Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Final Grade: 85/B
YA Historical
252 pages
Available now
Review copy courtesy of Crown Publishing and Susan Gregg Gilmore (Thanks!)
Rated PG-13

BLURB: Nobody in Nashville has a bigger name to live up to than Bezellia Grove.  As a Grove, she belongs to one of city’s most prominent families and is expected to embrace her position in high society.  That means speaking fluent French, dancing at cotillions with boys from other important families, and mastering the art of the perfect smile. 

Also looming large is her given name Bezellia, which has been passed down for generations to the first daughter born to the eldest Grove.  The others in the long line of Bezellias shortened the ancestral name to Bee, Zee or Zell.  But Bezellia refuses all nicknames and dreams that one day she, too, will be remembered for her original namesake’s courage and passion.

Though she leads a life of privilege, being a Grove is far from easy.  Her mother hides her drinking but her alcoholism is hardly a secret.  Her father, who spends long hours at work, is distant and inaccessible.  For as long as she can remember, she’s been raised by Maizelle, the nanny, and Nathaniel, the handyman.  To Bezellia, Maizelle and Nathaniel are cherished family members.  To her parents, they will never be more than servants.  

Relationships are complicated in 1960s Nashville, where society remains neatly ordered by class, status and skin color.  Black servants aren’t supposed to eat at the same table as their white employers.  Black boys aren’t supposed to make conversation with white girls.  And they certainly aren’t supposed to fall in love.  When Bezellia has a clandestine affair with Nathaniel’s son, Samuel, their romance is met with anger and fear from both families.  In a time and place where rebelling against the rules carries a steep price, Bezellia Grove must decide which of her names will be the one that defines her.


REVIEW:  I felt like I should have read this book in a deep Southern drawl. The heat of the south permeated the story, from Bezellia's grandparents house on the lake to the tattered remnants of the Grove family estate.

When I first started this book, I wasn't sure where the story was going. It started out slowly, introducing the reader to Bezellia and her used-to-be-rich-but-lost-it family. Dad isn't around much, preferring to spend his time at the hospital (and other places). Mom hides herself in a bottle of gin and takes out her disappointment on her daughters and those who work for her. Little sister Adelaide clings to her baby dolls.

Bezellia herself seems lost. She's more of a shadow in the beginning (of course, she's just a kid), ghosting through life while trying to stay out of her mother's way. But then she meets Samuel, the son of Nathaniel. Samuel is forbidden fruit, an African American in 1960's Nashville, but Bezellia doesn't care. She falls for him. And, through that, she begins to find herself.

I liked Bezellia but I would have liked to get to know her a little more. At times, I felt like we were just skimming the surface of the story, especially with Samuel. I'm not a big fan of instant attraction/love at first sight as a plot device and there wasn't much of a connection beyond the attraction. Sure, he was a nice guy but why did she like him so much? I felt like I didn't get a good answer (though I rooted for them anyway! Hey, I'm a sucker for lost causes and star-crossed lovers.). And, while it wasn't the happiest of endings, it was not disappointing.

AUTHOR BIO: Susan Gregg Gilmore is the author of the novel Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen.  She has written for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor. Born in Nashville, she lives in Tennessee with her husband and three daughters.

Purchase this book at INDIEBOUND or AMAZON.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Skip Day: On the Porch

So, to be fair, I've had a lot of blog "skip days" this week but gimmie a break. It was the first full week of school and I let my self become overwhelmed (This happens every year. Don't know why I'm surprised by it!). Procrastination will do that to you.

But, as it's creeping into September (This coming week! How does time go so fast?), and even here in South Carolina, it's cooling off a bit in the mornings so I can finally use my porch again. Well, at least on the weekends, when I don't have to get up at 5:30am so I can get to school on time (Middle school is the early-start bunch in our district. 7:20. But we get off at 2:45 so it's not a bad deal!).

This spring, I finally sprang for new furniture and the loveseat is my favorite place to write. I'm super-productive here.


Diet Coke? Check. Computer? Check. Kids with fur? Check.

It's not the best view in the world but my neighbors are quiet and nice (even the one who runs around in his black briefs...an image I need brain bleach to erase).


And Finnegan (left) and Fiona (right) are always on guard for killer squirrels or a runaway CheezIt. My little helpers.

Enjoy your skip day! Plenty of reviews this week including JINX by Meg Cabot and THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE by Susan Gregg Gilmore.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

One Lovely Blog Award

Lookie--I got an award!

Thanks, Stephany over at STUCK BETWEEN THE PAGES! If you haven't visited Stephany, do so--her blog is adorable.

The rules of the award are as follows:

1. Accept the award. Post it on your blog with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.

2. Pay it forward to 15 (or another number of your choice) other bloggers that you have
newly discovered.

3. Contact those blog owners and let them know they've been chosen.


Here are some great blogs that I've recently started following:

Potter, Percy, And I
Read Sam, Read!
Tales of a Teenage Book Lover
The Moody Teenager
A Moment With Mystee

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: BODY WORK by Sara Paretsky

Final Grade: 93/A
Mystery
464 pages
Available Aug. 31, 2010
Review copy won from G.P. Putnam's Sons through LibraryThing
Rated R

BLURB: The enigmatic performer known as the Body Artist takes the stage at Chicago's Club Gouge and allows her audience to use her naked body as a canvas for their impromptu illustrations. V. I. Warshawski watches as people step forward, some meek, some bold, to make their mark.

