Book Review: Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Marina cover imageOscar lives in a boarding school in Barcelona, and while wandering the streets after school one day, he hears a melody that draws him to an old mansion overgrown by vines. Startled by the owner, he accidentally takes a watch. When he returns it, he meets, Marina, who lives alone in the house with her painter father and a prescient cat. As Oscar spends more time with Marina and her father, he realizes their lives are marked by the tragic death of her mother and a current illness. Marina finds solace in Oscar's company, and the two branch out to explore the city. While out, Marina leads Oscar to a cemetery, where she has noted a mysterious woman in a black veil leaving flowers on an unmarked grave. As the two delve into the mystery, they uncover a long-ago tale of madness and destruction that threatens their own safety. As with much of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s work, Marina creates its own genre. Part horror, part love story, part mystery, and more, Zafon weaves a tale that is both complicated and fascinating, hooking readers with vivid descriptions of crumbling mansions, dark streets, damp sewers, tragic lives. Characters from Zafon’s other novels make cameo appearances, tying in the stories of people readers may be familiar with. Marina is a dark tale well told that will keep you enthralled until the last word. The publisher provided me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: I Am the Mission by Allen Zadoff

I Am the Mission cover imageThe last person anyone would suspect of being an assassin is a teen, which is why Boy Nobody is usually so successful on his missions. He goes into a situation, eliminates the target, and moves on. But he found himself getting involved with a girl on his last case, and took some time off afterward without letting The Program know where he was. His superiors aren’t sure if they can trust him, so his next mission is a test in more ways than one. It should be straightforward: get close enough to the head of a military training camp for teens to assassinate him while making it look like an accident. But when plans go awry, Boy Nobody must rely on all his training to avoid suspicion while completing his task. I Am the Mission by Allen Zadoff is the second in The Unknown Assassin series. Like the first book I Am the Weapon (originally released as Boy Nobody), this story is likely to keep you up all night reading it. The thought of teens training with military weapons is as unsettling as the idea of teen assassins, and the scenario in I Am the Mission seems uncannily plausible. It’s a thrilling read. The publisher provided me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Just Call My Name cover imageSam and Riddle are finally feeling safe after they spent years moving from place to place with their paranoid schizophrenic father. Their dad is behind bars, and they have found a home with the family of Sam’s girlfriend Emily. But trouble still dogs the boys as Emily’s younger brother isn’t sure he wants Riddle being part of the family and Sam struggles to become independent while proving he’s worth the confidence the family places in him. Neither knows that true trouble is brewing as their father is determined to have revenge on his sons and the family that helped them. Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a fast-aced story of unconventional relationships. Sam wants to do the right thing, but since he didn’t grow up with guidance from a loving parent, he’s not sure he knows how to recognize what the right thing is. Emily wants to believe in Sam, but she’s not sure she will ever really know and understand him. Riddle wants to make everything work out so he can catch up on so many of the things he missed when he was on the road. In the end, they will all have to dig deep to find the courage to face situations they never imagined. I loved reading Sloan’s previous book with these characters, I’ll Be There, and while this is a follow up, it can be read and appreciated on its own. Just Call My Name is a satisfying continuation that delves more deeply into the main characters and their motivations. The publisher provided me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora

I Kill the Mockingbird cover imageWhen Lucy, Michael and their friend Elena are talking about how people don’t read as much as they used to, they come up with a plan to make Lucy’s favorite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, red hot. The three of them reason that if they make it seem like the book is unavailable, people will want to read it. What they don’t figure in is how a little publicity combined with the Internet can quickly turn into a situation spiraling out of control. I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora is a tribute to readers everywhere. Lucy has plenty to worry about over the summer between 8th and 9th grade, including a mother who is recovering from cancer and the fact that she may be feeling like more than a friend to Michael. The plan she and her friends come up with to create buzz around Lucy’s favorite book starts out simply before it goes viral. By the time the three of them figure out how to end it, they have learned a lot about the value of honesty, relationships, and taking chances. This is a great book for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12 to read. It delves into issues of friendship, teens’ relationships with their parents and other adults in authority, religious faith, and the things we learn from reading books. I highly recommend it. I checked out a copy of this book from my local library.

