August 26, 2012

Review: Tess, Terrorists, and the Tiara

Title and author: Tess, Terrorists, and the Tiara by Terry Baldwin
Publisher: Middleton Books
Pages: 221
Release Date: August 10, 2012
ISBN: 9780971661189
Source: The publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

Thirteen-year old Tess has never been able to compete with her “perfect” older sister, but now she must—if she wants to inherit her grandmother’s priceless tiara. The two girls have been invited to their grandparent’s lake house for the summer to help take care of Grandma who’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The sister who earns the most “helpful points” wins the former beauty queen’s crown.

"It’s not easy for Tess, who seems to always get things wrong despite best intentions. And who is that mysterious stranger who’s just moved next door to their grandparents’ summer cottage?
Does he know that Tess’ grandmother was once the winner of a famous patriotic beauty contest? Or that she keeps her tiara where anyone can steal it? And why doesn’t he have a face?

My Thoughts:

While the novel’s heroine, Tess, is thirteen, the core audience for this book seems to be a bit younger, maybe ten or eleven.

Tess is a delightful character that a lot of young girls can find a piece of themselves. She is on the cusp of being a teenager, she has an older sister everyone seems to prefer, and she is quite forgetful. But the one thing that causes her to stand out from her sister is that she is not motivated by anything other than being herself. She is who she is, and she will not compromise that, even if it means she will lose a shot at her grandmother’s tiara. After all, her sister is overly helpful, and she seems to always beat Tess at volunteering for everything.

So what happens when Tess takes out the boat to explore the waters only discover a possible terrorist plot that is designed to steal her grandmother’s tiara? A misunderstanding. This is where the novel’s message lies – to not jump to conclusions without knowing facts; to open one’s heart and one’s mind to find the truth; to not allow irrational fears to overtake reason.

The chapters of the novel were short, and they helped set the pacing of the novel. While the pacing itself was quite fast, the development of the message was not. The message of the novel is quite clear, but it does not become the center of the story until toward the end. This is a mistake because it causes this part of the novel to feel disjointed from the rest. Since I am an older reader, this might be something I notice more than a younger reader, who will be caught up in who will win the tiara and who/what is the faceless creature Tess keeps seeing.

Ultimately, this novel will appeal to female tween readers because it is an adorable tale of acceptance and being true to one’s self. And let us not forget the alliterated title, which will have many tweens picking it up off the shelf.

Spotlight on...two Meg Cabot reads

Good morning readers! I hope all is well in your worlds. Spotlight on... is a celebration of books that are no longer new to the bookshelves but deserve a continued interest in reading them because they are worth it. A book will be featured each weekend, so check back to see what will be next.

Next weekend is the Decatur Book Festival, and since I am planning to hear and meet Meg Cabot, I thought she was the perfect choice for this morning. I am pleased to bring two Cabot reads back into the spotlight, All-American Girl and its sequel Ready or Not.

I read both of these novels via audio a couple of years ago, and they were fabulous! Seriously fabulous. So fabulous that they are two of my "go to" novels for reluctant female teen readers.

Since I listened to these novels before my blog, they have not been reviewed on here; however, I have reviewed books on Shelfari for a long while now, so I will share my Shelfari review for each novel.

All-American Girl:

I just adore Samantha's character in this book. She is witty and a true 15-year-old. Her rationale for so many things made me laugh, because, well, I was 15 once and remember how dumb I was.

The basic plot is simple - Sam's parents send her to art lessons, which she hates, so she skips. Little did she know that the day she skipped would be the same day she would keep a would-be assassin from killing the U.S. President. Oh, yeah, and she thinks she is in love with her sister's boyfriend.

I listened to this book on CD. Ariadne Myers was the reader and she was phenomenal. Even my husband loved listening to the book. We drove around an extra two miles because he wanted to hear how the story would end. (This is a true story about my hubby, and he's not ashamed to admit it. It was that good.)

Ready or Not:

A cute follow-up to All-American Girl where the reader is taken into Sam's world one year after she thwarted an assassination attempt on the U.S. President.

This time, instead of thinking she is in love with Jack, she is fighting through feelings of whether or not she should have sex with her boyfriend of over a year. I found parts of this book a little "yeah right," but still enjoyed it immensely. I felt Cabot really addressed the question of whether Sam and her boyfriend were ready or not to move their relationship onto a higher level. She took the leap with care and understanding.

I highly recommend this to anyone who has read the first book or to anyone who enjoys YA lit.

With a combination of hilarity, realism, and lovable characters, All-American Girl and Ready or Not deserve another moment in the spotlight.

Have you read and/or reviewed either of these novels? Leave a link to your review and share your thoughts below.

Happy Reading!

