Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: TWENTY BOY SUMMER by Sarah Ockler

First off, let me give a super-loud shout-out to Jennifer over at Confessions of a Bookaholic who featured The Book Swarm on her blog today. Jennifer, you rock!

And now...on with the review. 

Final Grade: 90/B
YA Contemporary
320 pages
Available now
Review copy purchased
Rated PG-15

BLURB: "Don't worry, Anna. I'll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it."


"Promise me? Promise you won't say anything?"

"Don't worry." I laughed. "It's our secret, right?"


According to Anna's best friend, Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy every day, there's a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there's something she hasn't told Frankie--she's already had her romance, and it was with Frankie's older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.

REVIEW: TWENTY BOY SUMMER is one of the three main books on Wesley Scroggins's hit list (What fabulous company: Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK and Kurt Vonnegut's SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE. As a writer, I certainly wouldn't mind being grouped with those literary powerhouses!). If you want to read what Scroggins wrote, you can read it here. Sarah Ockler herself wrote a wonderful response to his words here

Anna didn't expect to fall in love with her best-friend-that's-a-boy, Matt. She and Matt didn't mean to keep the secret of their romance from Frankie, Matt's sister and Anna's BFF. But Matt died before he could tell his sister about his love for Anna, and Anna didn't know how to tell Frankie about Matt without breaking Frankie's heart.

So Anna travels to California with Frankie and her family, hoping the time at the beach will help ease the pain. Frankie's plan is for both of them to meet twenty boys over their stay. But, after the first four guys (or three, if you count the two guys who smiled at them their first day as just one), Anna meets Sam. Sam who makes her feel all tingly and makes her sad thoughts float away. Their romance is sweet, and Sam is exactly what she needs to let go of her first love and move on with her life. 

However, there are still dark clouds on the horizon--Anna still hasn't told Frankie about Matt, despite it being a year later. And I never quite understood why. Sure, Matt said he wanted to be the one to tell Frankie but Matt died. Sometimes, there's just not a "perfect" time to give people difficult news. You've just got to do it. This goes to Anna's personality, I guess. She's not really the go-getter type. So, all the way through the book, I was on tenterhooks waiting for that big confrontation I knew was going to happen--I figured either Anna would blurt it out or Frankie would find out somehow. (No, I'm not telling! Read the book!)

Despite my wanting to shake Anna and tell her to tell Frankie already, I really liked this book. Throughout it, you could practically taste everyone's pain of losing a loved one, a brother, and a child. Ockler's words truly reflect the family's grief in a realistic way. I even cried, just a little. A beautiful story of love and loss, TWENTY BOY SUMMER washes away the pain with the sigh of the ocean.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books Week: Read On!

I'm currently in the middle of TWENTY BOY SUMMER by Sarah Ockler, one of the many challenged books out there. Very good so far! I'll be reviewing it this week. (Dontcha just love this poster? Ahoy, ye matey! It's a banned book! LOL. I crack myself up.)

In the meantime, while you wait with bated breath for my reviw, I wanted to leave you with some fantastic links from around da interwebz (a quick nod to my Chicago Bears--da Bears--who kicked some Cheesehead booty last night, even though the Packers were favored to win! Go Bears!).

From the University of North Carolina's School of Education comes a variety of resources for educators and others to use to promote understanding and READING of banned and challenged books.

The Right to Read by Author Savannah J. Foley.

Author Jo Knowles writes about her favorite banned book, The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

And Maw Books posts a review of GO ASK ALICE by Anonymous. Despite the fact that this isn't a "real" diary, rather a fictional piece set up to read like a diary, this is an always-favorite of my 8th graders--it's constantly checked out of our library and passed between students with a quick, "You've gotta read this." Whatever. My students are reading, and they're passing it on to others. I'm good with that, even if the author did pull a James Frey. (FYI, he's the guy who wrote his memoir "A Million Little Pieces", beloved by Oprah and was later exposed on The Smoking Gun, as having made up large sections of the book. Oops. Even Oprah makes mistakes.)

So, get out there and read a banned or challenged book today!

Sunday, September 26, 2010


In honor of Banned Book Week, I'm going to focus on authors and/or books that were banned or challenged. John Green's book, LOOKING FOR ALASKA, was part of 11th grade English curriculum in Depew, NY but challenged due to graphic language and sexual content. listed it as an ALA Porn Pusher (Really? Insane!) because of the sexually inappropriate material, despite the fact that it's marketed as YA, not 'tween or MG.

