Summer Days and Summer Nights

A couple of years ago, I read My True Love Gave to Me, a collection of twelve holiday-themed love stories by popular YA authors. It was wonderful. So, when I found out that there would be another anthology, this one devoted to summer romances, I knew I had to read it. I did just that this week.

With authors like Leigh Bardugo, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Tim Federle, Stephanie Perkins, Veronica Roth, and others featured in Summer Days and Summer Nights, I figured that I would be getting some outstanding stories in this book. To a certain extent, I was right. Most of the stories were great. Would I describe all of them as love stories? Not really. Many of them had a certain romantic element in them, but, at least in my opinion, that wasn’t always the central focus of the story, and the whole romance thing worked better in some stories than in others. In a few, it felt kind of forced to me.

That being said, there were some stories that did stand out for me. The first, In Ninety Minutes, Turn North, comes to us from the anthology’s editor, Stephanie Perkins. In this story, we are reintroduced to the characters we first saw in Perkins’ contribution to My True Love Gave to Me, North and Marigold. The two have grown apart, and this tale brings them back together atop Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. This story is charming, funny, heart-breaking, and heart-warming, all at once. I honestly think this is the strongest–and most romantic–of all the stories in this book.

I also enjoyed Libba Bray’s story, Last Stand at the Cinegore. I think that this one is more of a horror story with a bit of romance thrown in. This tale brings us some teenagers, Kevin, Dani, and Dave, working in a horror movie house, and they’re showing a movie that is allegedly cursed. Well, that whole “allegedly” thing is about to be proven to be absolutely true. As it turns out, this movie is a portal to Hell, and Kevin and Dani (with an assist from Dave) have to figure out how to stop the madness this movie is creating while dealing with their own budding romance.

Finally–and this will shock no one–I liked Cassandra Clare’s contribution, Brand New Attraction. It like Bray’s story, is a horror/love story. It focuses on Lulu, a girl trying to keep her father’s dark carnival going. Things are about to go belly up when her Uncle Walter and his stepson, Lucas, come along to–apparently–save the day. But Walter’s plans take the carnival from dark to downright evil, and it’s up to Lulu and Lucas to figure out what’s going on and save the day.

The three stories mentioned above may be my favorites, but most of the others are good in their own right. There’s a nice mix of gay and straight relationships featured, we encounter characters from many different backgrounds, several genres are represented, and nothing is especially graphic. I can honestly say I’m relatively happy with all of the stories…except one. Francesca Lia Block’s story, Sick Pleasure, is, in my opinion, pretty far from a love story. I guess it stays true to its title, though, since it left me feeling kind of sick at the end.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the stories in this anthology. Am I way off base in my feelings on Block’s story? What are your favorites and why? And what do you think makes a good love story? Let me know in the comments!

Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel

*Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel is the sequel to Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything.  It’s not absolutely essential that you read the first book before this one, but it would definitely help.  Also, the first book is made of awesome, so you need to read it anyway.*

If there is a perfect summer read for kids who just finished the fifth grade, Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel, written by Steve Cotler and illustrated by Adam McCauley, might just be it.  As a matter of fact, this is an excellent summer read for kids of all ages, especially those of us who have ever been to summer camp!  (It made me fondly recall my own summers at Camp Marietta.)  Everything that made Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything a great read also holds true for this sequel.  Cheesie’s voice is delightful and laugh-out-loud hilarious, and I know my students will love this book as much as they are currently eating up the first one (which is nominated for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award).

In Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel, readers follow Cheesie, his best friend Georgie, and a whole cast of characters to Camp Windward (for boys) and Camp Leeward (for girls) in Maine. (Events in this book pick up right where they left off in the first book.  It’s the summer after fifth grade graduation.)  Cheesie is sure that this will be the best summer ever because he and Georgie will be the oldest of the Little Guys at camp. Unfortunately, thanks to events that occurred in the first book, things don’t quite work out the way Cheesie had hoped. Now, Cheesie and Georgie are the youngest in the Big Guys group at camp. (Not a big deal if you’re already kind of big like Georgie, but it’s bad news if you’re already a little guy like Cheesie.)  This presents a whole new set of problems, and the biggest one is probably Kevin Welch, his sister Goon’s boyfriend.

