Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Death By Bikini

Sixteen year old Aphra Behn Cohen runs a remote tropical resort with her father, the place where rockers come to hide from the paparazzi. Unfortunately for Aphra, rockers aren't the only ones hiding on their island. When a guest dies and others appear not to be what they seem, Aphra decides to live up to her namesake (apparently the first female spy...but wasn't that Mata Hari?) and find out what is going on.

I rented a house on the other side of the island and pulled what looked like the most likely beach read from my stack of books waiting to be read. I wasn't disappointed by Death By Bikini. Aphra is a fun character and it will be easy for my students to put themselves in her shoes. While she never specifies what island she lives on, I believe it is Hawaii. Too bad, because I would love to be able to recommend a teen mystery that takes place in the Caribbean!

Despite the fact that the cover raises eyebrows, I found this to be a fun mystery that my middle school students will love. When I drive back to my end of the island, I will be stopping at one of their houses so that this Linda Gerber's fun novel can start getting passed around.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dear John

Oh, I get it now. Nicholas Sparks writes sad books. Why did it take me so long to pick up on this?! I just finished Dear John, my third Sparks novel, and said "Sad ending." My friend said, "Don't you say that after all of them?" Ahhh, light dawns on marblehead harbor!
Dear John tells the story of army grunt John Tyree's love affair with Savannah Curtis, a southern do-gooder who loves horses. The unlikely pair meet on a North Carolina beach and fall in love, then spend the rest of their relationship corresponding by letters, until the inevitable "Dear John" letter arrives. The story is pretty predictable, except for the scenes with John's socially awkward father.

Something that has bothered me about the Nicholas Sparks novels that I have read is that the female characters are unrealistic. I know that he writes them to be role models for teenagers, but I think that they should have some flaws. Savannah, for example, doesn't drink or have sex, organizes house-building projects for the underprivileged, gets advanced degrees, is gorgeous, is gifted with horses, loves her family, etc. The list goes on and never really discusses any insecurities or major imperfections she has. I admire the idea of creating moral characters, but not when they are at a standard that few people could ever reach. Dear John will probably be the last Sparks book I read; I'd rather be re-reading The Hunger Games!

Friday, June 25, 2010


I recently mentioned that I love when novels have multiple narrators. I should add the caveat that I want to like (or at least be interested in) the characters. None of the three narrators in Jumped are worth the few hours that it took me to read it.

Jumped relates a day in the life of Dominique (a psychopathic basketball player), Trina (a conceited, hyperactive artist), and Leticia (a gossip who sits back and watches as Dominique prepares to jump Trina for an imagined insult). The story builds confusingly to the inevitable conclusion, leaving the reader shrugging her shoulders and tossing the book to the side.

Two things shocked me: this book was a National Book Award finalist and Rita Williams-Garcia took four years to write it. Jumped won't be joining my school library, not because it is racy or inappropriate, but because it is not worth my students' time.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dead Is The New Black

Dead Is The New Black is pure fun. It joins all of the other books in the werewolf/vampire category that Twilight has inspired. Marlene Perez's first book in this series is a welcome, frothy addition.

Daisy Giordano is the youngest in a series of psychics that live in the distinctly supernatural town of Nightshade, California. When the cheerleaders begin showing up in goth gear and teenage girls start dying, Daisy teams up with her new boyfriend (who happens to be the son of the chief of police) to figure out what is happening.

Dead Is The New Black is unpredictable; I had no idea who was committing the crimes and made several false guesses as I read. I was also a huge fan of the character of Daisy. She is a cool teenager who loves to cook and spend time with her family. She is also able to straddle different levels of high school hierarchy realistically. Daisy is a role model worth sharing with the adolescents in your life.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

It's official, I will read anything from the Twilight Saga. After learning that The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is available for free online, I've been dedicating all my spare moments to reading it and thoroughly enjoying it.

This novella (less than 200 pages!) describes a newborn vampire, Bree Tanner, who is being trained in an army that will ultimately attack the Cullens, known as yellow-eyed old vampires in the book. I love that Meyer writes about the life of "normal" vampires--the ones who have no respect for humans. After finishing, I found myself to be more intrigued about the lives of the characters. I would love to read a novella about Jasper's history and Esme's and Alice's. Not only is there obviously a huge audience for more novels in this vein, but it is a seed idea that has so much potential. We're on summer break now, so I had to call a few students to let them know to check out Meyer's latest work online. Still, I'll be ordering a hard copy for everyone who didn't get to the internet fast enough!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume One

We just had a ton of new books donated by Readbahamas.org, including Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume One. I added this book to our wishlist out of curiosity. My students are obsessed with Twilight and also with graphic novels. This combination was irresistible.

Some may wonder, why buy this when everyone's already read the novels and seen the movies? Some might think it is just essential for the die hard fans. Actually, there are a lot of students who haven't read it yet. These are the seventh graders who have seen the movies, but aren't at the reading level where they can digest the books.

I have to admit, I was excited to see how artist Young Kim rendered the characters and, of course, the infamous Edward-sparkles-in-a-field scene. The illustrations are gorgeous and combine manga style with photographs and mix color in with the black and white. It is a beautifully, well done work.