The evening takes a strange turn when one woman's sketch triggers a violent outburst from a man at a nearby table. Quickly subdued, the man-an Iraqi war vet-leaves the club. Days later, the woman is shot outside the club. She dies in V.I.'s arms, and the police move quickly to arrest the angry vet.

A shooting in Chicago is nothing new, certainly not to V.I., who is hired by the vet's family to clear his name. As V.I. seeks answers, her investigation will take her from the North Side of Chicago to the far reaches of the Gulf War. 


REVIEW: V.I. certainly does know how to find trouble (or does trouble just find her?) and this time is no exception. An evening at a club leads Vic into a murky and dangerous case involving an angry Iraqi veteran turned scapegoat for a back-alley murder. Chad, the accused vet, is in a coma and his father hires V.I. to prove his son's innocence.

What makes this series so enjoyable is not just the twisting mystery (which I can never seem to figure out). The characters are fantastic--diving into a V.I. Warshawski novel is like returning home to visit old friends with Vic as the driven, hard-boiled detective; Mr. Contreras as the nosy yet helpful neighbor; Lotty as the doctor who always patches Vic up; and who can forget the two dogs, Mitch and Peppy, who help keep V.I. sane and in shape (good dogs!).

But Vic's getting older and getting beat up isn't like it used to be. No knock-down, drag-out fight one night and easy bounce-back day the next for her anymore. And she's found herself a nice, musical boyfriend who gets queasy at the sight of blood. I kind of got the impression he'd be much happier if she didn't do what she does, especially when she comes home to him covered in bruises or bleeding.

Plus, she has to deal with her super-annoying young cousin, Petra. Petra bugged the crap out of me. If I were Vic, I would not be nearly as tolerant with her whining and manipulating. I think I would have kicked Petra to the curb. But that's not V.I.'s style. She's all about reforming the un-reformable and helping those who can't help themselves (or just don't want to help themselves), one of the reasons she's such a sympathetic main character. On the outside, she's a tough nut but inside, she's got a soft heart.

Sara Paretsky keeps V.I. working hard and spins a great mystery, proving there's nothing stale in BODY WORK, the fourteenth novel of this series.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

No Review for MOCKINGJAY

Thanks to my Kindle, I was able to read MOCKINGJAY yesterday--and it ROCKED!! I'm not posting a review, though, because everyone and their dog is reviewing it. I have no desire to spoil anything for those who haven't read the series or haven't had a chance to read Mockingjay yet.

Especially those who pre-ordered their Mockingjay books on Amazon and HAVEN'T GOTTEN THEM YET!! Yes, I'm one of those people, even though I ordered a back-up for my Kindle (I was thinking that, since my UPS guy usually doesn't deliver to my house until after 6pm, I'd be able to start reading early with the ebook). This is a MAJOR Amazon fail, in my opinion, because there's no reason a pre-ordered book shouldn't be at the house that pre-ordered it ON TIME. Boo to you, Amazon.

But YAY for Mockingjay! I'm horribly sad the series is finished. All three books are on my permanent re-read pile.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Review: VERONICA MARS Season 1

Final Grade: 100/A
Available now (I watched it on Netflix through my Wii--possibly one of the best things to happen to older TV shows!)

Have you ever seen the TV show VERONICA MARS? It's older--the series premier was in 2004--but it's completely awesome. I'm almost done with the first season and am already incredibly sad that there are only two more seasons after this one (hopefully, they'll each have 22 episodes, just like season one. So much better than the 13 or so of today's series).

Veronica Mars is a high school student who moonlights as an amateur detective, working for and learning from her private investigator father. But the story's way more complicated than just her looking for lost dogs or stolen mascots (though she does that too). Eight months earlier, when life was looking pretty good for Veronica, her best friend, Lily, was murdered, and her father lost his job as sheriff because of his investigation. It didn't help that he tried to pin the murder on one of the most powerful men in town, Lily's father. Her dad lost his job, Veronica lost her status, and her mother disappeared.

This show is one of the smartest show's I've seen in a really long time (which completely bites because it's canceled!). Veronica is snarky and driven, going out of her way to help those around her while searching for Lily's killer. I love how the past and present of everyone in the made-up town of Neptune, California are interconnected and woven together. It's absolutely fantastic writing with awesome characters. The bad boys, Logan and Weevil, are bad boys with heart (my favorite kind!), rather than just random jerks. Veronica's father is a great supporting character, too. And Veronica's best friend, Wallace, is adorable.

Oh, I will be watching this series again and again. I can see it as one of my go-to shows, right up there with CASTLE and FIREFLY (oh, Nathan Fillion, if you had been a part of VERONICA MARS it would have been more than perfect!).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Skip Day Sunday

Lately, I've been dreaming of the country. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love my little bungalow in the city but, if I could just transplant my current house to about five acres near a lake somewhere in the country, I'd be a very happy camper.

A little house like this (which is a lot like mine):


With a view like this:



Where I can sit & read & write in peace and quiet:

And that's what skip days are for...dreams. Someday...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Winner of BODY WORK ARC!