So John Green fits the criteria, and I was reading AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES--synchronicity!

Final Grade: 93/A
YA Contemporary
256 pages
Available now
Review copy purchased
Rated PG-13

BLURB: When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove the Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

REVIEW: John Green knows how to write a quirky, nerdy, laughable character who's completely flawed yet really likable. Colin Singleton is just that character (okay, so his main characters are all a bit alike but Green can tell a story like nobody's business so I'll forgive him. Yeah, got me some Green love!). Poor Colin's just been dumped by his latest Katherine and is face-down on the carpet in his room when his best friend, Hassan, proposes a road trip. (I feel like I've been reading a lot of road trip books lately. Hummm. Maybe the Universe is telling me something.) While Colin really just wants to wallow, Hassan talks him into it because, who doesn't feel better on a road trip? Their trip leads them to Gutshot, Tennessee, Lindsey, and summer jobs recording the town's history.

Despite the fact that not all loose ends are tied up and I was left hanging just a bit, I loved it. The strong teen voices come through loud and clear. You can practically hear them talking to one another, joking, chatting, and fighting. Sure, there's cursing but I don't feel like it's overused or thrown in just for the heck of it. And I love how wild, interesting facts are sprinkled liberally throughout the entire story. Like, do you know why the shower curtain always blows in towards the water (and you), despite the fact that the water is pushing against it? Yeah, I didn't until I read this book. Now, if it comes up on Trivia Night, my team will so own that point. (Wanna know? Read the book. Well, I suppose you could Google it but that wouldn't be nearly as much fun now, would it?)

Colin is quite a self-centered character, which seems like a bad thing but isn't. Being incredibly analytical, he inspects every aspect of his life with a fine-toothed comb, especially his relationships with the nineteen Katherines. Hassan is the perfect foil for Colin--loud and funny, more than happy to call Colin out when he's spouting too many useless facts or being too self-centered. Plus, he's intelligent enough to play on Colin's level, even though he'd rather sit on the couch and watch Judge Judy (really, he doesn't want to do anything else with his life but that.). While it's pretty obvious what's going to happen to Colin and Hassan, the story is intriguing enough to keep the reader interested.

Great characters and a fun plot made this book a fantastic end-of-the-summer, BBW author read.

This book can be purchased from AMAZON or INDIEBOUND Books.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Review: 8th GRADE SUPERZERO by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Final Grade: 80/C
YA Contemporary
272 pages
Available now
Review copy purchased
Rated PG

BLURB: For middle schooler Reggie McKnight, being called “Pukey” is the least of his problems. School elections are coming up, but he’s as far away from being school President as he is from shutting down his enemy Donovan or meeting up with the beautiful Mialonie. His friends Ruthie and Joe C. have his back, but let’s face it: Reggie can only be a superhero on the pages of his graphic novel, Night Man. 

Then Reggie gets involved with a local homeless shelter, the Olive Branch. Haunted by two of the clients there -- George, a once proud man now living on the streets, and five-year-old Charlie, who becomes his official “Little Buddy” -- he begins to think about making a difference, both in the world and at school. Pukey for President? It can happen...if he starts believing.

REVIEW: I picked this book up after multiple recommendations during a Twitter Chat (#YAlitchat). Maybe my expectations were too high but I was slightly disappointed. It's not that 8th GRADE SUPERZERO is bad--not at all! Actually, it would be a great book to teach in my 8th grade class. There are tons of lessons and research that I can totally see resulting from my students reading this book.

But as a reader, I didn't want to be preached to. Which is what I felt like was happening through much of the story. Homelessness is bad/sad and anyone can be homeless. Stand firm in your beliefs. Look beneath the surface of those around you. It's hard to be out of work. Don't judge someone based on their race. Stand up for those who are weaker than you. (Not that I disagreed with any of the points Rhuday-Perkovich brought up in her book. I just prefer it to be more subtle, if it's done at all.)

Reggie McKnight is a good character with a strong voice. He's the reason I kept reading the book. I wanted to know what happened to him. I wanted to know if he would be able to overcome the terrible nickname he earned the first day of eighth grade, when he threw up on stage all over the principal's shoes. I wanted to know if he would get the girl or would finish his comic book. And I wasn't disappointed. The main story was very engaging. But I got hung up on the subplots (the one with his sister was particularly muddy) and the lecture-y bits.

