An often compelling story that immerses its readers in a very different time.

Charlie Fig and the Lip

Teenage friends in 1950s Brooklyn dodge cops and mobsters in this YA thriller.

In June 1959, Aaron Lipstein—known as “the Lip”—is the class valedictorian of the elite Bronx High School of Science in New York City, and he plans to enter Columbia University in the fall. His friend Charlie Figatelli is a petty thief who spends his time on the streets of Brooklyn. Aaron has a strained relationship with his dad, a taxi driver who earned a Silver Star in World War II. Charlie’s father, meanwhile, runs a bakery that’s actually a front for gambling and moneylending. Things get complicated when Charlie persuades Aaron to help him steal hubcaps; Charlie steals a car, leaving Aaron literally holding the bag, or bags, filled with stolen goods, until the local bully, Vito, expropriates them. The car is eventually found, and the cops interview Aaron, who says that Vito stole it. Then Mr. Figatelli’s truck is found in Jamaica Bay full of bullet holes, and everyone thinks he’s dead. Charlie insists on searching the marshes of the bay for his dad’s body, so that his father can have a real funeral, and not just a simple memorial service. Further complications arise when a mobster follows them, in order to make sure that Mr. Figatelli is really dead. The marshes prove to be another world, complete with a derelict amusement park, a deranged World War II veteran, and an isolated village of Dutch-speaking fishermen. Debut author Charnow has written an engaging period tale about fathers and sons. Written from Aaron’s point of view, it captures much of the stress and anxiety of being a teenager, along with Aaron’s up-and-down feelings about what his father has made of his life, and what he will make of his own. There are minor issues, however: The author’s admitted “liberties” with historical events are ill-advised; Aaron’s inner monologues sometimes seem overly formal for a self-conscious teen; and some of the violence near the end of the book (“Blood spewed from Stellini’s mouth, spraying out like paint flicked from a brush”) seems excessive.

An often compelling story that immerses its readers in a very different time.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692326626

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Unsolicited Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2015

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A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.



In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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