Oh, yay! We have a winner for
Sara Paretsky's ARC of
BODY WORK!



Lucky number 29: JEMI FRASER!!

Congratulations--I've sent you an email.

Review: SUITE SCARLETT by Maureen Johnson

Final Grade: 93/A
YA Contemporary
368 pages
Available Now
Review copy purchased
Rated PG


BLURB: Her new summer job comes with baggage. Scarlett Martin has grown up in a most unusual way. Her family owns the Hopewell, a small hotel in the heart of New York City, and Scarlett lives there with her four siblings - Spencer, Lola, and Marlene. 


When each of the Martins turns fifteen, they are expected to take over the care of a suite in the once elegant, now shabby Art Deco hotel. For Scarlett's fifteenth birthday, she gets both a room called the Empire Suite, and a permanent guest called Mrs. Amberson. 

Scarlett doesn't quite know what to make of this C-list starlet, world traveler, and aspiring autobiographer who wants to take over her life. And when she meets Eric, an astonishingly gorgeous actor who has just moved to the city, her summer takes a second unexpected turn.
Before the summer is over, Scarlett will have to survive a whirlwind of thievery, Broadway glamour, romantic missteps, and theatrical deceptions. But in the city where anything can happen, she just might be able to pull it off.

REVIEW: This is an older book, released in May 2009, but it's well worth the read. Scarlett was a fantastic character. She was bright, caring and a sane voice in an otherwise nutty family. I'm not overly-familiar with New York, having only been there once in my life, but this book just felt like I think New York should "feel" like. Scarlett was a true New Yorker, navigating the city that never sleeps with an ease only someone who lives there could have.

The characters who surround her are fantastic. Her brother shines as a struggling actor and her best friend (in her family anyway). Her little sister cracked me up. She was such a  demanding little chick, believing that everyone should bow and curtsy to her because she was once terribly sick (she recovered). And Mrs. Amberson, the C-list Broadway star, runs Scarlett ragged (and gets her moving outside of her comfort zone).

There's a great little romance going on in Suite Scarlett, too. Hottie Eric is working with Scarlett's brother, Spencer, on an off-Broadway production, and Scarlett's in love.

If you haven't yet had a chance to read this book, I highly suggest it. Maureen Johnson is one of my favorite YA authors--she captures the voice of each character so well and writes with a fantastic sense of humor. Suite Scarlett and the sequel, Scarlett Fever, are books well worth checking out.

AUTHOR BIO: Maureen Johnson lives in New York City. She wonders if you have read any of her previous books: The Key to the Golden Firebird, The Bermudez Triangle, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Devilish, or Girl at Sea. It s okay if you haven't; she is sure to like you anyway. Unlike Scarlett, Maureen does not live in a hotel, but she wishes she did. Visit Maureen online at maureenjohnsonbooks.com.

Purchase this book at INDIEBOUND or AMAZON.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review: THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Final Grade: 87/B
288 pages
Review ARC through We Love YA book tours
Rated R
Available now
 
BLURB: Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn't think she's the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She's also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her "Duffy," she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren't so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.


REVIEW: This book certainly opened with a bang--Bianca's sitting at a bar in a teen club, waiting for her two friends to stop dancing when the school's "man-slut" Wesley tries to chat her up. Bianca's having none of it, especially considering she knows how he operates. And then he calls her The Duff, explaining it means the "Designated Ugly, Fat Friend". Bianca tosses a drink in his face and drives her friends home.

The relationship between the characters really made this book so realistic and such an interesting read. I loved how the girls all looked out for one another and how snarky Bianca was about Wesley--even after she kisses him (and more. Much more.). There was even some good parental interaction, which you don't always see in YA (parents tend to be absent parents in YA more often than not). And Bianca's problems at home, with her mom and dad, are what lead her to turn to Wesley for comfort.

I wasn't so sure about the Wesley-Bianca relationship. I mean, once for whatever reason (in Bianca's case, she needed the comfort of being wanted and to erase her home stress), I guess I can understand it. But again and again and again? Okay, I can see Wesley letting it go on with no need for an explanation. He's a stereotypical guy (at least, at first) who just wants to get some action. But Bianca? She seemed to be too smart and self-confident to do that to herself. However, without going into too much detail, I did like how Bianca and Wesley's relationship continued to develop (sex aside).

All in all, a well-constructed story--very enjoyable.


AUTHOR BIO: "I always felt like the 'ugly girl' in high school, so when I was introduced to the word during my senior year, I knew I was the Duff. The idea of writing a book with DUFF as the title started as a joke, but when I realized that my friends felt like Duffs, too, I knew I had to write this story."-Kody Keplinger on her inspiration for The DUFF, her debut novel. Kody is now eighteen and attending Ithaca College in New York where she's majoring in writing and finishing her second novel to be published by Poppy in Fall 2011.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Skip Day Saturday (One day late...)

Okay, so I'm a day late with yesterday's skip day. But I was busy! The World Pipe Band Championships were streamed live through the BBC website yesterday (it was morning for me--a great way to spend an icky morning). I missed the Grade One qualifiers (Grade One level bands are the best of the best), which started at something like 4am (uh, no way am I getting up at 4am on a Saturday unless the house is on fire) but got to watch all the rest.

