades including This Plus ThatThis plus That: Life’s little equations by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

A sweet and fun read with adorable pictures that highlights math vocabulary even as it shows kids how things are connected. Me+ Writing= Happy.

This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations at Amazon.com

2014 best books for middle grades Including Those ShoesThose Shoes by Maribeth Beolts

This one was read to me and I have to say, I still love being read to. This is a great one to open kids eyes to the power of empathy and giving.

Those Shoes at Amazon.com

Those Shoes at Amazon.ca

The Invisible Boy by Trudy LudwigThe Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton

This story is a little bittersweet. You feel bad for the little boy with no friends, but love the fact that he’s okay in his own little world. Also worth noting, the color comes as friendship brightens his life which is beautiful, literally and figuratively.

The Invisible Boy at Amazon.com

The Invisible Boy at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts suggests The Very Inappropriate Word written by Jim Tobin and illustrated by Dave CoverlyThe very inappropriate word by Jim Tobin and Dave Coverly

Full of great vocabulary, this book is funny. I’ve read it several times and it’s a great way to get kids to look at the power of words and language.

The Very Inappropriate Word at Amazon.com

The Very Inappropriate Word at Amazon.ca

What Do You Do with an Idea?What do you do with an idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom

My school librarian shared this book with me and it is such a tangible idea to show how when your brain gets locked on an idea, sometimes you have to go with it.

What Do You Do With an Idea? at Amazon.com

What Do You Do with an Idea? at Amazon.ca

Books I can’t wait to read in 2015

Fish in a TreeFish in a Tree – Linda Mullaly Hunt

The name is part of one of my favourite quotes so of course I’m drawn to it. That and the fact that her book One for the Murphys was one of my favourite reads of 2013.

Mark of the ThiefMark of the Thief – Jennifer A. Nielsen

I think I need to read this one on my own before with my class. When I read the Ascendance Trilogy, I got so hooked that we might have missed some math lessons.

 

What are some of your favorite kids reads this year? Anything you’re looking forward to? Also, in an openly shameless bid for self-promotion, I hope to one day make it onto one of your favorite lists. Either with the adult books I have coming out in 2015 or with the picture book, SWEET DREAM SISTERS, that will be available in 2016. Have a very, Happy well-read 2015.

 

Anywhere but Here – written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Posted on October 3rd, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts writes about #YAlit Anywhere But Here by Tanya Lloyd KyiAnywhere But Here written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Young Adult Fiction published by Simon and Schuster





I feel compelled to share some aspects of my personal life before I write about Anywhere but Here. I was attending university and living with my folks when my mom died four days prior to surgery that had been scheduled to repair a heart valve. It was shocking and devastating and, without a doubt, the most difficult experience of my life.

Weeks later, my dad began dating. When I say ‘weeks,’ I mean less than three months later. While still grieving the sudden loss of my mom and feeling as though my life had been turned upside down, I was watching as my dad began a relationship with a woman he would eventually marry. Dad’s second marriage was an enduring one. To be honest, I am not sure which of his marriages was longer: he celebrated twenty-fifth wedding anniversaries twice.

Anywhere but Here is the story of a young man, still in high school, who is coping with the loss of his mom. Cole finds life in a small town stifling. He is eager to finish high school and make a break from his acquaintances, friends and family. He has ended a two year relationship with a girlfriend and finds her behavior and that of some classmates confusing. His family life is in ruins. Cole’s dad drinks heavily and meets an exotic dancer. Before long, she is pregnant and Cole’s dad explains that she will be moving into the family home along with her young daughter.

With the encouragement of a school guidance counselor, Cole considers enrolling in a post secondary cinematography program. As part of his application, his must create a short film. It is while filming that Cole examines his community and gains perspective.

Beautifully written, Anywhere but Here accurately depicts the turmoil and confusion that occur when one parent dies and the surviving parent enters into a new relationship – especially when the surviving child(ren) are young adults. I especially liked the authenticity of Cole’s voice and the relationships between Cole and his guidance counselor, his mom’s former nurse and his classmates. This is a novel that begs for a sequel and I very much look forward to reading it.

Anywhere But Here at Amazon.com

Anywhere But Here at Amazon.ca

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book 3

Posted on October 1st, 2014 by Jody

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Storytime Standouts guest contributor @1prncs writes about Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book 3Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book 3 written by Catherine Egan
Young Adult fiction published by Coteau Books





Read our interview with Catherine Egan

The lengthy title of Catherine Egan’s third book, The Last Days of Tian Di: Bone, Fog, Ash, and Star, alludes to the depth and complexity that is wrapped up within the story. Like the characters of this book, I felt myself immersed in unfamiliar, amazing worlds, pulled back and forth between them by the common thread: Eliza. A story of friendship, loyalty, strength, and finding the truth, Egan isn’t afraid to make her characters suffer to reach reward. In fact, it is understood and stated that “there is loss and gain with every act”. I think what was most powerful, for me, was the way this book echos life. There are consequences to every action and we do the very best we can at the time, but then we must go from there, from the result of our decisions. It is a heavy burden on the main character’s shoulders, knowing that the choices she makes will lead to her own heavy heart. But I think it is an important message for readers, particularly the young adult ones who are, in some ways, facing a similar journey. At the age of sixteen, they are making choices that feel right at the time, but have long term consequences that need to be weighed and judged. Sometimes, life really is choosing the lesser of two evils and this is a lesson that Eliza faces constantly.

