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Lighten Up! Hot Reads for Cold Days

Gray skies got you down? Indulge in a mental vacation with a book set in a sunny spot:

Death by Bikini by Linda GerberDeath by Bikini (2011 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults) by Linda Gerber

Aphra Connolly’s dad owns a secluded tropical island and a resort that caters to the rich and famous. Sounds sweet, but 16-year-old Aphra would like to be back in South Carolina with her friends. Most of all, she’d like to have her mother back; she disappeared four years ago.

Aphra is jolted out of her doldrums when she discovers the body of a rock star’s girlfriend on the beach. Cause of death: strangulation by bikini top. The crime coincides with the arrival of unexpected visitors who put Aphra’s dad on edge, including the Smith family and their cute son. When she investigates, Aphra is plunged into a high-voltage mystery in which no one is who he seems to be, and trusting the wrong person can be deadly. If you’d enjoy swimming near a coral reef or smelling tropical blooms at this time of year, pick up this fun suspense story.

The Great Wide Sea (2010 Top Ten Books for Young Adults) by M. H. HerlongThe Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong

Does cruising around the Bahamas on a sailboat sound like a dream come true? It’s more of a nightmare for 15-year-old Ben Byron and his two little brothers. Two months after their mom’s tragic death, their father decides to sell everything, buy a sailboat, and set out to sea for a year. On board the sloop the Chrysalis, dad morphs into Captain Bligh and treats his boys more like deckhands than sons.

One morning, Ben goes on deck to relieve his dad from the night watch and finds him missing. Did Mr. Byron fall overboard, or did he jump? The brothers barely have time to process their grief and anger when the Chrysalis is hit by a massive storm. The ship limps along until it reaches a deserted island, where the boys are marooned with little hope of rescue. This adventure story is a white-knuckle tale of young people trying to survive against all odds. Read it to get your adrenaline pumping on a dreary winter’s day!

Feathered by Laura KasischkeFeathered by Laura Kasischke

High school seniors Anne, Michelle, and Terri are ecstatic to be in Cancun, Mexico for spring break. The wild party scene is right up Terri’s alley, but Anne and Michelle tire of it and plan a day trip to the ruins of Chichén Itzá for a change of pace. Ander, an older man they meet in a bar, offers to be their guide. Both girls worry about stranger danger, but Ander seems like a safe bet.

At Chichén Itzá, the thick jungle air and stories of Mayan sacrifices transport Michelle on a magical mystery tour. Anne’s feet remain firmly on the ground, though, and she becomes convinced that taking a ride with Ander was a terrible mistake. Flash forward to the next morning–Anne stumbles out of the jungle, bloodied and alone. Kasischke transforms what could have been an After School Special into a gripping story that weaves mysticism and folklore with realism ripped from the headlines. Try it for an otherworldly jungle experience.

Pool Boy (YALSA 2005 Audio Books for Young Adults) by Michael SimmonsPool Boy by Michael Simmons

When you’re scraping ice off your windshield, cleaning swimming pools in California sounds ideal. To 15-year-old Brett Garson, a formerly filthy rich kid, it’s a humiliating comedown of a summer job. With his stockbroker dad in jail for insider trading, he and his mom and sister are reduced to living on the (literally) wrong side of the tracks. It’s tough to pity him, though, since he’s cocky, obnoxious, and outright rude.

Low on dough, Brett takes up an offer to assist Alfie, an eccentric 70ish man, in his pool cleaning business. Alfie is hardly a father substitute—he deserted his own family and has had only sporadic contact with his daughter. But he becomes a friend, the kind who will lend you his van to take your driving test. Brett is overdue for an attitude adjustment, and he gets it courtesy of unassuming Alfie. If you like quick reads and a funny, sarcastic narrator, you’ll enjoy experiencing a summer with Brett.

Keeper by Mal PeetKeeper by Mal Peet

“El Gato” (The Cat) is a soccer superstar, a goalkeeper who has led his team to the World Cup. In an interview, El Gato recalls his childhood in a poor logging town on the edge of the Brazilian rain forest. He is a 13-year-old klutz and spends a lot of time alone, wandering the forest and learning to appreciate its plants and animals.

One day, he finds a clearing somehow carved out of the jungle, with mown grass and a goal at one end. Even stranger, he meets a mysterious man who keeps a cap pulled low over his eyes to obscure his face. El Gato comes to know him as the Keeper, an amazing goaltender who becomes his mentor. Soccer takes El Gato into the wider world, but he is pulled back to his home to realize his destiny and that of the Keeper.

Keeper is a fast-paced sports story with exciting play-by-play. It’s also a realistic portrayal of people trapped into eking out a living by destroying their natural heritage. And it’s a ghost story tinged with magical realism! Reading it is a great way to shake up winter’s torpor.

Need more ideas? Check out Chase away those winter blahs with some romance!

What book would you suggest to lift a reader out of a winter funk?

— Suzanne Neumann, currently reading Notes From the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

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Suzanne Neumann