Book Review: Bloom: A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up Gorgeous by Carmindy

Bloom: A Girl's Guide to Growing Up Gorgeous cover imageTeen girls are often looking for tips on taking care of their skin and figuring out how to apply make up. Now they can get advice from an expert, Carmindy, who is familiar to many people from the time she spent on TV’s What Not to Wear, giving women tips and techniques for how to use makeup to bring out their best features. In her book Bloom: A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up Gorgeous, Carmindy starts out by encouraging girls to find the beauty they have inside. She talks about how lots of girls feel like they would be happy with their looks if only they had...a different hair color or face shape, thinner brows, fuller lips, etc. She calls it the compare game and says even famous models feel the same way. Carmindy even relates a story from her own childhood and how she was bullied about the way she looked. She talks about overcoming her insecurities by learning to notice the positives about herself when she looked in the mirror. But she alto talks about how you can feel better about yourself when you put in an effort to look good. The rest of the book focuses on how teens can look and feel good by focusing on a few simple techniques. Bloom covers topics like taking care of your skin with cleansers, toners and sunscreen, shaping eyebrows, and using foundation, mascara, blush and eye color. Carmindy gives tips for finding the right colors to go with certain skin tones and talks about trouble-shooting issues like getting zits or cold sores and having body odor. Bloom finishes up with photos of girls who are going for certain looks, like what to wear to take a class photo, go on a date, attend a party, go to an honors banquet, or get interviewed for college. The book is illustrated with lots of photos, a list of tools needed, and sidebars with good information. Overall, I think it’s a good guide to help girls feel good about who they are inside as well as how they present themselves to others. The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Q and A With Joani Geltman, Author of A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens

Joani Geltman, MSW photo Yesterday I featured a review of A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens by Joani Geltman. Today, I'm following up with some questions and answers where Geltman talks about the challenges of parenting teens, keeping the lines of communication flowing,  mistakes parents typically make, and more. Here's a bit of background on Geltman from her bio: Joani Geltman, MSW, is a prominent parenting expert who provides home-based parent coaching, speaks publicly on issues relating to child development and parenting, and designs and implements training workshops on parenting and education leadership development. She has four decades of experience helping young people, serving as a social worker, therapist, student advisor, adjunct professor, and youth program director at various schools and organizations. The author of a new book, A Survival Guide To Parenting Teens (AMACOM May 20, 2014), Geltman has been featured in, or written for, USA Today and The Boston Globe. Her writings have appeared online at The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Psychology Today, Mommy & Me,, Working Family, Global Post Parenting, and on scores of blogs. She was also featured as a parenting expert on Better TV, Good Day New York (Fox), Good Day Connecticut (Fox), and Fox-TV in Boston. Geltman, who previously authored I Get It: Three Magic Words For Parents Of Teens, has served as an adjunct professor for the past two decades at Curry College in Milton, MA. Geltman teaches in the department of psychology, covering child and adolescent development, family psychology, and dysfunctional family life. In addition to her professional experience, she knows firsthand the perils of raising a teenager. Her daughter, Ari Graymor, has grown into the star sitcom actress of CBS television’s new series, Bad Teacher. A resident of Natick, MA, Geltman earned her Bachelor of Science in education from Lesley College and her Master of social work from Washington University. To find out more, visit   What is the most challenging part to parenting a teenager? JG: For most parents, trying to understand why their teen does so many “stupid” things, makes so many “stupid” decisions, and doesn’t want to listen to their advice gained from so many years of experience is crazy making! Without understanding what drives their teen’s behavior, parents just go from one crisis to the next, throwing around consequences and punishments hoping that something they do will stick and change their teen’s terrifying ways. But alas, just saying don’t do it or you better not, and then grounding them when they do, does not change behavior. Many parents of teens feel an enormous loss of control. “Because I said so” is no longer an effective parenting tool. You cannot parent a teenager the same way you parent a younger child. It is this redefining of parenting style that most parents of teens are unprepared for. Doesn’t every stage of parenting present hurdles and roadblocks? What’s so different about the teen years? JG: Teen brains are experiencing enormous growth. This means that they are literally seeing the world through a new lens. Additionally in adolescence, the emotional part of the teen brain is in higher activation than their thinking brain, which is completely opposite from the way an adult brain functions. This means teen behavior is driven by emotion and impulse rather than by the rational and the thoughtful. Except for the first 18 months of life, there is no other time in life when there is such extreme brain change. It’s biology baby! For parents this is scary because just as their teen’s brain sees the “awesomeness” of it all, they are exposed to experiences that carry tremendous risk. How should parents talk to their child about sex, sexting, and dating? JG: With understanding and honesty. Parents should really try to stay off the lecture circuit. Telling teens how they should behave will fall mostly on deaf ears. Saying: “ I get you are going to be interested in sex. I know I’ll have to get used to thinking about you in this new way. I know you will be in situations that you have never been in before with boys/girls. I also know kids talk to each other in very sexy language, and I’m guessing that can be pretty fun, but it can also get you into real trouble. Here are some of the things I do not want to see on your phone or computer.” Parents should say all those “dirty” words they do not want on their kid's phone. Saying “inappropriate language” just won’t cut it. Kids need to hear what it sounds like out loud!. What can a parent do to keep the lines of communication flowing with their teenager, to ensure honesty, openness, and forthrightness? JG: The biggest barriers to open communication are words that criticize and judge. For example when parents see their teen wasting time online and texting when they are supposed to be doing their homework, they are more likely to say: “Stop being so lazy, and get off that damn phone.” Rather than: “I get how important your friends are to you, and how important it is for you to check in with them, but homework is important too, and we need to find a strategy that gives you time for both.” Now, instead of teens feeling like they have a character flaw, which pushes them into arguing and defense mode, they can work on solving a problem. What are four typical mistakes or assumptions parents make about their teen children? JG: Parents think that their teens do not want to spend time with them. WRONG. In a survey I did with teens in 9-12th grades, almost all the kids said they wish they could spend more time with their parents. Just don’t do it on a weekend night! Labeling their teen. Many parents see their teens doing bad things, and label them as bad. Not true!! There is a huge learning curve during the teen years. Part of the process of leaning is making mistakes, and making bad choices. Making these learning opportunities rather than just punishing “bad behavior” is what changes behavior. Over-thinking and over problem-solving. Many times teens come to their parents to just vent about a situation they are having trouble with. They aren’t looking for a fix, just a shoulder to lean on. Parents like fixing, and go right to the “here’s what I think you should do…” Teens then react with anger, and “you just don’t understand.” And the lovely moment has gone ugly. Unrealistic expectation. Not all teens are meant to be honor roll students. Some have strengths in other area that as life goes on will be equally if not more important in the long run of adulthood. What inspired you – or rather, what events necessitated you to pen A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens? JG: I can’t tell you how many parents come up to me after one of my parenting seminars or email me with a “can you just tell me what to do about….? So much of parenting a teen is going from crisis to crisis, and a tomb on the psychology of adolescence is useless in that minute. I wanted to give parents their own “parenting coach” for those moments when they just need a game plan. I think the 80 tips in the book cover most situations parents of teens face daily and need a quick go-to. Let’s face it. Parents cannot monitor everything and don’t have the time or energy to get involved in every aspect of their child’s life. Should parents just trust their child and give them independence and be free to make mistakes? JG: Making mistakes is a good thing, when it comes to natural consequences. Not getting up on time for school and getting detention; waiting till the last minute and failing to get a paper or project in on time and getting a bad grade; staying out past curfew and missing out on going out the next weekend; forgetting homework and leaving it at home and getting a zero; these are all things kids should and can be responsible for, and yet these are the things that most parents rescue their kids from, worrying that it will affect their grades or chances to get into honor classes. Monitoring technology until a teen brain has matured enough to manage dangerous impulses is worth that energy. Serious mental heath issues, and legal consequences, these risks are just too steep.   How has parenting a teen, circa 1984, changed from raising one today? JG: As teens, this generation of parents experienced much of what their teens are experiencing; teen angst, puberty, alcohol, drugs, sex, so at least that gives them some perspective. But technology was not a part of their teen years. Unfortunately we have all jumped in the pool together and parents and teens are sharing in the excitement of all this new technology simultaneously. But teenage use and adult use are not the same, and no one was prepared for how all this technology could and does impact a teen’s life. Who knew teens would be sending naked pictures and using language fit for 1-900-SEXY as just part of the normal teenage experience, or that the family TV would become a dusty relic as teens hunker down in their caves watching movies, playing games and getting naked away from the prying eyes of mom and dad. What are the rewards to investing time and attention to your child’s well being during their tumultuous teen years? JG: The most exciting part of raising teen is watching this new person develop, like seeing your baby walk for the first time. They are now capable of seeing all that the world has to offer. They are at the buffet of life, and they will need to try out different offerings to see what is right for them. Everything a parent has taught, and nurtured up till this point is all in the mix, and parents need to trust that. A parent’s greatest gift to this emerging adult is to let go of their own expectations of what they want their teen to become, and let their teen become who he/she is meant to become.

