Going Over by Beth Kephart

Going Over cover imageBefore the Berlin wall came down, people in East Berlin were separated from family and friends in West Berlin. Although visits were allowed, moving from East to West was nearly impossible. Under those circumstance, many attempted to escape; some died trying. Beth Kephart’s novel, Going Over, captures the difficulties people faced on both sides of Berlin with the story of Ada, a girl from the west, and Stefan, a boy who lives in the east.

Ada and Stefan have been friends all their lives, because when their grandmothers were young, they were best friends. When the wall went up, they were separated, but they continued to see each other on visits. Neither has an easy life. Ada lives in a tiny apartment with her mother and grandmother, works in a daycare center, and creates art by tagging the walls of buildings. Stefan lives with his grandmother, always afraid of who is listening and who is watching their actions, especially since his mother and grandfather attempted escape in past years.

The two need each other to help get through the difficulties they face. But for them to be together, Stefan must risk capture or death and go over. As the story of the two teens unfolds, Going Over paints a vivid picture of life on both sides of the wall. In the west there is prejudice against and exploitation of workers brought over from Turkey to take on menial jobs. Surrounded by East Berlin, residents of West Berlin may be free, but they can still face deprivation. In East Berlin, all forms of rebellion and dissent are not tolerated. But the story is hopeful as well. Ada and Stefan believe that people can make a difference, and they are both determined to find a way to do it.

I highly recommend Going Over for readers aged 14 and up. Members of book clubs will find a lot to talk about in the historical setting as well as issues of the human condition.

The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Read Lois Lowry’s The Giver; See the Movie and Compare

The Giver movie posterThe Giver by Lois Lowry has long been of favorite of middle-school teachers and readers. I remember reading it, discussing it with my daughter’s sixth-grade book club, then attending a local stage production of the story. It was a great way to talk about the issues the story raises from a variety of angles. With the movie starring Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges coming out in August, now is a good time for your mother-daughter or kids book club to read the book and make plans to see the movie.

Here’s an official synopsis of the story:

“The haunting story of THE GIVER centers on Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Yet as he begins to spend time with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who is the sole keeper of all the community’s memories, Jonas quickly begins to discover the dark and deadly truths of his community’s secret past. With this newfound power of knowledge, he realizes that the stakes are higher than imagined – a matter of life and death for himself and those he loves most. At extreme odds, Jonas knows that he must escape their world to protect them all – a challenge that no one has ever succeeded at before. THE GIVER is based on Lois Lowry’s beloved young adult novel of the same name, which was the winner the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.”

You may also want to check out the official trailer:


Other things may interest you:

Character Poster: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/5bne470p45l8un8/AADuShgedBAAvmCZCiT6xvQea

The Giver Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/TheGiverFilmOfficial

The Giver on Twitter: https://twitter.com/thegivermovie

The Giver Challenge: http://thegiverchallenge.com/

The Memory Deposit: http://thegivermemory.tumblr.com/

The Giver Experience, which is three fully immersive, interactive websites that are designed to reflect upon the themes present in the film and allows users to experience The Giver for themselves.: https://thegiverfilm.com/


Book Review: How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love by Ken Baker

How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love cover imageEmery Jackson doesn’t feel like she fits in with the rest of her family. Her mom and sister are cute and petite and skinny. They are obsessed with wearing stylish clothes and makeup. Her dad, a former basketball player, is never around, but when he is it’s clear that his favorite is Emery’s sister.

Most of the time she’s okay with the fact that she’s overweight and the only boyfriend she could get is chunky like her. So when Emery’s mom approaches her with the idea of doing a reality show in which she will be the star as she loses weight, she wants no part of it. But once she realizes that the money from the show could save the family home, she ignores her objections and signs on.

How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love by Ken Baker combines a lot of things people seem to obsess over—weight, body image, reality TV, celebrity, and love—and puts them all under the microscope. Emery is quick witted, funny, smart and down to earth. But a lot of people don’t see past the pounds she carries on her body. To lose weight for the show she has to diet, exercise, see a counselor, and learn how to live a healthy lifestyle. That would all be great, except little things in the script also expose her to public humiliation, which means she has to have a thick skin to get through it.

Emery also discovers that while a lot of people support her and want her to succeed, there are others who would revel in her failure. It’s a lot of pressure for a high school senior to take on, especially when she doesn’t have trusted family members to fall back on. In the end she has to decide whether she can trust herself to do what’s best in the long run. While I would have liked to see a few issues more resolved at the end, overall I think the book provides a lot to think about and discuss in a book club. I recommend it for ages 14 and up.