Why am I so interested in pipe bands? I played for years (okay, about 25. Don't count up on your fingers my age now!) and know a ton of people, mostly from the US and Canada, who traveled over to Glasgow, Scotland to compete in the Worlds. So I had a blast watching them--and listening to great music, too!

Congratulations to St. Lawrence O'Toole (affectionately known as SLOT), the 2010 World Pipe Band Champions!


If you want to hear them (and you really should listen--no cats on a chalkboard here. This is what pipes and drums should REALLY sound like. Not like those crappy bands the movies always seem to dig up from under a rock.), here's the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/worlds/2010/


I have a pile of friend in 78th Frasier Highlanders, who qualified for the finals but (obviously) didn't win. Still, they're one of the top ten bands in the world! http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/worlds/2010/bands/78th_fraser_highlanders/

Saturday, August 14, 2010

ARC Giveaway: BODY WORK by Sara Paretsky

A fan of Sara Paretsky and her kick-butt main character, V.I. "Vic" Warshawski for quite a long time, I'm thrilled about her newest release, BODY WORK, which comes out at the end of the month. Vic's a tough chick, a seriously awesome P.I., and all-around great character. If you haven't read any of Paretsky's V.I. novels and you like mysteries, you've got to check them out.


“Doctors take days off—why not PI’s?” VI Warshawski demands.  But when America’s hardest-working private eye goes clubbing, a stranger is shot, and dies in V I’s arms.
V I has been visiting Club Gouge, Chicago’s edgiest night spot, where a woman known as the Body Artist turns her naked body into a canvas for the audience to paint on.  The show attracts all kinds of people, from a menacing off-duty cop, to Ukrainian mobsters, Iraqi war vets—and VI’s impetuous cousin Petra.  A tormented young painter shows up, too, and the intricate designs she creates on the Body Artist drives one of the vets into a violent rage.
When the painter is shot, the cops figure it’s an easy collar—PTSD vet goes off the rails, stalks, then kills young woman.  But the vet’s family hires V I to clear his name, and the detective uncovers a chain of ugly truths that stretch all the way from Iraq to Chicago’s south side.

I'm super-excited that I have an extra ARC of BODY WORK, coming out at the end of the month--and it's for you! All you have to do is fill out my handy-dandy little form below (yay--I learned how to use Google Docs AND imbed the form! Woot). Contest ends next Saturday (Aug. 21). Good luck!

UPDATE: Looks like my spreadsheet title got cut off and spills over into my other column. Oops (and darn! I don't know how to fix that. At least it's legible!). I'm also running this contest on my writing blog, too. I chat about writing and teaching and a bunch of other stuff, too! So, if you're a follower of both, you get extra points--yay!


ARC Giveaway: BODY WORK by Sara Paretsky
Open to residents of US and Canada only (sorry, international folks!). 
Contest ends August 21 @5pmEST.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: August 13-16, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

Thanks to Jennifer @ Crazy for books for hosting this meme (I can't believe I'm # 278 on the list! So many amazing bloggers out there!)

Weekly Question: How many books do you have on your 'to be read shelf’?

Oh, goodness. It seems I add faster than I read! Physical books at the moment total: 33 (this doesn't include the piles I have taken to school, hoping that *somebody* will read them & thinking that I'll read them at some point!). E-Galleys and e-books: 48. *headdesk* Holy cow, I love books. I want more, even though it seems I can't keep up with what I have!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: DELACROIX ACADEMY, BOOK ONE: THE CANDIDATES by Inara Scott

Final Grade: 85/B
304 pages
Available Aug. 24, 2010
Review copy won
Rated G

BLURB: Dancia Lewis is far from popular. And that's not just because of her average grades or her less-than-glamorous wardrobe. In fact, Dancia's mediocrity is a welcome cover for her secret: whenever she sees a person threatening someone she cares about, things just...happen. Cars skid. Structures collapse. Usually someone gets hurt.  So Dancia does everything possible to avoid getting close to anyone, belieiving this way she can supress her powers and keep them hidden.
But when recruiters from the prestigious Delcroix Academy show up in her living room to offer her a full scholarship, Dancia's days of living under the radar may be over. Only, Delcroix is a school for diplomats' kids and child geniuses--not B students with uncontrollable telekinetic tendencies.  So why are they treating Dancia like she's special? Even the hottest guy on campus seems to be going out of his way to make Dancia feel welcome.
And then there's her mysterious new friend Jack, who can't stay out of trouble. He suspects something dangerous is going on at the Academy and wants Dancia to help him figure out what.  But Dancia isn't convinced. She hopes that maybe the recruiters know more about her "gift" than they're letting on. Maybe they can help her understand how to use it...But not even Dancia could have imagined what awaits her behind the gates of Delcroix Academy.

REVIEW: So this book is another girl-with-powers-goes-away-to-boarding-school-meets-mysterious-boys story. Another girl who doesn't know what her powers are or how to control them, only that she's different because she has them. Another mysterious boarding school where things just aren't what they seem. Another love triangle with the polished, popular boy versus the rebel/bad boy/loner. 

However, the book's redeemed by a well-written main character, strong voice, and good writing. Though Danica reads a bit older than fourteen-going-on-fifteen, she's still an interesting character. I like how the love triangle totally plays with her mind, sending her flip-flopping between Cam and Jack in a completely realistic manner. 