In this third book of her series, Catherine Egan pulls the reader in with intense action right from the start. When Eliza’s friend, Charlie, becomes the victim of an assassination attempt, just as she’s trying to tell him she has feelings for him that go beyond friendship, the reader is immediately hooked. Aside from the action, the magical realism, the vivid imagery that drops you right inside of the book, the characters are connectable.

I realized within the first chapter that I was drawn in because when the first major event happens, I literally gasped out loud. At that point I thought, wow, I already care about the characters and I can totally see the scene. As a writer and a reader, I know that this is not an easy combination to present on the page. From there, Egan takes us on a journey to save her friend that is met with seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Like the title, the story seemed to always have one more tangent. Whether you’re thinking that they cannot possibly escape the next vicious attack or they are finally safe, the reader is constantly surprised. The term magical realism is an interesting one to me: if done poorly, you can distance yourself from the book because it’s fantasy and you know that everything is okay. If done properly, as Egan has done, you can forget that transforming, shape-shifting, and spell-binding aren’t a possibility. I saw the characters as regular teenagers– Eliza with too much responsibility on her young shoulders, Nell with the exam she desperately wanted to ace, and Charlie with the youthful irritation of someone stuck in a situation they cannot control.

Even in the magical, there is a sense of the real: the faeries’ overall disdain of humans, the faery mother who can’t abide by her son, Jalo helping a human because he’s in love with her, the oracle grandmother, saved by the ancients, who shares her knowledge in riddles, the fight for power between the Mancers, and each character trying to choose between good and evil, trying to find their way out of a situation that is bigger than themselves.Through it all, we are reminded, as are the characters, that best laid plans often go astray and the things we truly believe we want and need in life are not necessarily what we end up getting. Accepting that and moving forward anyway is not easy, but it can be done, as Eliza shows us.

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di Book 3 at Amazon.com

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book 3 at Amazon.ca

Meet Author Laura Thomas

Posted on August 29th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts introduces Laura Thomas AuthorLaura is married to her high school sweetheart, has three wonderful children, and an adorable English bulldog. Born and raised in England and Wales, she immigrated to Canada in her mid-twenties, and now lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, where her authoring dreams have become a reality.

After completing thirteen years of home schooling her children, she is now able to focus on writing, and treasures the privilege of sharing her heart in the form of her published Christian teen fiction novels Tears to Dancing (2012) and Tears of a Princess (2013), numerous short stories and articles published in children’s magazines and online, her recently published marriage book Pearls for the Bride, and on her blog. Laura’s strongest desire is to provide wholesome reading for children, challenging books for teens, and encouragement as well as entertainment for her adult readers.





Twitter account: @Laura_Thomas_
Facebook page
Author Website

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

Tears of a Princess by Laura ThomasMy latest published children’s book is a Christian teen fiction novel, Tears of a Princess. It was published last year as the sequel to Tears to Dancing, and I’m currently finishing the third book in the series, Tears, Fears and Fame. As you might guess from the titles, these books are rather emotionally charged! They are written for female readers aged eleven-plus, and press into some topical issues for teen girls, always offering hope amidst challenges and tragedies. I have thoroughly enjoyed creating believable, vulnerable characters, and have been incredibly encouraged by readers requesting sequels— that’s the best complement!

Tears Of A Princess at Amazon.com

Tears of A Princess at Amazon.ca

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favourite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?

As a child, I was a total bookworm, and my favorite book was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. She brought the characters of all four sisters to life, and I particularly resonated with this, as I am one of four girls! Even though I had no grand illusions of being an author back then, and I was more of a reader than a writer, there was something incredibly inspirational about the sister Jo. In the story when Jo’s book was finally published, Alcott showed all her readers (especially girls!) that we should never underestimate ourselves, and that we can accomplish even our widest dreams. I am proof of that, as being an author was my pie-in-the-sky, all-out crazy dream!

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?

I have never met an author who found it easy getting their first book published. I started out writing short stories for children’s magazines, and the rejection was unbearable at first. In time, I learnt to develop a slightly thicker skin, and practiced the art of sending a story off and forgetting about it, rather than constantly fretting over it. My first novel took several attempts until it found my current publisher, Dancing With Bear Publishing. I can’t begin to explain how excited I was to receive an acceptance email— I had to re-read it several times, as I was so used to reading the rejections, and I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing for way too long! I still have numerous manuscripts out with potential publishers— picture books, middle grade, even Christian romantic suspense. Originally, I desperately wanted to be a Beatrix Potter clone and write purely adorable picture books, but here I am with teen fiction novels published. I would encourage aspiring writers to avoid boxing themselves into a specific genre— spread the net wide, don’t give up hope, and just keep writing.Tears to Dancing by Laura Thomas

When did you realize that you would be a writer/illustrator? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?