The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Michaela MacColl Talks About the Bronte Family and Her New Book, Always Emily

Yesterday you read my review of Always Emily, a mystery set on the moors of Ireland involving the Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Today, author Michaela MacColl is stopping by to talk a little bit more about her book and the inspirations for it—Bronte family. Here’s what MacColl has to say about them:

Always Emily is a mystery on the moors starring teenaged Emily and Charlotte Bronte. My publisher has billed it as a story of intrigue and romance – but really, at its heart it’s the story of two sisters. And these two sisters exist in a truly exceptional (and odd) family.

Rev. Bronte imageThe father of the family was Rev. Bronte, a poor boy from Ireland who clawed his way into middle class through a scholarship education. He was a bit of a hypochondriac and always wore a long silk scarf wrapped many times around his throat. He slept with a loaded pistol next to his bed and every morning emptied the gun by firing a shot into the air.

His job as the Reverend of Haworth was his only source of income and it also came with the house. The house was at the very end of town and looked out over a cemetery. An interesting detail that I couldn’t resist using was the washerwomen of Haworth would lay out their laundry on the flat tombstones to dry. Rev. Bronte had a long running battle with them every laundry day.

Rev. Bronte hThe cemetery behind the Bronte house imagead six children, five girls and one boy. The cost of educating all these children was more than daunting – it was impossible. The Rev. jumped at the chance to send his girls to a charity school for educating the daughters of impoverished clergyman. Unfortunately, the school was a miserable place and the two eldest daughters contracted typhoid and died within six months. The Rev. quickly retrieved his younger daughters, Charlotte and Emily. It would be many years before he dared send them away again.

That must have been a defining moment in the girls’ lives. At the age of 10, Charlotte went from being the third child to being the eldest. In my mind, Charlotte assumed the mantle of responsibility for her younger siblings and never put it down for the rest of her life. Charlotte Bronte imageShe goes off to school to train to be a teacher so she could earn a living. She insisted that Emily do the same (it didn’t work out well). And the girls eventually started writing for publication to earn a living. Charlotte never forgot that if something happened to their father they were not only penniless but homeless too.

Emily Bronte imageBut poor bossy Charlotte! She couldn’t have reckoned with having such a tough bunch of individuals to try and wrangle. Emily cared more for wild animals and wandering about the moors than earning her living. When she went away to school, she lasted only a month. She missed her freedom and the cold winds that swept the moors. Wuthering Heights is a novel of original characters living violent and brutish lives. Critics were stunned to discover that the author was a woman.

The third sister Anne was the youngest. She seemed the most biddable but she was also the one who worked as a governess quite successfully. Anne Bronte imageShe even turned her experiences into a fairly daring novel that exposed the life of a governess in a middle class house called Agnes Grey. Her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was revolutionary for taking as her protagonist a battered wife who left her husband.

And finally there’s Branwell, the only boy in the family. When he was a boy, Branwell was the cocky leader of the four children. The only one who challenged his dominance was Emily (she towered over him so she had a physical advantage). Branwell Bronte imageHe alternately tried writing and painting, but left no real mark in either field. He was the first to die of tuberculosis complicated by his addiction to opiates and alcohol. He may never have even known that his sisters were published novelists.

My challenge (and great joy) was to somehow set a story amongst all these originals. The book is called Always Emily – but really it could be called Those Wacky Brontes.

It’s been a pleasure. Please visit me at www.michaelamaccoll.com, or follow me on Twitter at @MichaelaMacColl or check out Author Michaela MacColl on Facebook.

Book Review: Always Emily by Michaela MacColl

Always Emily cover imageCharlotte and Emily Bronte are two of the most enduring authors in English literature. Charlotte, who wrote Jane Eyre, and Emily, author of Wuthering Heights, were no strangers to tragedy in their own lives. Their mother died young and so did two sisters. They were raised in a parsonage with their father, brother, and younger sister Anne, who also went on to become a published author.

Michaela MacColl brings these beloved authors to life, and adds a bit of mystery for them to solve, in her new book for young adults, Always Emily. MacColl draws heavily upon known facts, like Charlotte teaching at a boarding school where Emily briefly attends, to weave a fictional story that takes place on the moors, so much a part of the sisters’ writing. She shows Charlotte and Emily as two very different people, often in conflict, but who nonetheless love and admire each other’s strengths.