While I liked Jack (guess I go for the broody, bad-boy types, especially those with awesome powers and shady pasts), I really didn't like Cam all that much. I know he was supposed to be the clean-cut, good guy but he completely rubbed me the wrong way. And I really didn't like the way Danica completely lost her mind when she was around him. She was supposed to be friends with Jack but she'd totally ditch him to pant after Cam. Boo on her!

Many of the minor characters were quite well done. I loved Danica's grandmother. She seemed like a sweet lady who did good by Danica (whose parents died when she was young). Danica's first good friends at the academy were interesting characters, too, and good influences on her, helping her break out of her wallpaper mode. 

A quick, light summer read redeemed from meh-dom by witty dialogue and some excellent characters.

AUTHOR BIO: I grew up in winter wonderland of Buffalo, NY. Consequently, I spent much of my childhood complaining about being cold. To spare the world my whining, I fled the cold climate and eventually wound up in the Pacific NW. I love it here — we get occasional snow, tons of rain in the winter, and lots of sun in the summer. The forests are huge, and the old Douglas Fir trees and thick ferns make you think you’ve wandered into a fairy tale. I would be surprised if there weren’t fairies and elves living here. Seriously.
I love to hike, canoe, and play outside. I am addicted to yoga. I have a deep affinity for water (I used to believe I could learn to breathe underwater, if I stayed down there long enough).

I’m a geek through and through. I fear deep, intellectual books and love romance and fantasies. I listen to cheesy, happy music. When I was in high school, my friends considered having a clothing
intervention for me because I insisted on making my own clothes and shopping at thrift stores. Somehow, I survived.

Purchase DELACROIX ACADEMY here: Indiebound.org, Amazon.com

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review: HARMONIC FEEDBACK by Tara Kelly

Final Grade: 99/A+
YA Contemporary
288 pages
Available now
Review copy purchased
Rated PG-15: drug use, sex, some language 

BLURB: Doctors have pinned 16-year-old Drea with everything from ADHD to Asperger's Syndrome. She has an obsession with sound design, a tendency to blurt out whatever she's thinking, and a problem making friends, but likes to think of this as following her own rhythm in a confusing world. 

Having just moved to the latest in a string of new towns, Drea is hesitant to befriend purple-haired Naomi, her teenage neighbor with a kamikaze personality. But Naomi is the first person to treat her like she isn't a world class dork. Then there's Justin, the sexy and persistent boy in her film class. If she's learned anything from her mom, it's that boys are trouble. 

When Drea discovers Naomi's love for drums and Justin's piano prodigy status, the three form a trip-hop band and a friendship that will challenge everything Drea thought she knew about herself and the world around her. 

But just when she's found not one but two true friends, can she stand to lose one of them? [Blurb pulled from HarmonicFeedback.com]

REVIEW: Darned book made me cry! Maybe it was because I was up into the wee hours of the morning finishing this book or maybe it was because I was so invested in these characters, but I cried--and I so rarely do that with books. (Or...it could be that I have to go back to school in a couple of days that made me weepy...)

Drea is an absolutely marvelous character--I totally rooted for her every step of the way. She's struggled all her life with labels (AS, ADHD), and a mom who tries to make life easier for her by telling everyone about Drea's "issues". Of course, this just ends up making Drea's life more difficult. And, because of her challenges, she has a lot of trouble relating to people and vice versa. They don't appreciate her straightforward honesty (she doesn't understand lying) or her abrupt manner until Nicole and Justin come along. Both musicians, they connect with Drea and become her first real friends (and boyfriend! Great love story!), making beautiful music together (sorry, couldn't help myself).

I can't say enough about this book. I love the connections between the characters, how they all interact with one another. The dialogue is well-paced and totally believable. Author Tara Kelly's treatment of Drea's Asperger's syndrome is done with a delicate and understanding hand, integrating Drea's daily struggles with social interaction seamlessly into her overall character.

Kelly develops deep backstories for each of her characters, adding to the richness of the story. For example, Justin isn't just a cute boy with a past, he has a past that he's trying to redeem himself from, a past that allows him to relate to both wild-child Nicole who loves boys and drugs (and who made me want to slap some sense into her!), and Drea, who'd rather bury herself in the basement with her instruments and her computer. Even Nicole's slimy boyfriend and minor character, Scott, is developed, rather than just a cardboard placeholder as is the case with many bit players.

HARMONIC FEEDBACK definitely goes on my "To Read Again" pile (*much* smaller than my TBR pile). One of my top pics for 2010.

I absolutely cannot wait for her next book, C-SIDE TALES, which comes out in 2011.

AUTHOR BIO: Tara Kelly adores variety in her life. She's a YA author, one-girl-band, web designer, video editor, digital photographer, and literary agent intern. She lives in Portland with her ten guitars, supercool bf, and a fluffy cat named Maestro. Her website is: http://thetaratracks.com.


Purchase this book: IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes&Noble

QUESTION: What do you think of the additions to my review (where to purchase the book and author bio)? Keep or remove?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: MANIFEST by Artist Arthur

Final Grade: 90/B
256 pages
YA Paranormal
Available now
Review copy provided by Harlequin
Recommend to students: Yes

BLURB: When fifteen-year-old Krystal Bentley moves to Lincoln, Connecticut, her mom's hometown, she assumes her biggest drama will be adjusting to the burbs after living in New York City.