To be honest, I was not that child who wrote essays for fun and penned wannabe books at the age of seven. I adored reading, and somewhere deep inside I dreamed of writing a children’s picture book one day, but I buried that secret desire for many years. It wasn’t until 2006 when I was having a coffee date with my husband, that I exposed my secret dream. He urged me to start the ball rolling right away (even though I was homeschooling my kids and volunteering and had zero spare time), so I enrolled with the Institute of Children’s Literature to take a correspondence course. I knew right away I had found my sweet spot, and haven’t looked back since. My husband has been my encourager, supporter, and number one fan every step of the way, and thanks to him I have been able to pursue my passion. What a guy!

If we were watching over your shoulder as you work on a book, what would we see? Where do you work? What does your writing / illustrating process look like?

If you watched me working on a book, you would probably be amazed at how bad my typing is! I am painfully slow for a “real writer”, but I always say it’s the speed my brain churns out the words, so it works perfectly for me! I like to work at my desk in my study, which is the only room where I can enjoy some hot pink accents (I live with all boys!) I start a novel with a chapter outline before diving into the actual writing, and I enjoy having some visual inspiration on Pinterest. Once I have written the whole story, I go back and revise and edit and add chunks and get rid of the stuff that doesn’t make sense— a somewhat painful yet rewarding process. Lastly, I send it off and wait to see if anyone else thinks it’s wonderful and worth publishing.

What are the joys of being an author / illustrator? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?

Being an author is rather surreal. Weird hours, poor income, wild imagination. But that moment you see your name on a shiny book cover containing words you wrote— it’s absolutely priceless. All writing is a joy to me. I love writing for little children, curious middle graders, searching teens, and for adults like myself journeying through life. I love that I can share my faith in written form, to weave it into novels or mold it into good morals in a young child’s short story, or encourage readers in my blog. A writer’s life is an unpredictable, exciting, sometimes tumultuous privilege, and I intend to live it to the fullest for as long as I am able.

Do you do school or library presentations?

I gave a school presentation with Raise A Reader, where I presented my first book Tears to Dancing, described my writing journey, and held a Q & A session with grade 5’s. I have also held book-signing events in various locations in the Okanagan Valley, B.C. but would be willing to go further afield.

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Meet Young Adult Lit Author Catherine Egan

Posted on August 21st, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

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Author Catherine EganCatherine Egan grew up in Vancouver, Canada. She thinks it is a glorious city and there is no good reason ever to leave but, she left anyway. Since then she has lived on a wee volcanic Japanese island (which erupted during her time there and sent her hurtling straight into the arms of her now-husband), Tokyo, Kyoto, Beijing, an oil rig in the middle of the Bohai Bay (she still misses her little bedroom there), New Jersey, and now Connecticut, where she writes books and hangs out with her kids.

Shade and Sorceress won a 2013 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award (Gold) in the Pre-Teen Fiction – Fantasy. It was also named an Ontario Library Association Best Bet for 2012 in the Young Adult Fiction category.




Author website

Author Facebook page

Author Twitter @byCatherineEgan

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star by Catherine EganBone, Fog, Ash & Star is the third and final book in The Last Days of Tian Di series. It will be published by Coteau Books on September 1, 2014. The trilogy follows my hero Eliza from the age of twelve in the first book, when she is kidnapped by magical beings who want to train her to be a Sorceress, to the age of sixteen, when she sets out on an impossible quest to gather four ancient objects in the hope of saving her loved ones and changing the world.

As for who should read it: certainly anyone who has read the first two books – you want to know how it all ends, don’t you? It is a fast-paced adventure that should appeal to fantasy-readers from the age of around ten and up. I am most proud of my villain, the mostly-evil-but-sometimes-not Sorceress Nia – and perhaps more generally the ambiguity surrounding the ideas of villain and hero in the story.

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di Book 3 at Amazon.com

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star: The Last Days of Tian Di Book 3 at Amazon.ca

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favourite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?

There are too many favourites and resonances to name here, but I think the first time I was really aware of an author’s writing and how the style, the descriptions, the insights and turns-of-phrase could draw me in as much as the plot was when I read Louise Fitzhugh’s The Long Secret. I was eleven, and it changed my idea of how I wanted to write, or what it might mean to write a book. I wouldn’t have used the word genius then, but I think I was experiencing a brush with it, and it gave me shivers. It was also a very unsettling, uncomfortable read for me, because I recognized so much of my own childhood anger and self-absorption in Beth Ellen and Harriet.

When did you realize that you would be a writer/illustrator? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?

Once I knew that books were written by human beings, that was the sort of human I wanted to be. I wrote my first novel when I was six years old. It was about a bunch of kids who lived on a farm (I had never been to a farm) and ran races. The heroine was called Cathy, and every chapter ended thusly: “Cathy won the race again!” I showed my book to my grandmother, who had been married to a writer. She read it very seriously, and told me it was a good first draft.

What are the joys of being an author / illustrator? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?The Unmaking by Catherine Egan

The writing itself is a tremendous joy. I have occasionally felt a bit insecure about how much I enjoy it, having come across so many quotations by famous, brilliant writers describing writing as torturous. I wondered if my enjoyment of it might be an indication of my mediocrity, but now that I am a little older, I don’t care. It is frustrating when a story isn’t clicking, or when I feel that I am writing badly or stupidly, but all the same, there is nothing I like better than thinking of stories and writing them down.

If you weren’t an author / illustrator, what sort of work do you envision yourself doing? Have you had other careers or do you have another career now?

