Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Author Interview with Ben Zackheim

My 2 cents:

Q: I love Shirley, your 8th grade super-sleuth! Where did you get the inspiration for her?

Shirley came from years of listening to girls (and parents) complain about the female heroes in their books. I mean, how many stories can you have about a girl "fitting in"? How many heroines are thrown into adventure against their will and eventually stumble upon victory? I shared their frustration. I wanted to offer a series where the main character uses her intellect to stay one step ahead of everyone.

The result was Shirley Link.

Shirley seeks out adventure. She gets bored if she's sitting around. Shirley is the smartest person in a really smart town, and everyone around her knows it. And she uses those smarts to overcome all obstacles.
It's funny, I saw a filmed interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (here's the link) where he details the origins of Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, he created Holmes when he became frustrated with protagonists who bumbled about, torn by self-doubt, or who won because of heavy “cheating” on the writer's part. I'm not comparing myself to the master, but it was comforting to see evidence that every generation has frustrations with all-too-real heroes and storytelling shortcuts.

Q: But she must have weaknesses, right?

Oh yeah. Shirley is awful at relating to people. In that way she learns from friends. She'll sometimes smile because she feels it's warranted in the moment, but her fake grin can scare the white off of teeth. At one point in Shirley Link & The Safe Case she actually scares away a fellow student. Her friend, Marie, feels it's her duty to stick a sharp elbow in Shirley's side when she bares her false smile.
Shirley can also be wrong. Marie is super-smart too and can arrive at correct conclusions before Shirley.

Q: What's your favorite, all-time comic book?

I had to struggle with that question when I wrote Shirley Link & The Hot Comic. I LOVE The Avengers. They have all the staples of the Marvel Universe – Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor. They also have a hyper-turnover, so almost of my favorite characters have been on the team – Spider-Man, Wolverine, Black Panther. In the end, I decided to put a $100,000 Mint copy of The Avengers #1 in danger because most people have enjoyed the comic series, or heroes in the comic series, for decades.
But my actual favorite series is different. I'm a traditionalist in the 80s vein. The X-Men from the Byrne/Smith/Romita Jr./Claremont era will always be with me. I literally have flashbacks to scenes from those comics sometimes. I'll be doing something random, like folding my pajamas, and comic book panels filled with Wolverine being way too cool pop into my head.
I can even tell you my favorite comic ever! New Mutants Special Edition #1 with Art Adams penciling. Epic stuff. It has everything Marvel was about back then, fearless storytelling and cutting-edge imagery.
I would have had Shirley try to save a Mint copy of New Mutants Special #1 in her second adventure, but it's only worth about 3 bucks. I'd be the only person biting my nails over that story.

Q: Do Wiley and Marie ever figure out they like each other?

Never! That would ruin the team!
I just glanced down and to the left which is a sign that I'm lying (Shirley would pat me on the shoulder for that).
I'll just say that the third book has a turning point in the relationship, but not in the way you'd think. There's a slippery slope between love and hate, and the ground tends to be like wet ice when you're a 14 year old. Marie is someone who does feel some kind of guilt about her intellect. She's not sure what to do with it. Especially when it comes to an alpha male like Wylie. She struggles with the stigma about being smart that Shirley distinctly does NOT struggle with, so Marie will be leaning heavily on her sleuth friend in the next few volumes. Wylie, for his part, is adopted and needs to tackle some ghosts in the third adventure. There will be a resolution to their relationship later in the series, and I think it's cool – though it will be a little uncomfortable for some. ;-)

Q: Can you tell us a little more about Jacob?

Jacob is a bit of an enigma. He's a kid who's been home schooled his entire life by a wealthy, eccentric inventor named D.L. Graham, who lives on a hill above Shirley's town. No one has ever seen any of the family around. When Jacob shows up in Shirley Link & The Hot Comic he's somehow convinced his dad to let him go to the same school that Shirley's in.
As it turns out, Jacob wants to be close to Shirley to test her out. He's heard of her adventures and believes he's her equal. I don't want to give too much away but my favorite scene to write (EVER!) was when he and Shirley meet. It's kind of like a meeting between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in an old detective movie. They test each other out, secretly delighted that they're talking to someone who speaks the same language, and who sees the world in the same way. Still, they don't particularly seem to like each other.
Jacob is going to be an ongoing character. I won't give away the ending of The Hot Comic, but his continued presence in the school, and in Shirley's life will have an impact, good and bad. And when D.L. Graham enters the picture, he'll do it in a big way, as is his style...