It took me quite a while to finish this book, mostly because I got bogged down in parts, especially where the author was trying to drive home a point. When I hit one of those, I'd put this book to the side and read something else. But I always came back to it. While the author needs to work on her show-versus-tell, I would most definitely pick up another book by her.

This author can be purchased at AMAZON or INDIEBOUND books.

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's Friday!!

The question for this Follow Friday was: What's the best book cover?

TOO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM...HEAD EXPLODING WITH JOY! Actually, Goodreads has this great list called the Beautiful Book Covers of 2011. One (of many) fave from it is ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis (not only an awesome-looking cover but an awesome book!):

Follow Friday's a great way to meet other bloggers in this wonderful community of ours. You can head over to Parajunkee's View or you can click on Mr. Linky to find many other great book review blogs or join the fun!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bloggers Speak Out: Book Swarm Giveaway

I'm speaking loudly by giving away four of the most frequently challenged books in the last four years, including the most recently challenged book, SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson. 

Five challenged books, five winners! Contest runs from today, Sept. 23-Oct. 3, 2010 and is open internationally.

2010: SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson Reasons for challenges: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

2009: THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky Reasons for challenges: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group

2008: TTYL by Lauren Myracle Reasons for challenges: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs 

2007: OLIVE'S OCEAN by Kevin Henkes Reasons for challenges: offensive language, sexually explicit

2006: ATHLETIC SHORTS by Chris Crutcher Reasons for challenges: homosexuality and offensive language

Bloggers Speak Out

Bloggers Speak Out is a movement sparked by the recent article, "Filthy Books Demeaning to Republic Education" by Dr. Wesley Scroggins that was published in the Springfield, MO News-Leader on September 18th. In this article, Scroggins vehemently advocates the censorship of books in schools, and specifically requests that the following books be removed from the Republic school system: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. To show our support of these authors and to fight against book banning and censorship, we have decided to take action and speak out.

Below is a list of links of bloggers speaking out against book banning and censorship--in the form of giveaways, posts, and reviews. Some are "officially" participating in what we're calling Bloggers Speak Out, and others are posts that we've found around the blogosphere. If you get time, you should definitely check them out! 

Giveaways of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
**All giveaways will end on 10/3, unless otherwise noted**
Other Giveaways
**All giveaways will end on 10/3, unless otherwise noted**

Other Posts Against Book Banning and Censorship
Important Articles on the Subject
"Filthy Books Demeaning to Republic Education" (the article that started it all)
"Republic School Book Choices under Fire" (Springfield News-Leader)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fall TV Rocks!

Hi, my name is Mary and I'm a TV addict. I love my shows, and I've got my DVR set up for my fall shows.

Old Faves:
--CASTLE. Gotta have my Nathan Fillion fix. And I love the snark.
--BONES. Such great dynamics between the main characters.
--FRINGE. Creepy-good. Alternate reality, anyone?
--CHUCK. Gotta get me some Nerd Herd!
--GLEE. Kinda wish I could sing instead of just scaring the dogs.

Noobs (That still need to prove themselves!):
*NIKITA. Loved the original movie, loved the Jodie Foster movie, loved LA FEMME NIKITA. High hopes.
*CHASE. A butt-kicking chick who's US Marshall? Count me in.
*UNDERCOVERS. That guy is smokin' hot. And they're married spies. Yes, please.

(Um, why is every title just one word? Strange.)

I do love 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory, too, but I usually watch those "live".

What are you watching this season?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speak Loudly

 Being an American and an avid reader of all flavors of books, I believe we have the right to certain freedoms including freedom of choice. We have the right to choose what we want to read. We have the right to choose not to read a certain book. We have the right to be vocal about a book--whether to praise it or not. 

What we don't have the right to do is force our beliefs on someone else. That's what Banned Books Week, officially running from September 25-October 2 of this year, is all about. According to the American Library Association, one of the main sponsors of Banned Books Week, "Banned Books (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books  across the United States." 

Some of you may say, "No way! Banning books? That doesn't happen these days." (Oh, to be so naive.)

It does. Take, for example, Wesley Scroggings, an associate professor at Missouri State University. In this opinion piece, he outlines his reasons as to why he wants Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK banned.