Shade and Soceress by Catherine EganI have no talent at all for anything else, and no real desire to do anything else, but I have of course had a number of jobs. I taught ESL for many years. I don’t think I was a very good teacher, but I really enjoyed meeting so many interesting people from all walks of life, and it was a great way to support myself while living abroad. The job I think of the most fondly, however, was my stint as a waitress in a sushi restaurant. Waitressing goes very well with writing. You sit at a desk alone and write during the day, and then in the evening you are up on your feet, rushing around and talking with people. It gives you the human interaction that I think writers really need so that they don’t go crazy. I miss the people, and I miss the sushi.

If you could dine with any author/illustrator (alive or dead), who would you choose and why?

Nancy Mitford. Or maybe Oscar Wilde. Imagine dinner with Oscar Wilde! That’s probably a very unoriginal answer, but both of them had a reputation for social brilliance as well as literary genius, and if I’m going to have dinner with someone, I want to laugh a lot.

Do you do school or library presentations? If so, please briefly describe topics/ geographical limitations.

I am open to doing school or library presentations but I live in New Haven, CT with small children and so my availability is limited.

Score with this Young Adult Mystery: Breakaway by Michael Betcherman

Posted on August 20th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts writes about young adult mystery: Breakaway by Michael BetchermanBreakaway written by Michael Betcherman
Young adult mystery published by Razorbill an imprint of Penguin Canada



Read our interview with Michael Betcherman

Those of you who visit our website regularly will know that I am a mother to two teenage boys and that one of my sons is a hockey player. Very often friends will comment about the challenges of encouraging teenage boys to read. We’ve been fortunate with our boys, they both enjoy reading and are good readers. Unfortunately, for some kids, it is not so easy. I often wonder if some reluctant readers simply have not found a book that matches their interests.

Last month, while on holiday, I had an opportunity to read Michael Betcherman’s first mystery novel: Breakaway. It was a finalist for the 2013 John Spray Mystery Award.

Set in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Breakaway tells the story of a 16 year old Midget hockey player whose father is wrongly convicted of murder. Nick Macklin’s dad (a former professional hockey player) has been convicted for killing another former NHL player who once viciously cross-checked him in the head. and ended his playing career.

Nick is devastated by his father’s conviction and is determined to uncover the truth but it is not an easy job. Nick’s anger and disappointment with his dad’s conviction results in problems at school, the loss of good friends and his involvement with minor hockey.

He remembered something his mother once told him. “Tragedy is part of life. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. The trick in life is get as much joy as you can.” As long as dad was in jail, tragedy would be part of his life.

Bit by bit, as time passes, Nick begins to recover from the shock of his dad’s conviction. He starts to focus more on his schoolwork, he becomes more social and he resumes playing hockey but his obsession with investigating the crime and finding the murderer does not falter.

Young adults, especially those who play hockey will enjoy Breakaway’s hockey theme. The book references NHL, WHL and minor hockey teams, rinks and the dynamics of playing a sport at high level. At the heart, this is a story of loyalty and determination as Nick Macklin remains steadfast in his determination to uncover the truth.

Recommended for youth aged 14 and up.

Note: This book has been published with two different covers. The cover shown above is the American cover. This photo features the Canadian cover (adjacent to a rather nice pool).Breakaway by Michael Betcherman poolside

Breakaway at Amazon.com

Breakaway at Amazon.ca



Meet Author Michael Betcherman

Posted on June 5th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts introduces author Michael BetchermanMichael Betcherman is an award-winning author and screenwriter. He has numerous writing credits in both dramatic and documentary television, including several episodes of the popular CBC drama, Street Legal. He is also the author/creator of The Daughters of Freya and Suzanne, two groundbreaking online novels that were highly praised by numerous publications, including The Globe and Mail and The (U.K.) Guardian.

Michael has written two young adult mystery novels, Breakaway and Face-Off, both published by Penguin Canada. Breakaway was short-listed for the John Spray Mystery Award.




Author Facebook page
Author Twitter account @MBetcherman

Tell us about your latest published book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

My latest book is Face-Off, a Young Adult mystery published this February.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

Storytime Standouts profiles Michael Betcherman, the author of Faceoff17 year-old Alex Petrovic came to Canada with his mother when he was an infant, after his father was murdered during a civil war in their home country in Eastern Europe.
He is playing goal for Team B.C. in an international hockey tournament against a team from the old country. After the game, he shakes hands with the opposing goalie, Stefan Divac, and finds himself staring at his identical double. His heart tells him Stefan is his brother but his brain tells him that can’t be – until his mother sees Stefan, and faints dead away.

Stefan had been with the boys’ father when he was murdered, and all these years Alex’s mother believed he was dead as well. Only now does she find out that he was rescued and raised by another family.

All his life, Alex has felt a part of him was missing, and when Stefan comes to live with him and his mother in Vancouver in order to pursue his hockey career, it seems like a fairy tale come true – until sibling rivalry rears its ugly head. When Stefan proves to be a better goalie than Alex, Alex’s life goes off the rails.

As Alex struggles with his personal demons, he and his brother get caught up in a mystery involving the two war criminals from their home country who were responsible for tearing their family apart.