Q: Where is your favorite place to write?

Anywhere but home. If I'm home I cannot function as a writer. There are too many distractions, comforts. Beds beckon. Cats purr in kneaded nap traps. Ice cream whispers from the cold abyss. So I like to find a table somewhere like a coffee shop or library, and settle in with my iPad. I use the virtual keyboard and write with Google Drive, which many fellow writers think is nuts because the iPad keys are wonky. But I like the way I have to type slowly. It's the closest I'll ever get to thinking before every word, as we had to do when typewriters ruled.
The most work I ever got done was in a cabin, alone in the Adirondacks. I finished 200 solid pages in 3 days of my upcoming series, The Camelot Kids. I still aspire to that weekend.

Q: Will there be more books in the Shirley Link series?

I'm wrapping up Book 3 now, titled Shirley Link & The Treasure Chest. In it, Shirley discovers that she has an ancestor with close ties to a very successful pirate. I don't want to reveal too much but she needs to find the treasure for noble reasons. Without it, an elderly neighbor will lose her house to the bank.
Soon after the next Shirley I'm going to finish my upcoming series, The Camelot Kids, which is about a group of modern teens who find out that they're direct descendants of the Knights of the Round Table. A grumpy 3276 year old Merlin is gathering them up to help save New Camelot, a hidden kingdom in Scotland. It's an adventure/mystery for Young Adults. I plan on releasing four ebooks in the series at the same time.
Then it's on to Shirley #4 which will include some cool time/space clues, and a black cat who is much more than she seems.

Q: What are your dreams for the Shirley Link series?

If this was a joint interview with me and Shirley, she'd interrupt me (as gently as possible) and sum it up with, "Being smart and confident is just fine. People will still like you. You'll still find a place in the world."
To me, if I can help kids, both boys and girls, embrace their intellect as a superpower, then I'll have achieved what I consider to be my most important job as a writer.

Thanks, Ben! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Safe Case and The Hot Comic by Ben Zackheim

My 2 cents:

Middle readers will love Ben Zackheim's new series about an 8th grade super sleuth named Shirley Link. Hindered (I mean, assisted) by best buds, Wylie and Marie, Shirley tackles a mysterious theft at school in The Safe Case. Picture a middle-school Velma (minus Scooby Doo), add a little Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys with a wicked sense of humor, and you just about have it.

In The Hot Comic (second book in the series), Shirley and company confront a dangerous thief, and maybe discover a new ally. Shirley's powers of observation are staggering, and the dialogue is sharp and zippy. Zackheim's YA novels are short, easy-to-read, and will interest and engage both the advanced and reluctant reader. My 12-year-old daughter loved both books, and flew through the pages, partly because of lines like these:

“We do things just because it's always been that way. But we shouldn't. We should always question, always pry, and never, ever get so bored with life that we miss the unusual.” (The Hot Comic, p. 2)

Great, huh?

Length: 83 pages and 81 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, especially for ages 9-13.

Bonus: Readers will enjoy Robin Hoffman's illustrations and Shirley Link's “Brain Twisters” at the back of the book. For more info, go to: Also, be sure to read a fascinating author/interview with Ben Zackheim in my next blog.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One White Dolphin by Gill Lewis

My 2 cents:

You are what you eat.” Everybody's heard that. But, what if “you are what you read” was true? In that case, I'd read One White Dolphin, by Gill Lewis, again and again. Lewis's YA novel is set on a coastal English town, a small fishing village, present day. The story revolves around the families of three young villagers - Kara Wood, Jake Evans and Felix Andersen.

Kara, the only daughter of an out-of-work fisherman, is dyslexic, and missing her marine biologist mother, who disappeared the year before. Jake, a classmate, is the son of the town's richest boat owner. Felix, the newcomer, is brilliant, talented, a natural sailor and was born with cerebral palsy.

Then, there's Angel, the albino dolphin who gets injured, and beaches herself in the cove near Kara's home.

