Archive for Romance

Booktalk: The Program by Suzanne Young

Program cover

Maybe you think you’re sick of dystopian future books, already.  Maybe you think that if you have to read one more book, look at one more book, or even think about one more book, you’re just going to …

Well, no.  You’re not going to kill yourself.  In fact, even if you THINK you’re sick of dystopian books, you’re going to make an exception for The Program by Suzanne Young because it’s a super-cool mind-bending story that is packed to the gills with drama and excitement.

I’m not kidding.  Go read this book.  And then sit next to me while we grind our teeth and wait for the sequel.


Several years ago, teen suicide was declared a national epidemic.  One out of three teenagers were killing themselves, and nobody knew why.  Maybe it was something in the food.  Maybe it was because so many people were taking antidepressants.  Maybe it had something to do with peer pressure.  Parents used to say things like, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” but now they don’t say that anymore.

It’s hard for Sloane and James not to think about suicide when they’re surrounded by death on all sides.  But they have to hide their true feelings, because now the government is involved.  Now if teens start showing any signs of depression, government agents can take them away and force them into the Program.  The Program is the only known cure for suicidal thoughts.  On the plus side, at the end of six weeks, you don’t have those suicidal thoughts anymore.  But on the minus side, you’ll lose your memories of your friends, your family, and everything that was ever important to you.  In other words … you might as well be dead.

Sloane and James will do anything to keep each other safe and stay out of the Program.  They will do anything to keep themselves whole, and keep their minds from being wiped clean.  But unfortunately, they won’t be the ones making the final decision.

Booktalk: All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

With today’s book we revisit author Gabrielle Zevin., the author of Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac and several other excellent novels.  All These Things I’ve Done mixes realistic fiction (a teen having issues with her friends and family) with mystery in a dystopian future setting.  This is an exciting and suspenseful story that will appeal to all teen audiences, but especially to teens familiar with New York landmarks, who will recognize several of the places the characters visit in this reimagined world.  This is also a good book to recommend to adults who are browsing through the teen shelves looking for dystopian future books.  And for readers who get to the last page and want to know what happens next, the next book in the Birthright series Because It Is My Blood was just released this fall!


In the future, chocolate is illegal.  So are camera phones, coffee, Prozac, and about a million other things.  Lots of stuff is rationed, because it’s only available in limited supply — stuff like paper, candles, and even air conditioning.  In a society that survives by getting things on the black market, Anya Balanchine is in a very powerful position.  That’s because she’s part of a crime family that deals in chocolate.  Unfortunately that means that people like Gabe, her jerk of an ex-boyfriend, know that there’s always some chocolate in her apartment.  So when he shows up one night begging for chocolate, Anya gives him two bars just to make him go away.  When Gabe doesn’t show up the next day, nobody realizes that anything is wrong.  But when the police show up at school, Anya is told that Gabe was poisoned by the chocolate she gave him, and that he’s in the hospital in critical condition.  This raises a couple of big questions, like who poisoned the chocolate and who was supposed to eat it?  But those big questions are pushed aside for a bigger problem when Anya is arrested for attempted murder.

Booktalk: Beta by Rachel Cohn

When I went on a recent reading spree so that I could come up with some candidates for my favorite teen books of 2012, Beta stood out for several reasons.  First, it stood out because it was a dystopian fiction novel, and Lord knows I’m a fan of dystopian fiction.  But Beta also stood out because I saw that it was written by Rachel Cohn, who had already earned my admiration with realistic fiction books like Gingerbread.  No, seriously, if you haven’t read Gingerbread yet and want a book with a great protagonist that puts the “real” in realistic fiction, go read it now!

So even though I didn’t know if Rachel Cohn could pull off a science fiction novel, the fact that I knew she was great with realistic fiction made me want to read this book.  And I was richly rewarded when I did!  By the way, the ending of this book was such a surprising cliffhanger that I imagine that both teens and adults who read this book will be clamoring to get their hands on the next book in the series as soon as it’s written.


Elysia is sixteen years old, and she was born that way.  When she woke up in the lab, she saw a woman standing there and asked if she was Elysia’s mother.  The woman seemed angry.  She said she was Elysia’s creator, not her mother.  You see, Elysia is a clone, and a very special one at that.  Adult clones have been around for years, but Elysia is one of the first teenage clones.  The scientists call the teenage clones Betas because they’re not sure if the science is perfected yet.  They’re a little worried about the effect of teenage hormones, and they think that the teen clones might not be stable yet.  That being said, Elysia appears to be a perfect specimen.  She’s beautiful, she’s smart … well, the chip in her brain is smart, anyway.  And most importantly, she’s polite.  When a rich woman buys Elysia to be her companion, Elysia finally gets to see more of the world than just the lab and the store where she was bought.  Elysia starts learning about the world and about herself.  Elysia knows that the real girl that she was cloned from is dead, because a clone can only be created after a person’s soul is extracted.  But Elysia doesn’t know who that person was.  Did she have a lot of friends?  What was her name?  How did she die?  Does anyone miss her?  Clones are supposed to be content to serve.  They’re not supposed to ask questions.  But Elysia can’t help but wonder about the real girl who looked just like her.