August 14, 2012

Review: Shakespeare on Toast

Title and author: Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal
Publisher: Icon Books
Pages: 263
Release Date: September 11, 2012
ISBN:  9781848310544
Source: NetGalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Who's afraid of William Shakespeare? Just about everyone. He wrote too much and what he did write is inaccessible and elitist. Right? Wrong. "Shakespeare on Toast" knocks the stuffing from the staid old myth of Shakespeare, revealing the man and his plays for what they really are: modern, thrilling and uplifting drama. Actor and author Ben Crystal brings the bright words and colourful characters of the world's greatest hack writer brilliantly to life, handing over the key to Shakespeare's plays, unlocking the so-called difficult bits and, astonishingly, finding Shakespeare's own voice amid the poetry.

Told in five fascinating Acts, "Shakespeare on Toast" sweeps the cobwebs from the Bard - from his language, his life, his time - revealing both the man and his work to be relevant, accessible and full of beans. This is a book for everyone, whether you're reading Shakespeare for the first time, occasionally find him troublesome, think you know him backwards, or have never set foot near one of his plays but have always wanted to ...It's quick, easy and good for you. Just like beans on toast.

My Thoughts:

Ben Crystal attempts the “impossible”: to make readers feel relaxed, calm, and comfortable with The Bard. If the title does not relax you and lure you into reading it with a cup of coffee, then Crystal’s writing style surely will.

The author has a relaxed style that is inviting to even the most hesitant reader. After all, we’ve all read books on and/or about Willy Shakes, right? Well, this is not a typical biography. Actually, it’s no biography at all. It is a well-executed piece of literature that covers all facets of Elizabethan England as well as James I.

The layout of the book mirrors that of a Shakespearean play, Acts I to V. He brings readers into the world of Shakespeare with a light-hearted, realistic approach to Shakespeare’s life and work. The historical context in which he places readers helps create a world that is accessible instead of one that is ancient and far past. This is not about Shakespeare, or Queen Elizabeth I, or King James I – this is about how life and culture merge and how Shakespeare created a theater experience through his writing.

There are biographical elements, ones that I found interesting and plan to share with my students. These biographical snapshots are necessary for context of the information, not just there to say, “Hey, look at me and what I know about Shakespeare!” and I appreciate that.

With interesting tidbits such as an American Civil War soldier finding himself so wrapped into the world of one of Shakespeare’s plays that he found it necessary to act himself, Crystal makes Shakespeare’s writing accessible to even the most novice reader.

But what I loved most about the book as a whole is how approachable the material truly is. The author teaches readers how to relish the words of Shakespeare, and through providing a meter lesson with Hamlet and Macbeth, he helps teachers like myself to take his strategy and apply it within my own classroom. I even found myself counting meter with him as he explains Shakespeare’s genius in not only using exact meter but also in breaking it, begging the audience to pay attention to the character/plot at that particular moment, asking themselves why, and opening a discussion about meaning.

And while this is not a teacher’s guide to Shakespeare, Crystal made me feel so comfortable with the book that I found myself nodding along, counting along, cheering and laughing as he delved into the writing of Shakespeare. I teach Hamlet, and I plan to take his meter lesson and using it in my own classroom, which is a sneaky way to teach students how to measure meter without realizing they are truly “learning.”

I recommend this book to everyone – teachers and anyone who has felt he/she did not understand Shakespeare.

And a final plug for why you should read this book: "A brilliantly enjoyable, light-hearted look at Shakespeare which dispels the myths and makes him accessible to all. I love it!” – Judi Dench

Judi Dench has spoken. If it's good enough for Judi, a Shakespearean actress of awesomeness, it's good enough for you too!

For more, visit Shakespeare On Toast online

August 11, 2012

Spotlight on...Awaken

Good morning readers! I hope all is well in your worlds.Spotlight on... is a celebration of books that are no longer new to the bookshelves but deserve a continued interest in reading them because they are worth it. A book will be featured each Saturday, so check back to see what will be next.

I am pleased to bring Awaken back into the spotlight. 

I bought this book last summer, and when I finished reading it, I was in love with it. A lot. 

This is one book that is always on my "You must read this book!" list for my students. It gives readers a glimpse into what life could be like in 2060, and let me tell you, it is not too far off from how many of our teens live today.

While Kacvinsky's debut novel is dystopian, I feel like it could be considered realistic fiction as well. But you will have to read the book to find out why, and then re-visit this post, or my original review, and let me know what you think.

With the combination of realism, solid storytelling, strong characters, and a topical discussion piece in the classroom, Awaken deserves another moment in the spotlight. 
The novel's sequel, Middle Ground, will be out this fall. I canNOT wait. Did I mention I am excited? A lot.

Have you read/reviewed Awaken? If so, leave your thoughts on the novel and/or a link to your review in the comments section.

Happy Reading!