One White Dolphin is a story of discovery and loss, boats and bullies, fishing and friends, salt-spray and water, the past and the future. Full of twists and turns, both boys and girls will enjoy reading this book. It's as comforting as the turquoise and silver blanket Kara keeps in her dad's boat.

Length: 339 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, especially for ages 10 and up. One White Dolphin recently won the Green Earth Book Award.

Bonus: The novel's striking illustrations by Raquel Aparicio.

Bonus: Learn more about Gill Lewis on her cool website at

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

My 2 cents:

Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe is like its title – large. Benjamin Alire Saenz's new YA novel covers a large amount of territory between its end flaps. It's a coming-of-age story, for sure, about two high-school boys, Dante and Ari, who experience a lot of “firsts.” First car, first job, first kiss, first great poem, first fight, first serious accident, and first time smoking pot.

Some parents will not want their teens reading this book, because <spoiler alert> not all the first kisses are between a boy and a girl. Some parents will not want their kids reading this book, because a few of the characters try marijuana and alcohol. I would say this to those parents: read the book for yourself before you decide. Saenz addresses a number of sensitive topics in Secrets of the Universe with a tender, insightful touch.

Length: 359 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, for high-schoolers and up. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

All Gone (A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia, with Refreshments) by Alex Witchel

My 2 cents:

I like a book that includes recipes. Alex Witchel's new novel is called All Gone (A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia, with Refreshments). Every chapter ends up with at least one recipe; some are Jewish comfort food, some are retro 70's fare, most look fairly easy to do, and all belong in somebody's cookbook. And that's just dessert!

The main course of the book is the lovely story of a mother and daughter; the good and bad, the beginning and the end, some of it funny, and some of it, of course, sad. Alex Witchel chronicles her mother's illness, a stroke-induced form of dementia. She weaves doctor's visits and nerve-wracking, late-night telephone calls together with memories of her own childhood, lavish get-away-weekends, holidays with relatives, and stories from her mom's career as a college professor.

If you're facing the challenge of caring for a parent with dementia, or you have a teen or adult child whose grandma or papa is losing their memory, All Gone is a book worth checking out. It will have you nodding your head, chuckling, and running off to the kitchen to see if you have the ingredients to make potato latkes.

Length: 211 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes. If you've ever read the “Feed Me” column in The New York Times Magazine,
you've already read Author Alex Witchell's work. Ms. Witchell's book is Adult Non-Fiction.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin

My 2 cents:

I'm not a fan of horror movies or gore. I skip past the newspaper articles with headlines screaming atrocities. So you will understand when I say I did not enjoy reading Mike Mullin's newest YA novel, Ashen Winter.

Ashen Winter is the second book of the Ashfall trilogy. Ashfall is the story of Alex Halprin, an almost-16-year-old boy living in Cedar Falls, Iowa whose life is disrupted and forever changed by the eruption of a supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park. Meant to be home alone for the weekend, while his sister and parents visit family in nearby Warren, Illinois, Alex finds himself fighting for survival in a desperate search to find his family. Along the way, Alex meets Darla, befriends her, and together the determined duo fight murderers, hunger, thirst, cold, ash, darkness, bandits, injuries, grief and more, as they band together to reach Illinois. Well-written, Mullin's riveting, debut novel garnered all kinds of awards, including: NPR's Top 5 YA Novels for 2011, Best Teen Books (Kirkus Reviews 2011), and Best Books for Children (ABC 2011).

So I picked up the sequel (published in 2012) with high expectations. I was disappointed. I'm not saying it couldn't happen the way Mullin lays it out in his novel. I'm saying teens who read it may fear a super-volcanic eruption, the same way kids growing up in the 60's lived in terror of a nuclear attack.

Ashen Winter picks up with Alex and Darla setting out from Warren, where life is harsh, but relatively safe, trekking back to Iowa to find Alex's mother and father, and, hopefully, bring them home to Alex's uncle's farm.

The rescue mission starts out badly and rapidly gets worse. Darla is injured and taken captive. Alex meets up with criminal gangs, cannibals, dishonest government guards, too many guns to count, slave traders; and always, there are the freezing temperatures of an ashen winter, and lack of food and medical care. As I said, I'm no fan of gore and horror, but it was all too much for me. Worse, I ended up with this question: is there anything the average citizen can even do to prepare for a possible super-volcanic eruption, like Yellowstone Park? That is, besides learn martial arts, stock up on guns, ammunition, food and water, and especially canned greens and fruit. (The town of Warren faces a scurvy epidemic from a lack of Vitamin C). Thus, Alex learns that kale, in the new volcanic-winter-world, is like gold. 