And then one day Elysia goes swimming, and when she dives underwater she suddenly sees a strange young man in the water with her.  He speaks to her and then, suddenly, he’s gone.  Elysia has never seen this man before … and yet she knows him.  She knows from the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice that this is the man who loved the girl who died so that Elysia could be created.

Elysia just had a flashback from a dead girl.  That DEFINITELY wasn’t supposed to happen.

Booktalk: Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

Sure, we’ve all read stories about cool, distant vampires and the swooning women who love them. Whether the vampires are of the bloodthirsty or sparkling varieties, we spend most of those stories focused on the couple, waiting to see how long it will take for the human woman to melt his cold, undead heart.  What I enjoyed about Team Human is that it’s a vampire story that isn’t focused on the vampire at all.  Instead it focuses on that swooning girl’s best friend, and we get to experience the love story through the perspective of a girl who is understandably worried.  How would you feel if your best friend was thinking about literally throwing her life away?  Wouldn’t you be angry, upset, and afraid?  How far would you go to protect her?

Check out the websites of Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan to learn more about these authors and the rest of their fabulous stories.


Friends don’t let friends date vampires.  At least, that’s what Mel has always believed.

Mel and her friends live in New Whitby, Maine, a city that was founded by vampires.  Now, it’s not that Mel objects to vampires in general.  As long as they stay in their part of town and leave the humans alone, it’s just fine.  But when one of the vampires shows up at Mel’s high school — the HUMAN high school, Mel starts getting upset.  And when Mel’s best friend Cathy, a girl who has always admired vampires from afar seems interested in getting as close as possible to THIS vampire, Mel starts getting REALLY upset.

Yes, it’s true that most vampires obey vampire laws and human laws.  It’s true that they have a steady blood supply now, so they don’t need to attack people anymore.  But it’s also true that sometimes when humans fall in love with vampires, they CHOOSE to be bitten.  They CHOOSE to transform.  And that transformation can sometimes lead to death, or even worse.

Much, much worse.

Mel and Cathy have been best friends for years, and Mel will do anything to protect her.  But the way Cathy keeps looking at Francis the vampire, as she sighs dreamily over his cool skin and his undead eyes, Mel has very good reasons to be worried.

Booktalk: Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

Keturah and Lord Death was one of those books I never thought I’d be able to share here.  That’s because it had only been offered in hardcover, and the hardcover edition was out of print.  But then I discovered that it’s being released in paperback next month, so if you don’t already have copies of this book on your library shelves, BUY SOME NOW!

I’ve recently been dusting off my notes from the “Booktalking 101” presentation I’ve given to students in the past.  One of the topics I discuss is the importance of having a really powerful first sentence that will captivate your audience and make them listen.  The first sentence of this booktalk is one of the examples I use to demonstrate the power of an opening sentence.  Yes, this is kind of a girl book, and yes, this is kind of a romance.  But if you show the boys and girls in your audience that this is a fantasy book with a dark edge, you’ll be able to capture all of their attention.

You can learn more about Martine Leavitt on her Goodreads profile.  I’d recommend you visit her website, but right now it’s really more of a work in progress


Keturah is 16 years old, and she’s waiting to die.  She entered the forest near her cottage three days ago, and it was a long time before she realized she was lost.  Now her clothes are torn, she’s covered in insect bites, and she’s starving.  When death comes, he appears in the form of a terrifying, cold, and beautiful man.  He is wearing a black cape and riding a black stallion.  Keturah is not afraid of Death – he’s already taken her mother, her father, and her grandfather, so she feels like she knows him already.

Keturah begins to tell Death a story – a story of a love that could not be conquered by Death.  As she tells her story, Death listens carefully, becoming more and more involved in her tale of love … until she stops … and tells him that she will continue the story tomorrow. 

IF he lets her live that long.

Death is astonished that Keturah would gamble with her life this way … but he does want to hear the end of the story.  Death allows Keturah to live another day, and he makes her an additional offer.  If she can find her own true love in one day’s time, then Death won’t take her at all.  When Death returns Keturah to her cottage, she is filled with both hope and despair.  If she can find her true love in one day, then Death will not claim her.  But Death also warned her that a plague would come to her village soon, killing many of her friends and neighbors.