I think the book has wide appeal. Although the background is hockey, readers don’t have to be hockey fans to enjoy it. There’s a very strong female character, Lara, who is Alex’s love interest, and a competitive kick boxer who plays a major role in the mystery. She is feisty and fearless and funny, and reminds me of my daughter. She’s probably the character I’d most want to hang out with.

Face-Off at Amazon.com

Face-Off at Amazon.ca

Michael’s first book, Breakaway was a finalist for the 2012 John Spray Mystery AwardBreakaway by Michael Betcherman

Breakaway at Amazon.com

Breakaway at Amazon.ca

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?

I was extraordinarily lucky with my first YA novel, Breakaway. Everything came together relatively easily – if one discounts the time and effort it took to actually write the book, and the years I spent honing my craft.

Once the book was finished, I decided to look for an agent. That can be difficult these days – many agents aren’t accepting new clients – but the first agent I contacted agreed to represent me. She sent the book to five of the top publishers in Canada and a couple of months later Penguin offered me a two-book deal. I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

I’ve got three pieces of advice for aspiring authors:
Number one: Make sure your book is as good as you can possibly make it before you send it out it into the world. Agents and publishers will only look at it once. I think it’s helpful to have friends and colleagues whose opinions you respect read the book before you submit it anywhere, but keep in mind this cautionary note from Neil Gaiman: “When people tell you that something in the book doesn’t work for them, they are usually right. When they tell you how to fix it, they are always wrong.”

Number two: Write about something that touches you, something you care about. Our emotions are what make us unique. If you write about something you feel strongly about, you will write something that’s powerful and that will move your audience.

Number three: Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. I wish I’d learned that lesson a lot earlier in life.

If we were watching over your shoulder as you work on a book, what would we see? Where do you work? What does your writing process look like?

I work at home most of the time but that can get isolating, so I often go to a neighbourhood cafe for a couple of hours in the afternoon for a change of scenery – and to reassure myself that I’m not alone in the universe. In either place I alternate between staring off into space and tapping away on my laptop. Fortunately, as my writing process has evolved, I’m increasingly doing more of the latter than the former.

Everybody has to find the process that works best for them. Basically what I try to do is get the first draft out as quickly as possible, and then trust the creative process, trust that my imagination will find solutions for the problems that inevitably arise.

When I first started writing, I tried to have the whole story worked out before I started in on the actual manuscript. That’s probably because I’m a bit of a control freak. But it didn’t take long to realize that didn’t work. Everything would inevitably change once I started writing the manuscript which meant that I was wasting a lot of time trying to work things out in advance.

The main reason was that my characters hadn’t taken shape yet. Writers often say that at some point their characters take over, as if they were real individuals with wills of their own. I wouldn’t put it this way but what does happen, or at least what happens for me, is that as soon as I put my characters in a specific situation, it gives my imagination something concrete to think about, and I come up with all sorts of possibilities that I could never come up with when I was thinking about the story more abstractly.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with teens. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?

Last year I did a book signing at a boys’ hockey tournament. Getting boys to read is a real problem, and the parents were generally keener about the book than their sons. One man dragged his son over to the table. After I told them what the book was about, the father turned to his son and asked, somewhat plaintively, “Do you think you’d read this?” The boy thought it over for a few moments. “I’d start it,” he said finally, “but I wouldn’t finish it.”

Cracked me right up, but it underlines how difficult it is get boys to read. (By the way, the boy’s dad bought the book for him. I never did find out if he finished it.)

What are the biggest challenges of being an author / illustrator?

This may sound strange, but I think one of the biggest challenges is to write a compelling synopsis for your book. You may have written the greatest book in the world but an agent or a publisher won’t even read it unless they’re captivated by the synopsis. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to write. You have to distill your manuscript into a few short paragraphs that convey the plot, the main characters, the conflicts and the themes. I spent eight hours working on a ten-sentence synopsis for Breakaway. It was the most useful eight hours I ever spent. The agent I sent it to got right back to me, said she found the synopsis intriguing and that she had put my manuscript at the top of her reading pile.

If you weren’t an author, what sort of work do you envision yourself doing? Have you had other careers or do you have another career now?

I always wanted to be a writer, but I came to it rather circuitously. I started out my working career as an entertainment lawyer and eventually became a consultant to the CBC series, Street Legal. Through that connection, I got the opportunity to write an episode of the show. The producer liked it, and hired me to several more, which gave me the encouragement I needed to give up law and write full-time.

I spent many years writing for television. I also wrote a couple of screenplays and two online novels. I had never thought about writing for young adults, but one day a few years ago I woke up with the idea that became Breakaway – a story about a boy whose father has been wrongly convicted of murder. I sat down and wrote 15 pages in less than an hour, something that had never happened to me before but which told me I was onto a good thing.

I love writing for this age group. It’s not about flowery language or description which I’ve never been keen on, it’s about telling a good story about characters people will care about.

Do you do school or library presentations?

I enjoy doing presentations at schools. I like to talk about writing, and the writing process, based on my personal experience, so the best fit for me is a senior grade (11 or 12) writing class where the students are interested in becoming writers.

I live in Toronto (Canada), so that’s the most convenient locale but would be prepared to go elsewhere.

