Review: “Sky Jumpers (Sky Jumpers # 1)” By Peggy Eddleman

Through NetGalley, I received from Random House Children’s Book a copy of this book for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give it a positive review.

This novel takes place in a post-World War III world, where “green bombs”, which are supposedly not as deadly as atomic bombs, have decimated the world. The remaining residue of the bombs have rendered all magnetic devices inoperable, and since most of the world was destroyed, the remaining clusters of people must start over from square one for the most part. Because of this, extreme value is placed on the ability to invent, and this process is crucial in the schooling of all children in the city and is encouraged among the adults too.

Most of this story takes place in White Rock, a city located in a crater created by one of the bombs and named after the limestone mines surrounding the city. As the city is a crater with only one pass in and out, it’s very secure from the outside world. Add to that security a layer of dangerous gases above the city, named Bomb’s Breath, which is fatal to anyone who breaths while in that layer. This keeps attackers from coming over the top of the surrounding mountains, as they would never know the layer was there, and they and any other animals with them, would be killed instantly.

Into this environment is thrown twelve year-old Hope Toriella. Her father died on their trek to White Rock and her mother died shortly after Hope’s birth. Hope is strong-willed, very athletic, determined, free-spirited and a natural leader. Oh and she can’t invent to save her life, making her the scorn of much of the city. This also affects her sense of self-worth. One of her skills, which she can only share with her best friends Aaren and Brock, is the ability to cliff dive through the Bomb’s Breath where timing of breathing is literally a matter of life and death. Naturally, if her adoptive parents found out about this hobby they wouldn’t react too kindly.

Things are plugging along for White Rock until one winter, after the pass has been closed for the winter and many of the city’s young men have been sent to a neighboring city on the plains, one without mountains and a Bomb’s Breath to protect them. Bandits manage to find a way into White Rock and, after shooting in the leg Hope’s father, who had stood up as the town’s leader to protect the real elderly leader, demand all of the city’s antibiotics. Not only that, but the medicine must be created and delivered within two days or the bandits will kill most of the city.

In order to save her father and the rest of the city, Hope, Brock, Aaren and, without their knowledge until it’s too late, Aaren’s five year-old sister Brenna, must make a trek through the Bomb’s Breath, to the top of the mountain, then back down the other side through the Bomb’s Breath again, all in an effort to get to the city where their guard is stationed. Their hope is to bring them back in order to repel the bandits and save the city. Oh yeah, this is in the middle of the worst blizzard in recent memory.

Will they make it there and back in time? Can they manage the trek during the blizzard? How will a five year-old manage the trip when they don’t have enough snowshoes for everyone and the others must take turns carrying her? Can they know exactly where the Bomb’s Breath begin and ends while travelling during a blizzard?

This story has plenty of drama and twists and turns, and I really enjoyed it. The Random House Children’s Books website says this book is for eight to twelve year-olds, and that feels about right. There’s very little outright violence, which is sanitized, and death is talked about as a possibility and in an after-the-fact sort of way. There are even slight hints at romance, but not too much considering the ages of the characters.

Eddleman has solid character development for a first-time novelist, leading you to really care about the protagonists and despise the antagonists. This is the first book in this series, and I’m sure it will be successful, as will the follow-up books.

When I read children’s or young adult books, something I really look for, especially as a parent, is whether or not the books teach as well as entertain. In that regard, Eddleman is very successful. In this post World War III world where electrical or magnetic devices are unusable and steel has been weakened by the green bombs, the residents must be creative in how they adapt and re-create what existed prior to WW III, often times in much different ways. This can be demonstrated in how they tackle refrigeration, clocks, antibiotics, farm tools, transport systems, and even a farm implement being re-purposed as a weapon such as a bola.

I definitely recommend this book for children in the recommended age range. But I also believe it could be of interest to young adults and adults.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Write Out Loud” By Carol Barash, PhD

Through NetGalleyMcGraw-Hill Professional was kind enough to share a copy of this eGalley for the purposes of my reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

While I typically review books that interest me in order to provide the publisher and author with an honest review from someone who is hopefully within their target market, I’ve yet to run across a review opportunity that was so perfectly timed.

You see, this is a book that helps high school students write the best possible college application essays, and here I sit with my younger son a high school junior with incredible college potential (he wants to go to med school and is more than capable). So not only do I get to review the book, but I get a great opportunity to see if this is something I would like to get in print format for my son.

That answer, by the way, is a resounding yes.