SPEAK, filthy and immoral? I think not. It's an incredibly powerful, realistic novel of a brutal attack and its repercussions for the victim. Laurie Halse Anderson responds along with literary agent Janet Reid, and authors Catherine Ryan, Myra McEntire, and A.S. King.

It's one thing to prevent your own children from reading a specific book because you don't feel it's appropriate for them or because you don't like the subject matter. That is your right as a parent. It is also your right NOT to read a book, whatever the reason. 

However, it is another thing entirely when someone tries to prevent my child or any other reader from reading that book. That is not their right.

Support freedom of choice. Make your voice heard. Write an opinion piece. Comment on Mr. Scroggings' own piece. Read a banned book today. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Skip Day: Boo! No Time to Read!

Some weeks just run away from you. This was one of my runaway weeks. With Open House, a myriad of meetings and lots to do after school, I didn't get much reading done. Thus, no reviews. *sigh* Next week's schedule is looking much the same but I have high hopes:

1) Review FIRELIGHT by Sophie Jordan (and hopefully some others, too!)
2) Add some student reviewer bios to their page (You hear that, y'all? I need your bios!)
3) Work on a redesign for the blog. Anyone know any good designers? I need a more young adult (less kiddie cartoon, although I do love my bees!) design with possibly a swarm of flying books, a teen reading, and a bee (book) hive. Plus, I want a button for both my blog and my skip day posts! Goodness, I wish I had time to learn Photoshop or Illustrator. I'd be rockin' a new design in no time!

My inspirations:

(Image on right from; image on left from

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS by C.J. Omololu

Final Grade: 93/A
YA Contemporary
212 pages
Available now
Review copy purchased
Rated PG

BLURB: Everyone has secrets. Some are just bigger and dirtier than others.

For sixteen years, Lucy has kept her mother's hoarding a secret. She's had to -- nobody would understand the stacks of newspapers and mounds of garbage so high they touch the ceiling and the rotting smell that she's always worried would follow her out the house. After years of keeping people at a distance, she finally has a best friend and maybe even a boyfriend if she can play it right. As long as she can make them think she's normal.

When Lucy arrives home from a sleepover to find her mother dead under a stack of National Geographics, she starts to dial 911 in a panic, but pauses before she can connect. She barely notices the filth and trash anymore, but she knows the paramedics will. First the fire trucks, and then news cameras that will surely follow. No longer will they be remembered as the nice oncology nurse with the lovely children -- they'll turn into that garbage-hoarding freak family on Collier Avenue.

With a normal life finally within reach, Lucy has only minutes to make a critical decision. How far will she go to keep the family secrets safe?

REVIEW: Poor Lucy. She's lived with her mother's secret her entire life, never getting too close to anyone and definitely never inviting them into her house. The one time one of her friends did get a look inside, she gave Lucy a terrible nickname. Lucy changed schools to get away. 

I can't even imagine living like that. Piles of trash, unwashed dishes, stacks of reminded me of that Shel Silverstein poem, "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out." (Huh. Makes me wonder if Sarah Cynthia was actually a hoarder, rather than just a lazy kid who didn't want to take out the trash.) C.J. Omolou really did her research for this book, portraying the difficulties facing someone living with a hoarder, someone who doesn't have the same tendencies, seamlessly.

(This next part could be considered spoiler-y considering it's teased in the blurb but this event happens in the first quarter of the book, so I'm going for it.)

When she finds her mother dead, Lucy has to make a difficult decision--and she choses to try and preserve her now-semi-normal life by holding off calling the police and trying to clean up the house so she and her house won't end up on the news. It's not a completely rational decision but Lucy really has no one to talk to about it. Her older sister is just like their mother and her brother has no desire to return or even discuss anything regarding their mother. She can't tell her friend, she can't tell her sort-of boyfriend. This is a decision she has to make completely on her own. And she has to live with the consequences.

DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS. You have to read it to believe it. 

AUTHOR BIO: C. J. OMOLOLU is the author of Dirty Little Secrets, her first novel. She lives in Northern California, with her husband and two sons.