A few days ago, Keturah had no worries in the world.  Today, she must figure out how to save herself, how to save her village … and how to rob Death of the souls he plans to collect.

Booktalk: Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl

This wasn’t the first booktalk I ever wrote, but it’s the first one I wrote that I remember being proud of.  I presented it at a meeting of young adult librarians, and several of them asked if they could have copies of it afterwards.  So that was how I knew that it was good.

As you probably know by now, I’m not a fan of romance books, but if a book crosses another genre with romance and does it well, it can win me over.  Owl in Love was definitely one of those books.  Owl in Love combines fantasy and humor with a sweet and troubled female protagonist, and readers will find themselves empathizing with this very unique teenager.

If you enjoy this book (and I think you will), then it’s worth checking out more of Patrice Kindl’s books.  I’m a big fan of Goose Chase, which explores the lighter side of fantasy, and The Woman in the Wall, which explores its darker/sadder/lonelier side.


Owl is in love with her science teacher, Mr. Lindstrom.  She perches on a tree branch outside his window every night and watches him sleep in his underwear.  Fruit of the Loom, size 34.  Now, Owl isn’t an owl all the time.  She’s a shape-shifter – a were-owl.  You see, she’s only an owl at night; during the day she’s an ordinary 14-year-old girl.  Well … mostly ordinary.  Except that her eyes are a little too round.  Her eyebrows are a little too thick.  Her skin is a little too gray, because her blood is black instead of red.  Oh, and she will not eat the cafeteria food.  I mean, why should she?  Owl always eats whatever she catches at night, like insects or small rodents.  She just can’t stand the thought of ravioli, hamburgers, or pizza.  But Owl’s problem isn’t that she’s a shape-shifter; she’s been living with that her whole life.  Her problem is that she’s in love with Mr. Lindstrom, who’s married, human, and her teacher.  So, Owl sits outside his window and watches him sleep every night.  And as she does so, she notices a strange boy and an even stranger owl lurking in the woods near Mr. Lindstrom’s home.  Owl now has to face the fact that the man she loves might be in danger.  Can Owl protect him and still keep her identity a secret?

Booktalk: Wild Roses by Deb Caletti

Deb Caletti is the author of some truly excellent realistic fiction for teens.  While her stories predominantly feature girls and often contain romantic elements, when I wrote my booktalk for Wild Roses I chose to emphasize Cassie’s family crisis rather than the bittersweet romance that followed.  Of course, without the family crisis, the romance wouldn’t have been nearly as bittersweet …

Oh, and this is an example of a first-person booktalk (although the audience doesn’t realize that right away, which can catch them off guard in a good way).


Dino Cavalli was a genius.  He had more talent than most people on earth.  He was a composer and a violinist, and the music he created was so amazing that it would give you goose bumps just to hear it.  When you watched him perform, there was so much energy on stage that you felt like you had to hold on to something.  He was wild and passionate, like a meteor or a bolt of lightning.  The only thing about Dino Cavalli that was more powerful than his talent was his anger, and God help you if you got on his bad side.  Dino Cavalli was beloved by millions, but he was known by very few.  I was one of those people.  Dino Cavalli was my stepfather, and living with a genius wasn’t as great as you might imagine.  In fact, it was almost impossible.  His perfectionism could shatter your joy like a bullet through a stained glass window.

This is the story of my mom and me before and after Dino Cavalli, how he changed our lives … and almost destroyed them.

Booktalk: Look For Me by Moonlight by Mary Downing Hahn

As you may remember, one of my criteria for including booktalks on this blog and podcast are that the books themselves be in print.  Which means that some of my favorite books have been in limbo, and I check those titles periodically to see if they’re in print again.  I was delighted to see that Look For Me by Moonlight was available again so that I could share it with you.

I’m a big fan of many books by Mary Downing Hahn (who needs a website update, BTW, since her books are still being released).  Most of my favorite books of hers include some compelling supernatural elements, often but not always in the form of ghosts.

If you’re in charge of ordering books for teens in a school library, a public library, or even a classroom library, you should order several copies of this book.  It’s an older book about an ever-popular topic, and teenage girls will be reading and sharing this book with each other before you know it.


Cynda is sixteen years old, and her life is about to change completely.  Ever since her parents divorced and each of them remarried, Cynda has been going back and forth living most of the time with her mom and Steve and the rest of the time with her dad and Susan.  Mom and Steve have moved a lot over the years, dragging Cynda along with them.  But once she hears they’re moving overseas, she puts her foot down.  She’s not going.  So the family reaches a compromise – Cynda will go to live with Dad and Susan for six months, and then take it from there.  Cynda’s glad they listened to her for once, but when she gets to her new home, she realizes how hard this is going to be.  Dad and Susan already have one child together, and there’s another one on the way.  Cynda feels like a stranger in her new home – she doesn’t fit in, and no one understands her.