Sunrise, the final book in Mullin's trilogy, is due out later this year. I sure hope the title is a harbinger of good things to come. For Alex. For Darla. And for all their readers. 

Length: 567 pages

Worth Your Time? This book is classified Young Adult Literature, but I'm wondering if it should be categorized as Adult Fiction for the violence and adult themes. I think I'll head on down to Wal-Mart now, and buy a case of Vitamin C. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Mary Alice Monroe (Author Interview)

1) Will there be a sequel to BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES?

Yes, there will be another in this popular series.  I still work with sea turtles, after all, and there are more stories to tell.   As there are as yet many questions to be answered for Cara and Brett. I'm eager to revisit my favorite characters.   In my upcoming book (July, The Summer Girls), I bring Toy and Ethan back!  It's the first time I've had fictional characters from other books reappear.   The reader can see where this couple is in their life, their children...    I did this because it makes sense that people involved with marine life in our community would know each other.    Charleston  is really a small town that way.  It was fun to write and I'm sure my readers will enjoy seeing the characters again. 
2) Do you have a favorite place to write? Where?

I've always needed to be in my own private space to write a novel. This is because i must lose myself and absorb the Point of View of the characters.         I need to feel safe to do so.  That said, all my story ideas are inspired by nature.  I am outdoors a lot with a pad of paper and a pen, jotting down descriptions or thoughts.    I believe a writer needs her/his own space.  A small corner with a desk--it doesn't have to be fancy.  But it must be sacred.  No junk on the desk.  No laundry or storage.  Only things that support and inspire your work should be allowed in.  I've gone from a small card table in a corner of my bedroom to a large office with a porch that enjoys a view of the  Intracoastal Waterway.   I spend most of my days in this room.  On my walls are paintings of turtles, shrimp boats, dolphins, birds, the marshes--views that inspire.   I have my collection of sweetgrass baskets, shells.     While writing, I have photos of the particular setting I'm describing in the current book on my large bulletin board by my computer.  And at my feet are my two cavaliers, Magnolia and Buster Brown.  They are my constant companions in the office and snore in symphony.
3) Do you have a favorite season? What?

I love summer.  Especially here on the island.  It's the season the loggerhead sea turtles return to nest thus I'm constantly on the go with the turtle team monitoring nests.   My flowerbeds attract butterflies and come August I begin raising and releasing monarch butterflies.  Also, I love to swim, ride my bike, barbeque...  From May till November we are blessed with balmy weather and the season is active and full. 

4) Where does the inspiration come from for your characters?

My source of inspiration comes from the animal or landscape I'm writing about.  Once I've selected the backdrop, for example in the book I'm writing now I've chosen our Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, I first must research the species and talk to experts.  Next I begin volunteering so I can become intimately involved with the story world I seek to enter--the animal, the people who work with the species, and all connected.  Through this process I appreciate what the story questions are and create characters that can carry the story forward.  I look for parallels between the themes of nature and human nature.  For example, with dolphins I drew the theme of communication.  Thus, I've created sisters who have not seen each other in years and no longer communicate.  A grandmother who seeks to reestablish the connection between her granddaughters.     I created a young boy with autism spectrum disorder.  Also in this book a dolphin, Delphine, is a character.  Once I have this starting point, I develop a deeper profile for each character as well as her story arc.  The characters begin appearing in my dreams, I know them inside and out.  It's a work in progress until the day I finally release the book to  New York  for publication.
5) Can you tell us about your upcoming presentation at "Book 'Em" on February 23 in  Lumberton,  NC?
I'm talking on writing the bestseller, which in my point of view, is writing the book of your heart.  The author's passion for the subject, characters, themes, et al should be palpable throughout.  It's what I refer to as "the soul of the story."  It gives a writer the ephemeral quality called "voice."


Beach House Memories by Mary Alice Monroe

My 2 cents:

I didn't expect to get hooked so completely. When I recently re-read Mary Alice Monroe's bestselling novel, Beach House Memories, I didn't know I'd get so immersed in the characters of Lovie Rutledge, Lovie's daughter, Cara, and best friend, Florence Prescott, and of course, the other main characters of the books, the turtles and the Isle of Palms itself. But, of course, I did.