Purchase this book from AMAZON or INDIEBOUND

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: SAPPHIQUE by Catherine Fisher

Final Grade: 94/B
YA Fantasy
Available December 28, 2010
ARC recieved through We Love YA ARC Tours
Rated PG

BLURB: Finn has escaped from the terrible living Prison of Incarceron, but its memory torments him, because his brother Keiro is still inside. Outside, Claudia insists he must be king, but Finn doubts even his own identity. Is he the lost prince Giles? Or are his memories no more than another construct of his imprisonment? And can you be free if your friends are still captive? Can you be free if your world is frozen in time? Can you be free if you don't even know who you are? Inside Incarceron, has the crazy sorcerer Rix really found the Glove of Sapphique, the only man the Prison ever loved. Sapphique, whose image fires Incarceron with the desire to escape its own nature. If Keiro steals the glove, will he bring destruction to the world? Inside. Outside. All seeking freedom. Like Sapphique.

REVIEW: Okay, first things first. I love this cover. It's so different but works perfectly for the book. 

SAPPHIQUE is a sequel to INCARCERON (which rocked) and this review will no doubt be filled with spoilers (there's no good way around it when you're reviewing a sequel). Read INCARCERON first. It's worth your time. This series is so incredibly imaginative and beautifully descriptive. 

SAPPHIQUE picks up where the first book left off, with Finn on the Outside, still trying to remember his past and wondering if he truly is the lost heir to the Kingdom; Claudia still scheming with Jared, trying to get the Portal to work; and Attia and Keito on the Inside of the prison, Incarceron, lying and stealing their way to the heart of the prison where the Warden is trapped.

Finn is way emo throughout the majority of the book, always wanting what he can't have. He regrets leaving Attia and Keito behind (though there was no way to bring them along when he and Claudia escaped), he doesn't want to play all the Court games like he's supposed to, and the romance between Claudia and him is practically nonexistent. Claudia is still pretty self-involved, too, though she tries to help Finn navigate the Court and Jared repair the Portal.

Attia and Keito have it even harder inside the prison--Incarceron is trying to build itself a body so it can "escape". However, if it leaves, everyone trapped in the prison will die. Out of all of them, Attia is probably my favorite character. She's smart, she's determined and she doesn't put up with any of Keito's crap (and he tries to dish out a lot of it. Jerk.).  As Incarceron pulls power from everywhere it can, hoarding the power for itself, both worlds begin to crumble. 

I loved the contrast of the two worlds. Inside, people felt trapped in their harsh, ugly world but they had the dream of a better place outside. Outside, it may look beautiful on the surface, but underneath it all, things are ugly with no possibility of escape. Truly a case of the grass is always greener.

SAPPHIQUE is a fantastic read that had me staying up late at night so I could find out where the twisting path Catherine Fisher led me down ended. And it was so worth it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Skip Day: Road Trip to Charleston

It's been a hectic week (Yes, I know it was only a four-day week but sometimes those are the longest. Why? It's a mystery.) and I'm in the mood for a road trip. Maybe it's because I just finished AMY & ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR or maybe it's because I've been tracking the road trip of one of my good friends, who just completed a trek in a little truck pulling an RV from South Carolina to Oregon without killing her husband OR her two dogs.

Yep, a road trip sounds good. But I don't have two weeks to drive across the country. How 'bout a local road trip?

Living in Columbia, we're right in the middle of everything. We could go to the beach. Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms are my favorite (an hour and a half away):

And, if you're hungry, we can get some she-crab soup and a sweet tea from The Sea Biscuit on Isle of Palms (a local favorite!):
Then, if you want, we can go over the Cooper River Bridge into Charleston:

And take a carriage ride around the city (those tour guides know everything!):

Or check out the beautiful cemeteries, streets and parks until we decide to go home:

Hope you had a great road trip with me!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review: THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES by Kristina McBride

Final Grade: 85/B
YA Contemporary
288 pages
Available now
Review copy purchased
Rated PG-15

BLURB: Two years ago Noelle disappeared. Two long years of no leads, no word, no body.

Since the abduction, Tessa, her best friend, has lived in a state of suspended animation. She has some friends, but keeps them distant. Some interest, but she won't allow herself to become passionate about the. And guys? She can't get close--she knows what it is like to really lose someone she cared for.

And then, one day, the telephone rings. Noelle is alive. And maybe, just maybe, Tessa can start to live again, too.

REVIEW: It's a terrible nightmare, especially for parents, to have a child taken from them, to have no word if she's alive or dead. And, when their child finally comes home, she's been through something so traumatic, she's a totally different person. I can't even imagine.