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Posted on March 22nd, 2013 by Jody

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Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Looks at Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Young adult fiction published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House

I swear, I’m not the Paula Abdul of book reviews; I do not think that every book I read is amazing and moving and captivating. It just so happens that, this year, I have been incredibly fortunate to choose book after book that is amazing, moving, and captivating. Eight Keys, by Suzanne LaFleur, is beautiful. It weaves together the themes of finding yourself, knowing yourself, experiencing loss, friendship, bullying, acceptance, and family. Elise is a young girl who lost both her parents. She lives with her aunt and uncle, who I wish I lived with because they’re real and tangible characters. She has a best friend who she thinks she may have outgrown. She gets bullied mercilessly by the popular girl at school.

In the midst of all this, she is turning 12, which in itself can be life changing. She discovers a key and eight doors in her uncle’s workshop. The key opens one of the doors. The book follows her journey, as she unlocks each of the doors and discovers something about who she was, who she is, and who she could be. Each room also gives her insight into where she comes from. The most touching and heartwrenching part, for me from my parenting perspective, was that, knowing he was going to die, her father spent his final days putting each of these rooms together for her. As she explores all of them, she gets to know the mother and father she doesn’t remember. She also gets to learn about the people who have raised her.

Elise is such an honest and real character. There are parts of the book where we didn’t like her very much (my class and I) but the honest part comes from the fact that we know Elise doesn’t like herself very much at those moments either. The class had great discussions around different topics, such as: what do you do if you think a friendship is over? Do you always have to get along with a friend? What do you do when you are bullied? Has a friend ever changed on you so that you felt like you didn’t know them anymore? These are real things that I can remember dealing with in my teen years and I think they are things we still deal with as adults. Life is about change and it isn’t easy. People come into your life for different periods of time. We don’t always know if they’re in our lives for the long term. Even as adults, we can struggle to make and keep friends because we change.

I love how Elise came to her own conclusions. Her aunt and uncle guided her and supported her. They didn’t like some of her choices, but they were firm and fair with her and, as a result, she saw herself more clearly.

Eight Keys is a beautiful book. It is the kind of book that an author should aspire to write. It held the audience captive, created discussion, allowed for introspection, and connected us to the main characters. At the end of the book, I found myself wanting to know Elise ten years from now. I didn’t want to say goodbye to her and neither did the kids. When I read the last line of the book, one of the students said, “What? There’s no more?” I felt exactly the same.

Eight Keys at Amazon.com

Eight Keys at Amazon.ca


Out of my Mind – Sharon Draper’ Compelling Young Adult Fiction

Posted on February 3rd, 2013 by Jody

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Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Writes About Out of My Mind by Sharon M. DraperOut of my Mind written by Sharon M. Draper
Young Adult Fiction published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Sharon Draper’s Out of my Mind is one of the best young adult fiction books I have read. For weeks, I have been reading blogs, websites, and articles about young adult fiction. The key words that keep popping up are ‘high stakes.’ In today’s fast-paced, socia media driven society, it is hard to capture attention. Your book has to be different; it has to stand out, or reach out and grab you. I thought I understood what was meant by the term ‘high stakes’ because I’ve read many YA novels and countless adult novels. It means you care about what happens next and you are connected to the characters.

When I got to the third to last chapter of this novel, that my class and I were already hooked on, I truly understood what high stakes means. It meant that, even though the bell had rang, even though they wanted lunch and so did I, even though everyone looks forward to the break in the school day, not one of us wanted to stop. We were frozen by the words on the page; we were so actively involved that no one wanted to move. But we had to. Kids had committments to help in classes, I had a meeting, and other kids were helping in the library. High stakes means that I was late for my meeting, because even though I couldn’t keep reading to them, neither could I walk away. I had to finish it. So I did.

This book already had the readers’ attention at page one. A young girl, Melody, talks about how she’s got all these words floating in her head and they’re this beautiful, abstract thing, that anchor her. She describes them as snowflakes, each one different and delicate. What a beautiful description. But the kicker, is when she says that, at 11 years old, she’s never said even one of those words. Melody has cerebral palsy. She cannot talk, walk, feed herself, or take herself to the bathroom. Sharon truly gets inside, not only the mind of this extremely, physically challenged girl, but the average grade five mind as well. Melody has all of the same challenges that regular grade fives have; what to wear, do I have friends? did I get the answer right? why don’t my parents understand? my little sister bugs me. What we see, in Out of my Mind, is how she connects with that world with extreme limitations. Her ability to do this connects us to her, it invests us in the story, and it makes us part of Melody’s world.

We spend a lot of time discussing bullying and how to treat others in elementary school. More and more, it has become a focus. We try to teach kids the different types of bullying, how to stop it, and how to recognize it. We try to make them empathetic by imagining how the victim feels, how the bystander feels, and even what the bully feels. This book gives us such a unique view of bullying. What if you could never respond to the bully? Never stand up for yourself? Never defend your friends? What if you were bullied and people didn’t even realize that you fully understood their cruelty? It’s one thing for a child to ‘not be seen’ but Melody’s circumstances take this to an entirely different level. It made my students more aware of the fact that how a person looks does not define who they are inside. The book stopped being about a girl in the same grade as they are with physical challenges; it became about Melody, this kid like them who was fighting not to get left out and fighting to be heard. She just had to fight harder than any of them have ever had to.