Beach House Memories takes place in South Carolina's barrier islands, both in present-day and the summer of 1974. Read it for the love story. Between Lovie and Russell Bennett, a marine biologist, university professor and pilot. Read it for the 70's flashbacks. Joy perfume, Watergate, Carole King, bell-bottom jeans, the resignation of Richard Nixon, 10 cent newspapers, the Smothers Brothers and “Cherish” on the radio.

Read it for the turtles. Cara's first “hatching” is mesmerizing.

“She arrived just as there was a cave-in, and seconds later, the sand seemed to boil over with the hatchlings, one after the other scrambling out from the hole, flippers waving comically, rushing down the dune's slope to the sea. The light of the moon brightened the beach so that from the dune Lovie could see the hatchlings as tiny dark shadows, dozens of them, fanning out across the beach ...” (p.288).

And, lucky you! If you haven't read Monroe's first two books in this trilogy, The Beach House and Swimming Lessons, they're all there waiting for you. Just dive on in.

Length: 597 pages (Large Print)

Worth Your Time? Yes. Especially if you love the beach, turtles, family and tradition. Which is just about everybody.

Bonus: For readers in the North Carolina area, Mary Alice Monroe will be a featured guest at the “Book 'Em” event in Lumberton, NC on Saturday, February, 23, 2013. For details and more, go to or

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Real Mermaids Don't Need High Heels by Helene Boudreau (Author/Interview)

My 2 cents:

Mermaids! Mermen! Ninth grade. Jade and BFF Cori, boyfriend Luke and frenemy Lainey Chamberlain. Add all this to a small town on a lake and the ocean, and you have just hit the jackpot for YA Literature.

Helene Boudreau's newest mermaid novel, Real Mermaids Don't Need High Heels, comes out this month (February, 2013). Sweet, funny (and suspenseful), this little treat of a book is ready for publication just in time for Valentine's Day! Just as Jade enters ninth grade at Port Toulouse Regional High, ready for lockers and lunch (free of teacher supervision), and walking to class with her cool, new boyfriend (Luke), she finds herself suddenly back in Defense Mode, preparing to fight off a new attack from the errant Mermish Council.

New friendships form, discoveries and rescues are made, but will Jade save her mermaid family and friends in time to attend the Fall Folly Dance? And, more importantly, if she is free to go, what will she wear?

12-year-old Lizzey Love (my smart, funny daughter) interviewed Author Helene Boudreau about her newest book and shares her project with readers below.

1) What can you tell me about Jade in the third book? 
In Real Mermaids Don’t Need High Heels, Jade is really ready for life to return to normal – even if ninth grade is like being a goldfish in a shark tank and the upcoming Fall Folly Formal means Jade must get over her fear of awkward dancing. Plus there is unrest in the ocean, and the whole mer-world is on the brink of civil war.

Can Jade find a plus-sized dress that doesn’t look like a shower curtain, keep her mer-ness a secret, finally figure out if she and Luke are officially dating, 
and help pull off the biggest political coup in mer history?

With so much at stake, ‘awkward dancing’ is rapidly becoming the least of Jade’s worries.
2) Are Cori and Jade still best friends?
Cori and Jade are definitely still best friends but things get a little complicated when Serena (the mergirl from Talisman Lake) comes back to town and Jade needs to be her constant babysitter to help keep her out of trouble. Lainey is stirring up trouble again, too, so it becomes a bit complicated when Jade tries to make nice with Lainey's mom to save Cori's fashion mentorship and Cori doesn't appreciate her going behind her back to do so. 
3) What do you do when you're not writing a book?
I write full time but I'm a mom of two girls so that keeps me plenty busy the rest of my free time. I'm also a 1/2 marathon walker and love to start my day with a good long walk. When I have time, I love to paint or play my guitar.
4) Do you like to swim? (I do - I love the water!!!!)
I used to be a lifeguard so I love to swim!
5) Who is your favorite artist (musicwise)?
I love strong female vocalists who are also musicians who play instruments so Alison Krauss and Diana Krall are at the top of my list. Pink is also a fave whenever I’m out on a powerwalk. I think she’s awesome.
Thank you, Ms. Boudreau! And, thank you, Lizzey! Your question/answer session is absolutely SPLASHY! Well-done.
Length: 233 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, especially for girls ages 9 and on up!