But this story isn't told from the parents' perspective. It's told from the viewpoint of Noelle's best friend in the whole entire world, Tessa. Tessa is an introvert, more comfortable behind the lens of her camera, while Noelle was the extrovert, dragging Tessa out into the world. But as soon as Noelle disappeared, Tessa retreated, abandoning everyone but Darcy (who is too stubborn to allow Tessa to ditch her).

Then, Noelle returns. Her hair is stringy and black. She demands to be called Elle, because Noelle is dead (metaphorically). At first, she won't talk to anyone, even Tessa. And Tessa is frantic to see her. After all, she's been dreaming of her friend for two years.

In the midst of all this drama, Tessa finds a guy, Max. Max is gentle and understanding but with the stubbornness required to get behind Tessa's wall. He was a great character. I'd date him and I got frustrated with Tessa's reluctance to do so.

Actually, I got frustrated with Tessa quite a bit. I mean, I totally get being an introvert. But to close yourself off from the world and refuse to interact with it when your friend disappears? Yes, it's a terrible thing but she lets it take over her entire life. And when Noelle finally comes back, Tessa is even more obsessed with her, ditching Max on multiple occasions because she thinks Noelle needs her.

Despite my frustration with Tessa, I still blazed through the novel because I wanted to see what happened with Noelle, with Tessa and Noelle, and with Tessa and Max. The interesting, dynamic (and, at times, frustrating) characters really make this novel shine, and McBride tells a difficult story very well.

AUTHOR BIO: Kristina McBride, a former high school English teacher and yearbook advisor, wrote The Tension of Opposites in response to the safe return of a child who was kidnapped while riding his bike to a friend's house. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two young children. This is her first novel. Visit her online at

Purchase your copy from AMAZON or INDIEBOUND books.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: September 10-13, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

A favorite post I've written in the past three months? Well, I'm kind of obsessed with this book. I've recommended it to my students (next week, I'll read the first chapter to intrigue them even more). I've recommended it here. I've chatted with the author (she's amazing, btw) & posted her fab (long--told you, we got to chatting!) interview. It's HARMONIC FEEDBACK! (You know how sometimes a book will just speak to you? Yeah, this is the book that spoke to me this year. Love.)

I'm going to try to visit a TON of sites this week to make up for my rather lackadaisical hopping last week (sorry, all!). Oh, and I'm teaching my kids how to do better book reviews this week so I hope to have some of their posts and bios up by the end of the month. (This isn't the overly-obsessed-with-books group I had last year but I think I can work with them! I've even got some Manga readers I hope to get reviewing. Yay for variety!)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Planning tonight!

I've got to write my lesson plans for next week and my next unit tonight so I won't have time to post my review of TENSION OF OPPOSITES until tomorrow (I know, you're heartbroken.).

And--exciting news, to me anyway!--I just received an ARC of SAPPHIQUE in the mail today (can I get a WOOT!). I really enjoyed INCARCERON and I'm totally looking forward to diving into it tonight (um, after lesson plans are written, of course. It's my carrot. And my stick--no reading until I'm done!). So, that review should be up by Sunday. I hope.

Anyway, happy Thursday! Hope your week is a tad bit less nutso than mine (meetings out the wazoo are not at all conducive to planning or grading or reading and reviewing. *sigh* Oh well!).

Hugs! Read something great for me!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Three Quickie Reviews

There are a pile of books I just finished that already have a plenty of reviews on them. So, instead of going into detail, I decided to do "Quickies" for three of them.

Quickie Review #1: AMY & ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR by Morgan Matson
Final Grade: 93/A

YA Contemporary

BLURB: Amy Curry thinks her life sucks. Her mom decides to move from California to Connecticut to start anew--just in time for Amy's senior year. Her dad recently died in a car accident. So Amy embarks on a road trip to escape from it all, driving cross-country from the home she's always known toward her new life. Joining Amy on the road trip is Roger, the son of Amy's mother's old friend. Amy hasn’t seen him in years, and she is less than thrilled to be driving across the country with a guy she barely knows. So she's surprised to find that she is developing a crush on him. At the same time, she’s coming to terms with her father’s death and how to put her own life back together after the accident.

REVIEW: This isn't a new-new book but I saw a bunch of really positive reviews on it so I decided to check it out. Now, after finishing it, I REALLY want to take a road trip. And listen to the totally awesome playlists Matson has throughout the book. Amy's a fantastic character. I would have liked to get a bit more in depth with Roger, as he seemed a bit flat (totally obsessed with his ex-girlfriend). There are some loose ends at the conclusion of the book but nothing that detracts too much from the story itself. Definitely recommend this one!

