If you haven’t already read the first three books in Alyson Noël’s Riley Bloom series (Radiance, Shimmer, and Dreamland), do that before reading this post about book four, Whisper!

Earlier today, I finished reading the fourth and final (?) book in the Riley Bloom series by Alyson Noël.  I found Whisper to be a quick, fun, engaging read that I just know will be a hit with many of my older students.  (For those that don’t know, I’m an elementary school librarian, and my fourth and fifth grade girls absolutely LOVE the Riley Bloom books.)  I also think teen and adult readers will enjoy this story.  I did.

In Whisper, Riley Bloom finds herself on her most difficult assignment as a Soul Catcher.  Riley, Bodhi (her guide), and Buttercup (her dog), travel toRome where it’s up to Riley to convince a ghostly Roman gladiator to cross over into the Here & Now.  There might be a couple of problems with this, though.  The gladiator, Theocoles, also known as the Pillar of Doom, is seemingly stuck in his last moments.  Riley doesn’t know how to get through to him, especially when she realizes that Theocoles can neither see nor hear her.  Riley isn’t sure what to do, but a girl she encounters in Rome may be able to help her.

When Riley first meets Messalina, trust doesn’t come easily.  She knows that Messalina is up to something, but she needs all the help she can get to convince Theocoles to cross over.  So Riley takes Messalina’s advice and immerses herself in the gladiator world.  Riley transforms herself into the young woman she’s always wanted to be and becomes a part of this strange life in ancient Rome.  She may have even found her very first boyfriend.  Riley, or Aurelia as she’s known in this new dream world, soon begins to forget why she was sent to Rome in the first place.  What was her mission again? 

Every once in a while, Riley/Aurelia gets a feeling that she’s supposed to be doing something important, but the answer slips away from her whenever Messalina is near.  Can Riley wake up in time to complete her mission?  Or will she be forever trapped within the world that has captured so many before her?  Can both Riley and Theocoles learn to ignore the cacophony around them and listen to the whisper of truth that will lead them home?  Read Whisper by Alyson Noël to find out!

This past week, I did a few lessons on genre with my second grade students, and we talked about books that fit into more than one genre.  In my opinion, Whisper, like Shimmer, is a good example of that.  Both of these books combine fantasy with a fair amount of historical fiction.  Shimmer, of course, explored what life may have been like as a slave—and even as a slave owner—in the 1700s.  Whisper delved into life in ancient Rome, particularly gladiator culture.  The Ludus Magnus mentioned in this book is real and was considered to be a very important training ground for gladiators.  I was especially interested in Noël’s descriptions of what the spectators of these brutal displays were like.  Even Riley got swept up in the hullabaloo.  I think it showed a disturbing side of human behavior, and it’s only too easy to imagine the world of gladiators rising in popularity in our modern culture.  (Just look at what we watch on television or read Girl in the Arena if you don’t believe me!)

As far as I know, Whisper is the final book in the Riley Bloom series.  (I hope I’m wrong.)  There’s no mention on Goodreads or the author’s website of another book in the works.  If this is the last I see of Riley, I want to say that the journey has been both fun and enlightening.  I hope I get to share this series with many readers in the years to come!

If you want still more Riley Bloom goodness, check out this book trailer for Whisper (produced by Macmillan Children’s):

The Catastrophic History of You and Me

A few days ago, my friend Jen (also a kick-butt librarian) recommended that I move The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg to the top of my reading list.  I took her advice, and I am SO GLAD that I did.  This book is made of awesome!  Within the first fifty pages, I had laughed, cried, and started singing a soundtrack in my head.  Things only got better from there.  The voice of the main character, Brie, is so spot-on that I felt like I was in the head of a somewhat self-centered almost-sixteen-year-old.  (Yes, I’m aware “self-centered” describes most, if not all, almost-sixteen-year-olds.  I know it describes what I was like at that age.  That’s what makes this character so relatable.)  I can’t think of anything negative to say about this book, and, for those who know me, that is saying something.  I loved the characters, the chapter titles (popular songs that oh-so-accurately describe Brie’s journey), the plot, the subplots, and the extremely satisfying conclusion.  This book is a winner!

Brie is almost sixteen when she dies of a broken heart.  Yep.  A broken heart.  Her boyfriend tells her he doesn’t love her, and Brie drops dead in the middle of her dinner.  Her heart simply splits in two.  Everyone is baffled, especially Brie.  This just doesn’t happen, so, of course, it happened to her.  Now what is she supposed to do?  Spend eternity watching everyone go on without her? 

As it turns out, being D&G (Dead and Gone) is a little more complicated that Brie thought it would be.  With the help of Patrick—resident Lost Soul, hot guy, and one of the first people she encounters in her new “life,” Brie will go through the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance—so that she and everyone she left behind can move on.  Brie gets the sense that Patrick wants her to move on with him, but how can she when her heart is broken and love seems to bring nothing but pain?  Can she learn to love again despite everything?

Brie isn’t having an easy time of it.  (Apparently, death is not all fluffy clouds, eating chocolate, and frolicking in meadows.)  Those she left behind are falling apart (with a little help from her in a couple of cases), and Brie wants to make things right for them.  The more she learns about what happened after her death, the more determined she becomes to make the lives of those she still loves better.  But how can she do this?  What will she have to give up for a second chance to make things right?  Can Brie make things better for herself (and Patrick) as well?  What will it take to reverse the catastrophe that her life—and her death—has become?  Discover how broken hearts are healed when you read The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg!