An Author’s Note at the end gives a bit of background information about the Bronte family and the tragedies that befell it. Mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 12 and up may have fun reading Always Emily and then picking up the classics by the Bronte sisters, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Stop by tomorrow to see what author Michaela MacColl has to say about the Bronte family, her inspiration for Always Emily.

Book Review: Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson

Catch a Falling Star cover imageWhen superstar and bad boy Adam Jakes rolls into Little, California to film a movie, most girls would be thrilled to meet him. But Carter Moon is not most girls. She’s focused on working in her family’s café, watching the night sky with her best friends Chloe and Drake, and worrying about her brother, who has a gambling addiction.

When Adam’s manager approaches her and tells her about a plan to revive Adam’s image by having him date a small town girl, Carter, while he’s filming in Little, she’s against it. Until she realizes that the money could buy the help her brother needs to get his life together. Plus, Carter knows there’s no way she could fall for someone as self-centered at Adam Jakes.

Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson is a beautiful story about finding yourself, second chances, life in a small town, and branching out. One of the reasons Carter isn’t impressed with Adam is because she’s content with her life. But her parents worry that her lack of interest in leaving town to continue her education after high school will limit her future options.

While Carter’s developing relationship with Adam is a central focus of the book, there are many interesting things happening in Carter’s life outside of this that keeps the story flowing along. Culbertson provides lots of opportunities for the characters to ponder what’s important in life and their place in it. Catch a Falling Star unfolds in unexpected ways that entertains all the way to its satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend it for readers aged 14 and up.

The author gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Fish Finelli: Operation Fireball by E. S. Farber

Fish Finelli Operation Fireball cover imageFish Finelli is excited. He has a boat and a motor, now all he has to do it get it working in time to enter the big race in the 11-years-and under category. And the stakes are high since he pretty much promised to beat the annoying Bryce Billings. Then there’s this girl, Clementine, pretty and mysterious. Fish Finelli: Operation Fireball is the second in this great series for boys that girls can enjoy too.

Fish and his friends Roger and T.J. do pretty much everything together, and together they can make anything fun, including rescuing a cat from a tree and waiting out a thunderstorm on a creepy island. Together they prove that a bit of ingenuity, hard work and sticking to the rules of a good sea captain will get them through just about anything.

Kids should also be interested in the small facts sprinkled throughout the book. For instance, Fish really likes tinkering with things and he likes inventors who did too. When he quotes Thomas Edison, who invented the phonograph, a pull out illustration give information about Edison and his invention. Jason Beene’s drawings illustrate the narrative perfectly, adding a touch of whimsy to the words on the page.

I recommend Fish Finelli: Operation Fireball for readers aged 8 to 12.

The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

The Meaning of Maggie cover imageWhen Maggie receives a beautiful leather-bound journal for her twelfth birthday she knows what she wants to write about: the story of her life since she turned eleven. That’s because a lot of things happened during the past year, and with her dad in the hospital she has a lot of time to think about it as she waits for him to get better.

The youngest of three daughters, Maggie considers herself the responsible one. She’s super smart in school, she plans to be president one day, and her older sisters spend all their time working on their looks rather than helping out at home. But something’s going on with Maggie’s dad, and her parents think she’s too young to hear the truth. She realizes she needs to “pull herself up by her bootstraps,” as the family likes to say, and face what’s happening even if it is hard.

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern is a coming of age story with a plucky heroine. Maggie walks the line between wanting to stay a little kid who loves chocolate and tattles on her sisters and being grown up enough to know about her dad’s health problems and why her mom had to go to work full time. She talks about his “sleepy legs” and “sleepy arms” as the reason he had to quit his job and be home in a wheel chair.

She’s frustrated because every time she ask her dad about something important, he says he’ll “tell her in ten years.” And her mom is too busy working and taking care of everyone else to have time for Maggie. When her dad takes a turn for the worse, she finally learns about his illness while gaining insight into the lives of everyone else in her family.

The story is a good one for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 8 to 12. Book club discussion can cover the good and the bad of parents keeping big issues from their children and when it may be appropriate to share that information. Other discussion topics include the ways siblings may or may not have accurate pictures of each other, having disapproving grandparents, and family illnesses.

The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Read the Mother Daughter Book Club interview with author Megan Jean Sovern.

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