Camp Windward is not off to a stellar start, but Cheesie comes up with a way that might help him to make the best of things.  He challenges Kevin to a Cool Duel.  Whoever is voted the coolest in their cabin at the end of a week is the coolest guy at camp!  Kevin gets out to an early lead, but Cheesie isn’t a quick-witted kid for nothing.  He comes up with a couple of things that are sure to earn him some votes.  But will he get enough votes to win the Cool Duel?  You should definitely read this book to find out!

Even though the Cool Duel is a big part of this book (hence the title), there’s also a lot of other stuff going on:  a dance with the girls from Camp Leeward, sneaking into the computer lab, snakes, a talent show, and the most epic scary story in the known universe.  Cheesie also introduces readers to exciting new words (only a few of which are made up) and questions to ponder.  Cheesie’s website, http://cheesiemack.com/, also plays a big part in this book.  This wonderful site makes this book, like its predecessor, truly interactive. 

All in all, Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel is the perfect follow-up to the first book, and I can’t wait to see what Cheesie gets up to next!  (FYI, the third book, Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy!, will be out in June of 2013.  I can’t believe I have to wait that long!  Ugh!!!)  I’m working on organizing an author visit with Steve Cotler to Greenville County (South Carolina) elementary schools in February.  I’m so looking forward to having discussions with my students and the author about both of the wonderful Cheesie Mack books and, hopefully, what we can expect in the third!

Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty

As some may know, I am a sucker for Shakespeare.  I especially love his comedies.  I just finished reading a modern take on one of my favorites, Much Ado About Nothing.  The book is Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty.  At first glance, readers will notice the hot pink cover and think it’s the same old chick lit.  Not so.  Jody Gehrman’s story takes Shakespeare’s timeless work, puts a new spin on it, and hilarity ensues.  I seriously laughed out loud when reading this book (and I was in the waiting room of a doctor’s office at the time, so that was kind of weird).

Geena, her best friend Amber, and and her cousin Hero are working at the Triple Shot Betty coffee shop this summer.  Geena envisions a lovely summer full of girl talk and painting toenails.  Alas, this is not to be.  Amber and Hero appear to hate each other on sight.  Things don’t get any better when a bunch of hot guys are thrown into the mix.  Amber is in love with local scoundrel, John.  John wants Hero.  (By the way, yes, Hero is a girl.)  Hero thinks John is a jerk, and she wants to be with Claudio, the new Italian guy in town.  Geena thinks they’re all crazy until she gets involved in a lovey-dovey drama herself with her school rival Ben.

When Hero rejects John the jerk at a party, the chaos really goes into overdrive.  He seeks revenge in a truly hideous and public manner, and everybody gets ticked at everybody else.  Geena is determined that he must pay, and she’ll do everything she can to see that it happens.  (Yay for teenage girls who refuse to take crap from moronic boys!)  What will happen to Geena and her sister Bettys?  Will John get what’s coming to him, or will he weasel his way out of yet another fiasco?  Read Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty to find out.

If you like this book and want more hi-jinks, check out Jody Gehrman’s Triple Shot Bettys in Love.  That’s the next “light” book on my reading list!

How to Build a House

No, this is not a do-it-yourself manual on how to actually build a house.  In this novel, Dana Reinhardt tells the story of Harper, a teen girl who is escaping the drama of her family life for the summer.  She’s going to Tennessee to help build a house for a family who lost nearly everything in a tornado.

How to Build a House alternates between Harper’s present building the house for this family and the past and the mess her home life became when her dad and stepmother divorced.  Harper is dealing with her father’s faults, her relationship with her former stepsister and best friend Tess, and a new relationship with Teddy, the teen son of the family for whom this house is being built.  Harper seems to find peace this summer, both because of helping out this family and the love she finds with Teddy.

How to Build a House was, at times, a very sweet book.  At other times, being the responsible adult I am, I had issues with how casually rules and sex were treated by the book’s characters.  I am not, however, naive enough to believe that the treatment of these issues in this book were unrealistic.  I would recommend this book for those who want a light summer read.  This book is not terribly deep or hard to read, but it does offer a good message about finding peace with oneself.