But Lincoln is nothing like Krystal imagined. The weirdness begins when Ricky Watson starts confiding in her. He's cute, funny, a good listener—and everything she'd ever want—except that he was killed nearly a year ago. Krystal's ghost-whispering talents soon lead other "freaks" to her door—Sasha, a rich girl who can literally disappear, and Jake, who moves objects with his mind. All three share a distinctive birthmark in the shape of an M and, fittingly, call themselves the Mystyx. They set out to learn what really happened to Ricky, only to realize that they aren't the only ones with mysterious powers. But if Krystal succeeds in finding out the truth about Ricky's death, will she lose him for good? 

 REVIEW: Poor Krystal, uprooted from NYC and dragged away from her beloved father to go live in some small Connecticut town. Then, to make matters worse, she's stuck with an annoying (but cute) dead guy who keeps hounding her to help him resolve unfinished business so he can move on. But she doesn't want to leave the comforts of her room, much less track down a killer.

I liked Krystal and bits of my students in her (lots of my kids are military and move a lot and/or come from divorced homes). She's pissed off at the world, especially her mother (who left her father and won't tell Krystal why, claiming it's for grown folk to know) and stepfather (who's about had it with her attitude). She doesn't want to talk to anyone, much less make friends. And she certainly doesn't want ghosts annoying her. I found myself rooting for Krystal, hoping that she'd go out with the cute guy who kept flirting with her, that she'd help the dead guy, and that she'd tell the police or someone about the disturbing texts she was getting.

Enter Jake and Sasha, two complete opposites who have the same mysterious "M" tattoo on their bodies and have unusual powers as well. They're bound and determined to make friends with Krystal, despite her protests. When they find out what Ricky wants, they convince Krystal to take action. They're both interesting characters, with decent backstories that I want to learn more about. Sasha was a bit annoying at times since she was so moody. (She may actually be bipolar since she could be manic one day then depressed the next but it never said for sure.) But they were great catalysts for Krystal, forcing her out of her room-cave and into the world.

There were just a couple things that didn't quite work for me. One, there was a lot of slang sprinkled throughout the book which were jarring at times; they didn't always go with the flow of the dialogue. Two, the class differences and the cliques seemed cliche, way overly-dramatic. But I don't know, that may be the way things are in Connecticut.

Overall, it was a well-constructed story, with lots of flavor and twists (the black fog that appeared was strangely reminiscent of the black demon fog in Supernatural). I appreciated the fact that, though this is the first book in a series, there was a full story arc which included an ending. No cliffhanger, just a few loose ends. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series. Oh, and check out the cover--no white-washing!! Yahoo!

Available at Amazon.com.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Skip Day Saturday!

I've decided to start a weekly feature here at The Book Swarm called "Skip Day Saturday". It's a great day to do something fun--post a great video, a picture, a joke--something that caught my attention, made me smile or giggle.

As per usual this Saturday, I woke up, let the dogs out, fed 'em, cracked my first Diet Coke of the day and turned on VH1's Jump Start (I know. Very exciting, right? Don't be jealous of my rock star lifestyle.). There was this totally catchy song playing, one I hadn't heard before but I found my self bobbing my head along to the tune. The video's really cute, too, a nod to one of the greatest movies evah: THE BLUES BROTHERS. (Okay, if you haven't seen it, you have to! A classic with Jim Belushi and Dan Ackroyd and about a zillion other stars and singers.)

A TASTE OF THE BLUES BROTHERS


Anyway, there I was a-toe-tapping, head-bobbing and, come to find out, this was a HANSON song. Yep. Hanson. Of the Mmm-Bop fame. Have my musical tastes really sunk that low? You be the judge:

THINKING 'BOUT SOMETHIN'--Hanson (God help me!)



And, for those of you who haven't had enough Blues Brothers, here are two songs for you:

SHAKE YOUR TAIL FEATHER--Ray Charles & The Blues Brothers



THINK--Aretha Franklin



Enjoy your Skip Day Saturday!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: August 6-9, 2010

Book Blogger Hop



Do you listen to music when you read? If so, what are your favorite reading tunes?

If I'm reading during the day, I'm usually in the living room, in my chair, with the TV on and a Diet Coke on hand. If I'm reading before bed (which I always do, since I was little. Guess that comes from my parents reading to me at night), it's silence.


So, really, no music. Huh. I just realized my reading style matches my writing style. TV or silence, generally. :)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: DEAD IS JUST A RUMOR by Marlene Perez

Final Grade: 85/B
216 pages
YA Urban Fantasy
Available Aug. 23, 2010
Review copy provided by HMH Graphia
Recommend to students: Yes

BLURB: As the creepy little town of Nightshade prepares to celebrate its 200th anniversary—on Halloween, of course—many of its paranormal residents are receiving mysterious blackmail letters. Psychic teen Daisy Giordano and her sisters set out to find out who is behind the threats. But launching an investigation isn’t easy for Daisy with her overprotective father watching her every move. Though she’s is happy to have him back after the years he spent being held captive by an anti-paranormal group called the Scourge, Dad is having difficult time adjusting to home life—and the fact that his little girl is now a senior in high school. He even disapproves of Daisy’s boyfriend, Ryan. Can their relationship take the strain? 
 