For me, it showed me what high stakes really mean. It means when you’re so invested in the character that you forget they’re not real. You see those characters in the people around you and the lessons you learn from them make you better. My students loved this book. I loved this book. What amazed me most was how, I started reading it to them, thinking it would never be okay for Melody because she was so physically and verbally limited. But in the end, that was not what mattered at all. I stopped seeing her limitations and was amazed by the strenth and courage and sense of character that she possessed. Sharon Draper was able to do all the things an author should do: she drew me in, she made me feel both Melody’s triumphs and heartaches. She made me part of Melody’s world and in turn, that beautiful strength of character, will hopefully, be part of my world and my students the next time any of us begin to judge a book by its cover.

Out of my Mind at Amazon.com

Out of my Mind at Amazon.ca

Sharon M. Draper’s website answers thirteen questions about Out of my Mind.

Out of my Mind was awared the Josette Frank Award by the Children’s Book Committee of the Bank Street College of Education and was chosen as a 2011 IRA Teachers’ Choice Book and a 2011 IRA Young Adult’s Choice. It was the Best Book of the Year from KIRKUS and an Outstanding Children’s book of 2011 by Bank Street College. It won the Buckeye Children’s Book Award from Ohio, the Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award in both the middle school and elementary categories, the Black-Eyed Susan Book Award from Maryland, the Beehive Book Award from Utah, and the Virginia Reader’s Choice Award. It received the SAKURA Medal - English Chapter Book category .

Teen fiction excellence: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Posted on January 6th, 2013 by Teen contributor

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Teen fiction excellence:  Where Things Come Back by John Corey WhaleyWhere Things Come Back written by John Corey Whalley
Young Adult Fiction published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, a division of Simon and Schuster

Before Cullen Witter’s final year of high school, everything he thinks and understands about his small and painfully dull hometown of Lilly Arkansas vanishes. His cousin overdoses, his town becomes obsessed with the reappearance of an extinct woodpecker, and, most disturbingly of all, his gifted younger brother disappears, leaving Cullen to hold his family together as he muddles his way into adulthood. On the other side of the world, a young missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. When their two stories collide, they, and the people whose lives they’ve touched, will be changed forever.

There are a lot of coming of age stories out there. This is probably why I don’t read them that often. After reading the backs of a bunch of them at the library or book store, they all start to blur together, and it is hard for one to stand out. Where Things Come Back does stand out, becoming one of the best books I’ve read this Winter Break.

For me, my favorite thing about this book was its characters. The characters were interesting, understandable, and relatable. I could feel their emotions clearly throughout the book, as they searched and lost and found. Almost every character had some sort of back story or development and they were the driving force behind the plot, their stories weaving together and connecting in ways I never saw coming. As the author gradually brought all their stories together, he creates a well constructed and creative narritive, leading up to a unexpected, heartbreaking, yet hopeful finale. The last few chapters were my favorite part of the story, as I got to watch all the threads of this story finally come together as one.

Where Things Come Back is my first read of 2013, and it has set the bar very high for the rest of the books I read this year. Thought-provoking and original  this book has become one of my favorites, and I would recommend it to anyone, no matter what they prefer to read.

Where Things Come Back at Amazon.com

Where Things Come Back at Amazon.ca

Where Things Come Back won the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. As well, it was named an Indigo Books and Music Best Teen Books of 2011 Pick, a New Voices for Teens Selection -ABC Children’s Group at ABA and Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012 Nominee -American Library Association.

The Nature Of Monsters – Clare Clark

Posted on August 1st, 2012 by Teen contributor

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Storytime Standouts’ teen contributor writes about young adult fiction title, The Nature of Monsters

Storytime Standouts' teen contributor writes about young adult fiction title, The Nature of MonstersThe Nature of Monsters – written by Clare Clark
Young Adult Fiction published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt




In 1718 Eliza Tally arrives in London to work as a maid for an apothecary, a position arranged to protect the father of her unborn child from scandal. But why does her master want another maid when he already has one, a half-wit named Mary? And why is she never allowed to look her master in the face, or enter his study where he pursues his experiments? Soon Eliza realizes the nature of his obsession and must act to save the child, Mary, and herself.

Though not the most light and happy way to start off my summer reading, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the imagery in this book. It made me really feel that I was in that world. The whole novel is very descriptive, creating a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere. The story its self is haunting and scary, the author paints a very real picture of what London must have been like for the common people in the eighteenth century. Overall I really enjoyed this book. It has a different, mysterious plot line that would be enjoyed by fans of both the gothic and historical genres.

The Nature of Monsters at Amazon.com

The Nature of Monsters at Amazon.ca

Clare Clark @ 5×15 from 5×15 on Vimeo.

The Knife of Never Letting Go written by Patrick Ness

Posted on January 31st, 2012 by Teen contributor

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The Knife of Never Letting Go written by Patrick Ness
Young Adult Fiction published by Walker Books





Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a never ending stream of noise. One month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog Manchee stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that, in a town where privacy is impossible, a secret has been hidden, one so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

This is the first book in the Chaos Walking series. And I thought it was so good that I cannot wait to read the second book. The book keeps you guessing all the way through. It is very fast paced and I like that the author broke the book up into parts so that there are multiple climaxes through out, leading up to the big one at the end. As a series opener it was very promising and I think it will appeal to almost all readers, especially if you like adventure, mystery or science fiction. The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of the best books I have read in recent weeks, shaping what is probably going to become one of my favorite series.

Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (2008)
Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production Honor (2011)
James Tiptree Jr. Award (2008)

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One at Amazon.com

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One at Amazon.ca


World War I Historical Fiction for Youth – I Am Canada: Shot at Dawn

Posted on November 5th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

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Shot at Dawn by John Wilson Historical Fiction for YouthShot at Dawn by John Wilson
Published by Scholastic Canada



I Am Canada: Shot at Dawn is the intense, thrilling and tragic story of Allan McBride, a young Canadian who, during World War I, wanted to follow in the footsteps of his childhood hero and friend, Ken Harrison. Whilst growing up together on Vancouver Island, McBride and Harrison had enjoyed many childhood adventures. Just seventeen and very naive, McBride is certain that joining his friend on a World War I battlefield in France will lead to further pleasurable escapades. Harrison, who has already experienced the horrors of combat, is not at all enthusiastic about McBride’s enlistment and subsequent arrival in France. Eventually, at McBride’s insistence, the two go to battle together. The horrors of World War I trench warfare are too much for both men. Harrison is shot and presumed to have been killed. McBride suffers shell-shock and, while confused and delusional, leaves his unit. He intends to walk home. Eventually, after finding other fugitives in a forested area, he hides until he is taken into custody by his childhood friend. Clearly unwell, McBride is accused of desertion. While awaiting dawn arrival of an the executioner, Allan McBride describes his horrifying experiences in the trenches near Amiens, France.

Although the I Am Canada series is suggested for nine to twelve year olds, be advised that Shot at Dawn depicts the grim reality of trench warfare. Although fascinating, it may be disturbing to some readers.

Update June 18, 2012, Shot at Dawn is nominated for the Geoffrey Bilson Award For Historical Fiction For Young People

The I Am Canada series website includes discussion guides, book excerpts, activities and video clips.

Shot at Dawn: World War I at Amazon.com

Shot at Dawn: World War I at Amazon.ca


This was one creepy book and I loved it – Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton

Posted on July 28th, 2011 by Teen contributor

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Storytime Standouts' Teen Contributor Looks at Darkness Becomes HerDarkness Becomes Her – written by Kelly Keaton
Gods and Monsters Young Adult Series published by Simon and Schuster





Ari feels lost and alone. With strange teal eyes and silver hair that can’t be changed or destroyed, she has always stood out. And, after growing up in foster care, she longs to have a sense of who she is.  But, after uncovering a message from her long dead mother and an ominous attack, Ari knows only one thing: she must travel to the rebuilt city of New Orleans. Upon arriving in New Orleans she discovers that New 2 is very… different. Here, Ari is normal. But every creature she encounters here seems to be afraid of her. Ari won’t stop until she finds out who she really is. But some truths are too horrifying to be revealed…

This was one creepy book and I loved it. This book is mysterious, keeping you always guessing, as well as being well written. It took mythology and urban legends and turned them into something very different. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes creepy books, fantasy, and urban legends of Greek mythology.

Darkness Becomes Her at Amazon.com

Darkness Becomes Her at Amazon.ca

Intriguing, Horrifying and Fascinating: Fanatics by William Bell

Posted on June 13th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts looks at Young Adult Fiction: Fanatics by William BellFanatics – written by William Bell
Young Adult Fiction published by Doubleday Canada





My thirteen year old son plays rep hockey and, as a consequence, I spend a fair amount of time in the car enroute to games and frequenting ice rinks. I do my best to always have at least one book with me when his games are ‘on the road.’ Recently, my book of choice has been Fanatics. At once intriguing, horrifying and fascinating, William Bell’s follow up to Stones has had me engrossed. I don’t normally refer to books as “creepy” but not long ago, I was reading while we were being driven to a game by my husband, I described a passage as “creepy.” My not-easily-impressed thirteen year old left winger said, “Really? Let’s hear it.” I obliged and read the passage from Fanatics aloud. When I finished reading, no one said a word. Obviously, the book had met the “creepiness” quotient and my thirteen year old was suitably impressed. Thank you Mr. Bell.

Garnet Havelock has finished his apprenticeship and he is keen to begin work as a cabinetmaker. A chance conversation in a coffee shop leads to an offer he can’t resist. He signs a contract with mysterious Valentina Stoppini: he will be allowed to set up his workshop in a coachhouse on the Corbizzi property. In exchange, he promises to repair and catalogue the mansion library. Garnet and his girlfriend, Raphaella, are soon at work in the library but they are not alone, and cannot shake the feeling that danger lurks in the ominous room.“Every house has its own night noises, and the older the building the more it seems to creak and groan, like an old dog getting comfortable in his basket. The Corbizzi mansion was no different. And if you had a big enough imagination, every squeak and crack had a sinister cause – a malevolent intruder creeping slowing up the stairs, an evil spirit bent on revenge pushing open a door. What is there about the dark that awakens primitive images and drags them to the surface of your mind?”

This is a captivating story that teens will thoroughly enjoy. I rather suspect it will be best understood by my sixteen year old but feel equally confident that my thirteen year old will reach for it (when he is feeling brave) over the summer months.

Highly recommended.

Fanatics at Amazon.com

Fanatics at Amazon.ca


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