Something to note is that this volume only tells the story through Bella and Edward's date in the woods. I guess I'll have to add Volume Two to the wish list! Another exciting item is that Stephenie Meyer's novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is available online through early July for free!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Last Song

The Last Song is my first Nicholas Sparks novel. I had seen The Notebook, but had avoided his books after reading a few preachy pages of A Walk To Remember. To the overwhelming joy of my students, a stack of Sparks' novels were just donated to our school. I decided to check one out and see if it merited the dreaded "Grade Nine Only" label.

The novel follows Ronnie, a New York rebel that is sent with her brother to spend the summer in North Carolina with their estranged father. Ronnie begins as a snotty teen who flies off the handle constantly. Eventually, though, she meets a sweet boy named Will and learns that there is more to her father than she thought. The plot of this novel is extremely predictable, but still enjoyable. I think that my students will be enthralled by the possibility of finding love with a kind, wealthy, athletic, smart, sensitive (the list goes on) boy on the beach. Why not? I wish that for them!

One thing I remembered as I read this novel is that I love when stories are told from the perspectives of multiple characters. The Jodi Picoult novels I've been perusing have done the same thing and it really amps me up as a reader. Another interesting fact is that this novel was developed in conjunction with the film, starring Miley Cyrus. Maybe I am being snobby, but I had a flicker of disappointment that the book was created just so there could be a movie. I quickly got over that by spending some time laughing at the extremely detailed wikipedia page.

As for the "Grade Nine Only" label, I am still up in the air. The main characters are very chaste and moral, but some of the pastimes of the secondary characters are controversial. There are also more than a few references to Ronnie's "tight little body" (a bit gross, knowing that Sparks wrote the book with Cyrus in mind). Knowing that my incoming eighth graders are a pretty young bunch, I am inclined to keep it for the older students only.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Lonely Hearts Club

Do teenagers still like The Beatles? This is a question that came to mind as I read The Lonely Hearts Club. Elizabeth Eulberg's novel is brimming with Beatles references, from the awesome cover to the name of the main character, Penny Lane Bloom. I'll be interested to hear my students' response to all the Beatles trivia; honestly, I bet they won't even notice it.

The Lonely Hearts Club is a fun, breezy novel about what happens when heartbroken Penny decides to swear off dating and form The Lonely Hearts Club. Rapidly, many other disillusioned high school girls join up and begin to improve themselves and their school. Penny is happily baffled by the popularity of the club until she realizes she's not ready to swear off dating.

The self empowerment message is fairly simple in this novel, but may be exciting for readers who are experiencing it for the first time. I liked that Penny stood up for herself against an ingratiating ex and a pretty psycho classmate. I can easily imagine my bold eighth grade girls rooting for Penny. It's worth adding to your shelf.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Lockdown is the first Walter Dean Myers novel that I can recommend wholeheartedly. I wasn't a fan of Slam or Monster, but figured I would give this a read so I could add it to the summer reading pile for my students.

Lockdown is a much easier read than Monster, more straight-forward storytelling and just as brutal. Reese is fourteen and in juvenile hall for stealing prescription pads. Usually I dislike protagonists that can't seem to stay out of trouble, but Myers makes Reese likable and his choices more understandable. The reader is sympathetic to Reese and wants him to succeed, but knows (as Reese does) that it won't be easy when he is back on the streets.

This is a novel that will appeal to my male students who are fascinated by all things gangster, but really don't understand what that means. Myers does a great job of taking the shine off of a life of crime.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wherever Nina Lies

We just received a stack of new books, thanks to Presenting Lenore's IBBM Program. The first one I chose to read was Wherever Nina Lies, based on the excitement the cover generated from my students.

At first I wasn't too jazzed about the book. While I was intrigued by protagonist Ellie's search for her long-missing sister, the descriptions of the people she encounters in her search remind me too much of a rip off of Francesa Lia Block. Love her, but only need one of her. Halfway through the novel, Ellie hits the road to search for her sister with Sean, her new crush. This is when things heat up. The second half of the novel was riveting and full of surprises. Unfortunately, things heat up between Ellie and Sean a bit too much for my middle school. I don't mind the cursing, but page 166 is too steamy for me to defend to parents. Still, I will keep it in a pile of books reserved for high school alums that stop by for summer reading books.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I am amassing a good collection of coming of age novels for the seventh grade set. Like the protagonist of Twelve, Raina Telgemeier is having a hard time while growing up. The autobiographical graphic novel begins with Raina falling down and knocking out her front teeth. During her subsequent middle and high school years, Raina suffers through many painful dental surgeries. On top of this physical pain, she endures the emotional stress of false friends, first crushes, and puberty.

I read Smile during reading workshop today and already have a list of students who will love it. My kids love graphic novels and the reassurance that their awkward adolescent moments are commonplace. I liked that Raina's family is supportive and realistic, also that her life didn't end because she realized her friends are jerks. Smile is a great addition to any middle school library; I will be checking out Telgemeier's graphic versions of The Babysitters Club series as well.

Note: I received this book through Presenting Lenore's International Book Blogger Mentor Program. I am so lucky!