BONUS: Go to for lots more info on Jade and her new adventures . . .

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Interview with Melissa Keil

Tell my readers a little about yourself

I’m a writer and children’s book editor, and a self-confessed lover of pop culture
and all things nerdy. I’ve had lots of odd and varied jobs in my career, including
working very briefly as a high school teacher, but making books – writing and editing – is really my dream job. Melbourne, Australia is home, though I have lived all over the place, including stints in London, and northern Minnesota for a short time when I was younger. Life in Outer Space is my first published novel, although like most writers, I have a bottom draw filled with half-finished manuscripts.

How did you get the idea for your characters, Sam and Camilla?

Sam’s voice really came first; one of those odd moments where I was looking for
inspiration for a new project (having decided to abandon the novel I had been
working on), but really had no idea what the ‘new’ thing was going to be. I was
attempting to write in a café when I spotted a poster for a horror film club, and
Sam’s voice just appeared. I didn’t really know what his story was going to be
though, until I got to know Camilla’s character. The story really took shape after
I found her. As to where the ideas for these characters came from – I’m not quite
sure! There are little pieces of lots of cool, geeky, creative people that I’ve met in
my life in both of them, but they always felt like real people to me.

What life-experience would you say prepared you most for writing this book?

I studied Cinema at university, which helped quite a bit in shaping the character
of a cinema buff, although I was never really a fan of horror movies until I started
doing my research for the book. I guess the ‘life experience’ which I drew on
most was my own experience of high school. It was in no way as traumatic as
Sam’s is in the beginning of the book, but I did relate to that desperate need to
speed through it, to get it over and done with and move on to bigger and better
things. I haven’t been in high school in quite a while, but that experience still
seems quite raw to me!

What were you doing when you found out you were the winner of the
Ampersand Project?

I was at my day job when the lovely Ampersand commissioning editor called me.
I think I was rendered quite teary and speechless – and needless to say, was not
very productive at work afterwards!

(and of course…) Will there be a sequel?

Not as such, I don’t think. The main reason being that I think it’s impossible to
write a compelling book unless you’re willing to traumatise your characters –
and I’ve possibly traumatised poor Sam and Camilla enough! But I am quite fond
of these people, so I may not be entirely finished with their stories yet.

Thanks, Melissa!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

My 2 cents:

You know it's a good YA book when your own teen picks it up, and 15 minutes later, you glance over at her, and she hasn't moved (except to turn the pages as quickly as she can). That's what happened this week when I handed my daughter Melissa Keil's debut YA novel, Life in Outer Space. It's a good thing I got to it first. Sponsored by Hardie Grant Egmont Publishing, Keil's new novel is the 2012 first-ever winner of the Ampersand Project. Sam Kinnison (a year-11 movie-geek and screenwriter-in-the-making) and Camilla Carter (new-girl-at-school and daughter of a famous music critic) win readers' hearts immediately with their nerdy, brilliant, funny, cool selves.

Sam and Camilla's story is heartbreakingly authentic. I laughed (a lot), winced (a little), and nodded my head in empathy (more than once). But, mostly (like my daughter), I just turned the pages as fast as I could. Sam's friends, Mike, Allison and Adrian, round out this cast of characters at a high school set in Keil's native Melbourne, Australia. But if it weren't for the “down-under” terminology, this story could be set at any high school in the universe. As Camilla tells Sam:

“Anyway . . . school is school. I've never been to Mongolia or Afghanistan, but I'd bet money that school is the same in those places as well.” (p. 56)

A lot happens in the hallways, classrooms, cafeteria and janitor's closet at Bowen Lakes Secondary School. Complicated relationships abound, as well as: World of Warcraft games, the beach, karate, Justin Zigoni, homework, an awesome Spring Dance, parents, absent parents, movies, music, Princess Leia and Star Wars.

See if you can resist that combination. I couldn't.

Length: 309 pages
Worth Your Time? Yes, you bet your “arse” it is. There is some “language” in Keil's novel, not very much, but some.

Bonus: Check out my next blog for a riveting author-interview with Melissa Keil.