But then … she meets Vincent.  He is older, sophisticated, handsome, intelligent, caring, sensitive – he’s everything she wants!  Vincent listens to her.  Vincent understands her.  And there’s something about him that’s mysterious … almost magical.  As Cynda falls in love with him, it becomes harder and harder for her to see Vincent for what he really is.  Cynda is about to learn a hard lesson – that evil can only come into her life if she invites it first.  But by the time she realizes this, it will be too late … because she’s already given the invitation.

Booktalk: Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn

While Alex Flinn is probably best known for her book Beastly (which was turned into a movie starring teen heartthrob Alex Pettyfer), the first book I ever read by her is still one of my favorites.  Breathing Underwater is a journal-format novel written from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, which makes for a fascinating read as well as an intriguing booktalk.  It’s a boy-centered book that focuses on family and romantic relationships, so both boys and girls will be intrigued enough by this book to want to find out what happens next.


Nick didn’t do anything wrong, really.  Everyone was making such a big deal about what happened between him and Caitlin.  I mean, Nick didn’t hit Caitlin at all – it was more of a slap, really.  And it only happened once.  So why was everyone acting so crazy, and why was Nick sitting here in a courtroom with Caitlin on the other side?  Nick and Caitlin belonged together, and no restraining order or violence counseling or mandatory journaling was ever going to change that.

The judge says that he can write truth or lies in his journal; she says she likes fairy tales.  But Nick is going to write the truth.  500 words per week about what really happened between him and Caitlin.  From the moment he first met her to today, and everything in between.  The whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Booktalk: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

A girl named Naomi loses a coin toss that changes her life.  That coin toss leads her to the steps of her school, where she falls, hits her head, and loses the memory of everything that’s happened over the last four years.  This is an excellent realistic fiction story with an unusual twist, and it’s a great choice for reading and discussing afterwards.  Gabrielle Zevin is probably better known for her “what happens after death” novel Elsewhere, which is also an excellent read.  But Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac has a special place in my heart because I really liked Naomi and I appreciated the difficulty of the choices she had to make about how she was going to treat and interact with her family and friends from this point forward.  And hey, who HASN’T wished that they could rewind their lives and make different choices than they did before?

Side note: when I was googling information on the title and author in order to write this post, I discovered that this book had been made into a movie, which was a complete surprise to me.  I panicked because, as I mentioned in an earlier episode, when a book is made into a movie that’s usually the death knell for my booktalk of that title.  But it turns out that it’s a Japanese film (!!!) that hasn’t been released in the United States yet.  So I can still keep this booktalk in my repertoire, at least for a little while longer.


When Naomi Porter was sixteen years old she fell down the steps in front of her school.  She woke up in an ambulance with a boy named James who said he was her boyfriend, although she didn’t recognize him.  When the EMTs, the hospital staff, and later her father started questioning her, Naomi learned that there was a huge gap in her memory — a gap that lasted four years.  The last memories she had were when she was twelve years old … and then nothing until the moment she saw James looking down at her.  The more Naomi talked to her family and her friends, the more she realized that a lot had changed in four years.  She didn’t remember her parents’ divorce.  She didn’t remember wearing braces.  She didn’t remember that she and her father had moved to a new house, or that she hated her mother and her mother’s new family.  She didn’t remember her best friend Will, or all the French she ever studied, or even how to drive.  She didn’t remember her boyfriend, who was NOT James by the way.  Naomi’s real boyfriend was a boy named Ace, who was away at tennis camp at the time of her accident.  When she came home from the hospital and entered her bedroom, it was like looking at a stranger’s room.  She opened all the closets and drawers to try to learn more about the person who lived here.  The person she had become over the last four years.  Everything was strange to her: the clothes, the food diary, the birth control pills, and even the girl she saw in the mirror.

Going back to school was strange, too.  The kids she remembered as friends when she was twelve weren’t her friends any more.  And now she sat at the popular kids table in the cafeteria, but she didn’t know why.  And Ace?  He was an even bigger problem.  Especially when she met him (for what felt like the first time) when he climbed in through her bedroom window and kissed her (for what felt like the first time).  And kissing Ace felt like kissing a total stranger.  It’s going to take Naomi a while to understand what kind of person she was … and what kind of person she wants to be.  Losing her memory might be one of the worst things that’s ever happened to her, but it also might be one of the best.