Quickie Review #2: MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins
Final Grade: 93/A
YA Science Fiction/Fantasy
BLURB: Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.

REVIEW: Of course! How could I resist this one? Loved most of it. Still love HUNGER GAMES much more. I was annoyed by Katniss's refusal to engage but love her nonetheless. All in all, a pretty darn decent ending to a fantastic series.

Quickie Review #3: PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White
Final Grade: 94/A
YA Paranormal Romance
BLURB: Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals’ glamours.
But Evie’s about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.
So much for normal.

REVIEW: What an awesome debut! Evie's a great character and I really liked Lend, too. Creative twists on the whole paranormal-creatures-in-the-world trope. Fun, fast read. Looking forward to her next endeavor (whether it's the next book in what seems will be a series or a whole new world).

I purchased all these books.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Interview: Tara Kelly, author of HARMONIC FEEDBACK

Tara Kelly, author of HARMONIC FEEDBACK (one of my top books of 2010!!), joins the Swarm today to answer questions about writing, music and life.

Tara 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. You can visit Tara at her WEBSITE.

Book Swarm: Thank you so much for taking time from your super-packed schedule to answer some questions for us! First off, what spark led you to write HARMONIC FEEDBACK?

Tara: I’ve met many people who are or feel ‘socially awkward’. Obviously I have firsthand experience growing up with ADHD and having a younger brother on the autistic spectrum. So I’ve always wanted to write a book featuring a main character who thinks a bit differently than what is considered the ‘norm’. But I also wanted to question the whole idea of normal. What is it exactly? It’s nobody I’ve ever met, that’s for sure.

My intent with HARMONIC FEEDBACK was to take three characters from very different backgrounds—one with a label and two without—and watch what they learned from one another, how they helped each other grow. Because I think this need to fit in and be liked is universal—and I also think we all feel a little bizarre from time to time.

Book Swarm: How did your life inspire the characters and/or events in the novel?

Tara: Aside from the above, my life-long obsession with music was an obvious inspiration. While my characters aren’t based on anyone in particular, they all share traits with people I’ve known and cared about throughout my life. In high school, I had friends who were tangled up with addiction, like Naomi, and it was a very painful experience for me. But it’s also an experience I know many kids go through—I wanted them to feel like they aren’t alone in that.

Book Swarm: Drea, your main character, has a form of Asperger’s Syndrome. How did you “get into her head” and create such a fantastic, real character?

Tara: Thank you! I’m not going to lie—it was tough. She’s probably the toughest character I’ve written in that we’re extreme opposites in some ways. She sees and processes things in such a literal/technical way where I’m all melody, emotions, and metaphors. What really helped me was talking to more literal-minded people I know, some on the spectrum, some not. And believe it or not, music was a huge help. The best way for me to get into the heads of my characters is to listen to the music they listen to, whether I like it or not. Most importantly, I wanted Drea to be her own person—someone we all could possibly know and not defined by her ‘labels’ or a neat box of symptoms.

Book Swarm: Well, you really accomplished what you set out to do with Drea. What about your other characters like Naomi and Justin? Are they inspired by real people or did they just walk on the page (as sometimes happens with characters!)?

Tara: Haha! A little of both, actually. Both characters were inspired by various people I’ve known, but they also just kind of appeared on the page and had a mind of their own from there. I wish I could say I had more control over my characters…but that would be a big fat lie. :)

Book Swarm: You've got another book on the horizon, which sounds great, too. Tell us a bit about your upcoming novel, C-SIDE TALES (due out in 2011).

Tara: C-Side Tales is about a privileged 17-year-old who gets kicked out of her house because she wants to postpone college. So what does a girl in that situation do? Well, hot-headed Jasmine flees to Santa Cruz to pursue her dream of becoming a musician. She gets lucky and finds the ideal room in an oceanfront house, but needs to convince the three guys living there that she's the perfect roommate and lead guitarist for their industrial rock band, C-Side. Too bad she has major stage fright, and the cute bassist doesn't think a spoiled girl from over the hill can hack it.

Harmonic Feedback had some focus on a band and music, but the band is the main focus of C-Side, and it was a thrill to write, especially the live performance scenes and the various situations Jasmine gets herself into.