Book Review: A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens by Joani Geltman, MSW

A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens cover imageIf you are like most parents, talking to your teens about touchy subjects liked sexting, drinking, drugs and other risky behaviors ranks even lower on your list of things to do than getting a root canal. You know it’s going to be awkward, you’re not sure what to say, and you know your child wants to have the conversation even less than you do. Joani Geltman, MSW, knows what you’re going through. A parent, Geltman also has four decades of experience working with young people, including as a psychology professor, a school counselor and social worker, a family therapist, and a parenting coach. Her book, A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out, could be just the thing you need to overcome your reluctance and have the conversations with your kids about important issues. If you’re not facing a particular issue with your teens, you can read the book from front to back and cover all the topics Geltman brings up. If you have a specific issue, it’s easy to find and get her advice. The book is divided into 10 parts with 80 sections of advice and not all of the sections will make you want to lock your kids in their rooms and throw away the key. Some of them contain general life advice, like teaching money management, helping your teen with remembering things, and looking at your parenting style. Others, like the sections on sexting, social media posts, and teenage alcohol and drug use, can be eye opening. For each issue, Geltman explains the problem, explains why it’s a problem, and offers a solution. Certainly, not every solution will resonate for you and your family. But overall, Geltman’s advice will arm you with knowledge and tools that you can use to better understand and parent your teen. I highly recommend it. The publisher provided me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Undecided. Navigating Life and Learning After High School by Genevieve Morgan

Undecided cover imageIf I could hand students in high school one book to help them figure out what they want to do when they graduate, it would be Genevieve Morgan’s Undecided: Navigating Life and Learning After High School. As a volunteer in the College and Career Center at my daughters’ high school, I spent seven years talking to juniors about what they planned to do. Some of them knew exactly where their paths would take them, others were not so sure. All of them could have benefited from reading Undecided. Why do I think it’s such a great guide? For one thing, Morgan’s down-to-earth writing style makes you feel as though you are talking to a trusted friend. For another, the book is divided into sections that will walk students through the process of figuring out what they like and what they are good at and then present them with quite a few options that go beyond the expected university or community college enrollment. I also love the sidebars Morgan includes in the book. She includes things like checklists and quizzes to help students figure out their personality types, budget worksheets, and more. Profiles of famous people and the courses their lives took are also featured. Even with my training and experience in the high school, I didn’t know a lot of the details that Morgan covers as she discusses four-year universities, two-year colleges, joining the military, volunteering, signing up for a service program, going to work and more. I highly recommend Undecided for high school students as well as their parents. The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.