And Daisy’s got even more on her plate: A talented amateur chef, she has won cooking lessons with celebrity chef Circe Silvertongue. After nosing around (with a little help from Circe’s pet pig), Daisy begins to suspect the temperamental chef’s secrets aren’t only in her ingredients. . . .
 
The fourth installment in this favorite series is full of surprises and scares! 
 
REVIEW:  I've seen this series on our library's shelves but just didn't get around to picking it up (my arms were probably too full!). So, when I had the opportunity to review the newest book in Marlene Perez's series, I jumped at it. Sometimes you can't do this with a series but with this, it was fine. No need to read the others first, though Perez does refer to incidents from the other books (and they sounded fun--think I'll have to check out the rest of the series!).

Daisy's a fun character. As a senior in high school, she knows herself pretty well, is confident, and knows what she wants to do after graduation. Except her Dad, who's been gone the last six years (not that it was his fault). Dad is bound and determined to protect his baby girl from the world, even if it means grounding her from ever seeing her boyfriend again. This, of course, causes Daisy no end of trouble and headaches. Especially since Mom's tied up with a case and doesn't want to upset Dad by telling him to chill out.

There are some new characters in town: Circe Silvertongue, a famous chef, and Mrs. Tray, the new school guidance councilor. Both give off "evil" vibes and it's pretty obvious they're behind the trouble that's come to Nightshade. 
 
Dialogue between the characters is snappy, and I enjoyed the idea of a town like Nightshade, filled with both normal people and those of the supernatural persuasion (kind of wish I could live there myself--sure would make life interesting if I could have my cheeseburger prepared by an invisible man or my songs chosen by a "live" jukebox named Lil.). The plot's pretty simple and, while there's a mystery, the answer is not too difficult to figure out. But it's a cute book, and I know my reluctant readers will enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I got a Versatile Blogger Award! Yay!

Thank you so much, Dayna @ A Tapestry of Words and Asel. @ End of Story, Next Book. Y'all rock!

The rules for this award are:

  1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
  2. Share 7 things about yourself. 
  3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason! (In no particular order...) 
  4. Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.
 Okay, so seven things about me:
  1. Teaching is my second career--I worked for a golf magazine (which is funny because I don't play golf) and edited legal texts (you know those books behind the lawyers in the commercials? Yeah, those.) after college. Oh, and The Gap. Can't forget The Gap.
  2. I have two dogs, both rescues. Finnegan is part beagle, part sheltie and all fur. Fiona is part Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and part God only knows what.
  3. I'm a Chicago Bears fan. Die-hard. Always have been, always will be. Go Bears!
  4. I went to college on a bagpipe scholarship. Yep. I've played pipes since I was eight (I'm on sabbatical at the moment. Or possibly retired.)
  5. I'm a World of Warcraft geek. Blood Elf Hunters rule!
  6. I met Rod Stewart (hottie!) and Frank McCourt (super-nice guy).
  7. I learned how to drive on a stick shift. My poor father. *shakes head*
Fantastic Bloggers who deserve this award:


Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm
What Miss Kelley Is Reading
The Eager Readers
Reading With Tequila
Read Sam, Read!
Not-Really-Southern Vamp Chick
Geeky Blogger's Book Blog

Okay, seven is all I can do tonight. There are so many great blogs out there--love it!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: HUNGER by Jackie Morse Kessler

Final Grade: 87/B
180 pages
YA Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 10/18/2010
Review copy provided by publisher
Recommend to students: Yes
BLURB:

"Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world." 
 
Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
 
Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home—her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power—and the courage to fight her own inner demons?
 
A wildly original approach to the issue of eating disorders, Hunger is about the struggle to find balance in a world of extremes, and uses fantastic tropes to explore a difficult topic that touches the lives of many teens. 
 
REVIEW:  I finished this book a couple of days ago but I had to let it simmer. HUNGER is one of *those* books. Jackie Kessler is a wildly imaginative author, and her latest novel is no exception. The premise of an anorexic girl tapped to be Famine is so intriguing--like nothing I've heard before.

In the middle of her suicide attempt, Death taps Lisa to be Famine, one of the Four Horsemen (In honor of equal rights and the fact that Lisa is a girl, should it now be Horsepeople? Nah. Horsemen works.) of the Apocalypse. At first, Lisa thinks it's all a dream, one of her light-headed halucinations. But the Scales of her office appear on the table and her black steed is chomping at the plants in the garden (I love that she names her horse, who's never had a name, Midnight. And feeds him pralines). She starts to believe.

Lisa is such a troubled young lady. Kessler does a fantastic job of getting into the head of this anorexic girl and making the reader feel for her--and understand what drives her. Her disease literally eats away at her as she pushes away friends and loved ones, including her boyfriend. This isn't done in a preachy way, either, like I've read before. It's understandable and heartbreaking, especially how she clings to a new friend, Tammy, who's bulimic. Lisa is jealous of Tammy's control--Tammy can eat anything she wants (especially the cookies that Lisa makes for her) and, within 20 minutes, purge it from her system.