I have always been a proponent of empowering our children, and I’ve been even more adamant about that following the death of my wife two years ago. Since I don’t know when my time will come, my boys have to be as prepared for life as possible.

One of things I really like about this book is Barash expects parents to be almost completely hands-off in the process. Encourage. Offer suggestions when asked, and only when asked. But under no circumstances fix the writing, not even a comma. Once you start doing that, it’s a slippery slope toward the parent being the author instead of the child. And if our children are going to be independent in college, why not start now?

The most important thing is the story must be in your child’s voice. It may have flaws, it may have grammatical or spelling errors, but most of all it must be honest. Since the admission staff at colleges read hundreds if not thousands of these every year, it’s easy for them to spot a stilted essay that is trying to tell them what the author thinks they want to hear.

Scrap that. As a prospective college student, tell them the story you want to tell. Or better yet, the one you have to tell.

The vast majority of the book consists of exercises to assist the student in writing the best possible essay. Make no mistake about it, the book is intended as a companion to the Story To College website, with which Barash is also affiliated, but it does stand on its own. While I didn’t do all the exercises, as I didn’t want to have any pre-conceived notions of what my son might or might not want to write, I did skim through them to see what they were trying to accomplish, and I am impressed.

Bottom line is, if you have a student who has any interest in going to college, this book could be of great benefit to him or her. I will definitely be getting a print copy for my son.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Bullying Under Attack” By Teen Ink

Via NetGalley, I received a copy of this book from HCI Books for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

As a martial arts instructor to children and youths, bullying is very much on the forefront of my areas of interest. Not just how to protect yourself from and handle bullies in a non-violent manner, but also how to prevent our youngsters from becoming bullies in the first place.

This book is an outstanding collection of prose and poetry written by teens. As the cover states, the stories are told by victims, former bullies and even bystanders. Not all of them are happy endings, but all of them are a message a hope. The victims may not have reached of point of power where the bullying is non-existent or doesn’t bother them anymore, but sometimes a glimpse of hope is all it takes.

I was also pleased to see a couple stories from bystanders who readily admit they did nothing to stop a bullying situation. But by acknowledging it, they are putting themselves on notice to not let it happen again, which is still a positive step.

The editors have included an extensive collection of books, websites, organizations and resources to help. Can’t put enough weight on how those resources might be able to help someone someday.

My favorite excerpt had to the the following, which encapsulates all you need to know, regardless of which side of the bullying coin you fall:

“Define yourself. Be yourself. Love yourself.”  — Elana Burack

Yeah. Exactly.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Sorcerers Of The Nightwing: The Ravenscliff Series #1” By Geoffrey Huntington

I was provided a copy of this eBook by the marketing department at Diversion Books for the purpose of reading and reviewing it. They are re-releasing the first two books of this series at present and, this fall, will be releasing the third book in the series for the first time in English.

Devon March is the fourteen year old son of a single dad who has known from a young age that demons are indeed real. They are in his closet, they are under his bed, and on occasion, they pop out to try and disrupt his life. Devon’s father has always prepared him for the battles, telling Devon he’s stronger than any of them. This works for Devon.

Then, Devon’s father dies. Curiously, Devon’s custody is given to Amanda Muir Crandall, the mistress of Ravenscliff Manor, someone Devon never even knew he existed. The neighboring town is antagonistic toward the Muirs, given the family and manor has a long history of ghosts, trouble and unexplained behavior.

Into this mess Devon is thrown, upon which supernatural activity suddenly picks up in the area. Suddenly Devon must deal with a long-dead Muir trying to release demons upon the world, call Devon and his latent powers to the dark side, and generally serve a cold dish of revenge upon the remaining Muirs. Throw in that Devon suddenly has a budding romance with Cecily, who may or may not be related, and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader interested.

Overall, I found this a very fascinating read. A true litmus test for me is when I have more than a single chapter to complete the book, and I forego sleep to do so. It’s meant to be a YA novel, and I think it’s pretty close to that. I was amused at the mix of “safe” cuss words while a few uncensored “B.S.” bombs were dropped.

My only beef with the book is that there are times throughout it when I speedbumped on a particular word or phrase. It could be the wrong word (“puss” instead of “pus”), a missing word or incomplete sentence, or some other anomaly that made me re-read a passage. It wasn’t enough to cause major problems, but considering the book was originally written in 2002, you would have hoped such errors would have been caught by now.

I will definitely be hunting down the second book in the series as well as the third, when it’s finally released in English by Diversion Books this fall.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)