In the words of my friend Jen, “I loved this book hard.”  It was absolute perfection, and I find it hard to believe that this is the author’s first novel.  The book is that good.  It even inspired me to visit iTunes and add a few songs to my playlist.  If you’re looking for a book that grips you from the first page, makes you laugh and cry, and makes you examine your own relationships—with family, friends, first loves, and soul mates—you must read The Catastrophic History of You and Me.   Seriously.

For more information on author Jess Rothenberg and her amazing writing, visit http://www.jessrothenberg.com/ or follow her on Twitter @JessRothenberg.

For even more goodness from The Catastrophic History of You and Me, check out this book trailer from PenguinYoungReaders:


Warning!  Read the first book in Alyson Noël’s Riley Bloom series, Radiance, before reading this post.  I’ll be talking a bit about the second book, Shimmer, and I don’t want to spoil things for you!

As many of you know, I am in my second year as an elementary school librarian.  While my first love is (and always will be) young adult fiction, the past two years have made me examine quite a few books for younger readers.  Last year, I read Alyson Noël’s Radiance, and I saw right away how this book could be a gateway for my students into the wonderful world of YA fiction.  A lot of my fourth and fifth grade students want to read books like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and other popular books that are being talked about in the media, but, in my professional opinion, those books are not written or intended for readers that young.  (I’m not saying this is true for all elementary students.  Some, of course, are more mature than others.  I’m just saying I will not purchase these books for my elementary school library because they are not, in my view, written with younger readers in mind.)  Radiance, and the rest of the Riley Bloom series, allowed me to provide my students with at least one series that had some YA appeal yet was still appropriate for young readers.

Radiance was so popular with my fourth and fifth grade girls that I had to purchase the next two books, Shimmer and Dreamland, or I would have had a riot on my hands.  At the urging of my students, I put Shimmer on my Spring Break reading list, and I’m happy to say that I finished it just this morning.  (I’ll be reading Dreamland later this week.)  Shimmer was just as cool as Radiance, and I can’t wait to talk to my girls about it when we return to school next week.  (I know this will also be true of Dreamland.)

After the success of her first assignment as a Soul Catcher, Riley Bloom is enjoying a bit of a vacation with her dog, Buttercup, and her guide, Bodhi.  Surely she can keep herself out of trouble on one tiny vacation, right?  Yeah…not so much.

It all starts with a scary black dog and a conversation with Bodhi on free will.  Riley decides to exercise her own free will, follow the black dog, and find out just what he’s guarding.  This decision leads Riley, Bodhi, and Buttercup on a journey that will introduce them to another “ghost” (for lack of a better word) and force all of them to relive the most horrid experiences of their short times on earth.

Rebecca, in spite of her unfortunate tastes in afterlife clothing, seems to be relatively harmless when Riley first meets her, but Rebecca is holding on to a lot of anger, and she’s determined to make everyone as miserable as she is.  She keeps everyone around her—those who she blames for her death—imprisoned in the most horrible memories of their lives.  She even finds a way to make Riley, Bodhi, and even poor Buttercup experience the worst moments of their lives.  Can they escape the horror and anger that holds them captive?  Is there any way to get away and lead these tortured souls to the Here and Now?

Riley is determined to help everyone escape Rebecca, but she fears she may not be up to the task.  After all, she’s only twelve years old (and she always will be).  What could she possibly do?  She can barely let go of her own anger over the abrupt end to her life.  How can she possibly help everyone else let go of their anger and cross the bridge to the other side?  How can she convince Rebecca to let go of what happened in her life when Riley’s having such a hard time with the same thing?  Find out what “letting go” really means when you read Shimmer, the gripping second book in the Riley Bloom series, by Alyson Noël!

Although there are some scary moments in Shimmer, I would recommend this book—and Radiance, of course—to readers from fourth grade on up.  There may even be some third grade students who will be able to handle it.  I really think this book in particular will generate some discussions on the plight of slaves in the early Americas and the impact slave revolts had on slaves and their former masters.  According to the author’s note, the story was inspired by actual events, a 1773 slave revolt in the Danish West Indies (now St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands).  Realizing this made Shimmer even more poignant for me.

If you’d like more information on Alyson Noël and the Riley Bloom series, visit http://www.alysonnoel.com/.  You can also follow the author on Twitter @AlysonNoel.

If you’re still not convinced to give Shimmer a try, check out this book trailer from MacMillanChildrens on YouTube:


It’s been a while since my last post, and I’m sorry about that.  Part of the reason is that it’s the end of the school year, and I have about a ton of paperwork to do.  The other part of the reason is that my latest choice of reading material was really hard to get into.

In Tonya Hurley’s Ghostgirl, unpopular Charlotte chokes on a gummy bear at school and dies.  Interesting start to a book, yes?  In her new death, Charlotte meets other dead teens in her Dead Ed class.  Apparently, each of them has some sort of unresolved issue they have to work out in order to cross over, but Charlotte is more interested in staying with the living.  She’s still got a crush on popular guy Damen, and she’ll to anything, including possess someone, in order to get him.  Will Charlotte learn to “live” with her new circumstances?  Or will she try to be popular forever?

While I think Ghostgirl has an interesting concept (and a great cover), the book itself just didn’t do it for me.  Much of the book felt disconnected, and I never really got a handle on any of the characters.  I was bored through most of the book, and I had to force myself to finish it.  Other readers may feel differently about this book, but I just didn’t care for it.