Death is a fantastic character, with oblique references to who he "actually" is (he sings clips of Nirvana songs, has stringy blond hair...Kurt Cobain, anyone?). Who would have thought Death is a hottie? And he's the one who gets the best one-liners, too. 
 
We also meet War and Pestilence. Poor Pestilence holds all the diseases of mankind, which show up all over his body. Lisa meets him while in the role of Famine, learning that Pestilence and Famine work well together (she's grossed out by him, but he gets her to thinking about how she maybe can use her powers differently). War rocks. She's mean and aggressive and her horse tries to eat Lisa's hand when they first meet. She's a great character who I wish we would have seen more of. The battle between War and Famine is fantastic--I wanted more of this.

Actually, that's pretty much my only criticism of this book--I wanted more. More description, more Famine around the world scenes, more about Lisa's relationships, more Death (What? He was hot and funny! You'll want more, too.). I do have to say that more reluctant readers might be more apt to read this book, considering its length. However, it left me wanting more (which is a good thing, in some ways, I guess!). 
 
(Not a spoiler) This is not a happily-ever-after novel--it's gritty and truthful (though, I promise, you won't want to throw the book across the room because of an unsatisfactory ending!). Lisa is dealing with (hiding from) a serious disease that strikes too many teens. Kessler lays it all out for her readers, getting to the heart of the disease's ugly aspects. She's honest because, as she mentions in her author's note, she was bulimic and had a friend who was bulimic also. (I'm not sure how this will be in the final edition.)
 
I'm looking forward to see how Kessler deals with Death, War, and Pestilence in her next stories. 
 
Come back in October, when Jackie Morse Kessler will be stopping by this blog as part of The Crossroads tour! We'll have plenty of awesome giveaways and wonderful interviews, too!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

2010 Debut Author Challenge

Visit The Story Siren for more info


Okay, so I'm a little slow at starting this (It's a summer thing. I tend to be a bit more organized during the school year, when I'm not all summer-brainy.) but I've joined The Story Siren's 2010 Debut Author Challenge. The objective is to read a set number of YA or MG debut authors published this year. The Siren challenges everyone to read 12, though I'll probably read more than that. I'm keeping a list on this post, with links to each review.

JULY:
1. SHADE by Jeri Smith-Ready
2. THE RISE OF RENEGADE X by Chelsea M. Campbell
3. THE GHOST AND THE GOTH by Stacey Kade
4. THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY by Kay Cassidy
5. BRIGHTLY WOVEN by Alexandra Bracken
6. GIRL PARTS by John M. Cusick
7. RULES TO ROCK BY by Josh Farrar
AUGUST
8.

Winner of THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY!

We have a winner! I used Random.org and it picked #24.

MEREDITH!! Yay!

Congratulations, Meredith. I've sent you an email. Enjoy THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY. :)

More contests to come--so many good books I want to pass your way.

Review: JEALOUSY by Lili St. Crow

Final Grade: 95/A
316 pages
YA Urban Fantasy
Available now
Review copy purchased
Recommend to students: Yes (contains violence)

BLURB: It’s a good thing Dru Anderson is fast. Because the sucker chasing her isn’t slowing down—and he won’t rest until he has tasted her blood and silenced her heart . . .
Dru’s best friend, Graves, and her strange and handsome savior, Christophe, are ready to help her take on the ultimate evil. But will their battle for Dru’s heart get in the way of her survival? 

REVIEW: Wow. That's not much of a blurb, is it? Well, this is the third book in the series so, because I'm sure I'll say something spoil-y in this review, don't read it unless you've read the first two. And, besides that, you'll be a bit confused if you start with Jealousy because Lili St. Crow doesn't do a whole lot of back story in her books (Thank God. 'Cause that annoys me when the author says the same thing over and over to set up the backstory! Granted, it's helpful if you haven't read the book but still.).

I devoured this book in one night, staying up until the wee hours to find out what happens with Dru and Graves and Christophe. Dru's finally away from the delinquent school and where she belongs. Supposedly. But there's still a traitor, there's still suckers and others out there who want her dead. She's a little slow to realize who it is (I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt with this, that she's not slow, she's just having a hard time believing it.) and this slowness almost gets her killed.

Dru finally meets the Council, matches wits with Anna, and comes to a decision about Graves (well, sort of. There's still Christophe...maybe. S*sigh* Love triangles can be so difficult.). And, as I was reading, I realized that this book was going to be a cliffhanger. Grr. Now I'll have to wait until next year to find out if...no. Not gonna put that spoiler in there!

Anyway, Lili St. Crow comes through big-time with JEALOUSY. It's packed full of action, intrigue and betrayal all the way through it. And the fight scenes rock! I love the way she writes them, so that I feel like I'm there, in the middle of the action. Dru is a kick-butt character--stubborn and smart, a take-no-crap kind of girl who, despite the difficult situations she finds herself in, can figure a way out. She garners the loyalty of those around her and is a natural-born leader (although she still sees herself as a loner. I'm thinking this is going to change a bit in the next book, though.). Graves and Christophe are both hot in their own way but I also want to smack them both upside the head because of some of the stuff they say and do (mostly Christophe but Graves still deserves a head-smack). Loved JEALOUSY. Highly recommended.