Book Swarm: That's definitely on my wish list. Now, on to writing in general. We love hearing about how writers create. What’s your writing process—how do you go from the idea to writing that final draft?

Tara: What final draft? (Just kidding, sort of) I’m a writer who edits heavily as I write and I’m extremely linear—so I can’t move on until I completely finish a scene. Therefore, usually my first draft IS my final draft, but you better believe that every chapter was painstakingly written and edited before I moved onto the next. Hopefully, that makes sense!

Anyway, my ideas usually come in the form of characters. So I essentially start delving into their lives, watch them interact and I see what happens from there.

BookSwarm: Totally get the linear thing! We know that music is major in your life. How has your music and musical background influenced your writing?

Tara: Ha, well so far ALL of my books have revolved around music in some form. And I’ve yet to write a book without at least one character who plays an instrument. Music is such a huge inspiration for me—I would literally NOT be able to write without it. If I truly want to get inside the head of a tough character, I find the music they love and I listen to it on repeat until I get a scene right.

Book Swarm: Very cool way to get to know your characters even better. So, we’re always curious about authors’ writing spaces, which are as individual as the authors themselves. Where do you do the majority of your writing?

Tara: I tend to move a LOT, so lately my writing spaces have varied quite a bit. I have to switch it up, to be honest. Sometimes I’m cuddled on the couch with a laptop. Other times I’m in my music room where my good speakers are. And other times I just sit outside, like during a thunderstorm, and type like the wind.

BookSwarm: Variety is the spice of life, after all! As a newly-published author, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered since stepping on the writing path?

Tara: I guess the fact that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. That rejection is still something I have to deal with on a daily basis—and in fact, I’m probably harder on my writing now, as a published author, than I ever was before. On a more positive note, I could never have imagined how great it feels to have readers fall in love with characters I created. To see them discussing Drea, Justin, and Naomi as if they are real people. That makes all the sweat and tears worth it.

Book Swarm: That's got to be a great feeling--especially when your creations really resonate with your readers. So...if music keeps you focused then what’s your biggest distraction when writing?

Tara: Two words. THE INTERNET. Need I say more?

Book Swarm: Uh, no. Especially because it’s our biggest distraction, too! What about a favorite fuel for writing? What keeps you going?

Tara: I’m not the most coordinated person in the world, so I actually find it really tough to eat and write at the same time. I guess I’d have to say music for this one. :)

Book Swarm: On that note (heehee. Sorry, bad pun), tell us a little more about your musical side.

Tara: I play guitar, bass, and keyboards/piano and of course…sing! This is where the one-girl-band part comes into play. Basically I write and produce all of my own songs and I play all the instruments on them. I have been in bands and it was a blast, but I’m not much of a performer, I’m afraid. I’ve always been pretty uncomfortable on stage. I’m more of a hide in the studio and make music kind of girl.

Book Swarm: Wow--super-talented you! Who are your biggest musical influences?

Tara: I have so many, but female musicians who produce their own music are a huge inspiration to me. Poe, Kate Bush, Imogen Heap, for starters. Some bands I adored growing up were Tool, Depeche Mode, New Order, Skinny Puppy, Bjork, Catherine Wheel.

Book Swarm: Some fantastic artists in that line-up! What about your favorite musical genres?

Tara: I’m a big believer in finding something to like in almost any genre. But I’d say my favorite genre is mainly electronica (most specifically trip hop, industrial, industrial-metal, darkwave, synthpop)

Book Swarm: Say someone wanted to broaden their musical horizons (We’re always on the lookout for great music). What bands/musicians would you suggest and why?

Tara: Oh, do you have all month? First I’d find out what their current favorite bands are and try to find lesser known or bands LIKE them…and then I’d go from there. But for starters, here are a few bands I think should be on everyone’s list:

Placebo: Because they are probably my favorite band live. These guys are AMAZING.
Poe: Her albums are like reading a crazy horror novel. Her songs are creative, unique, gorgeous, and all around kick-ass.
Imogen Heap: Probably the weirdest stuff you’ve heard, but some of the most imaginative and trippy.
Portishead and Massive Attack: If you’re going to listen to triphop, start with the classics.
Puracane: If you like trip hop, check this indie band out. Their music is emotional, raw, and gorgeous.
Celldweller: A requirement for any writer who is working on a fight scene. The ultimate fight scene music.

Book Swarm: Wow, thanks! That's quite a list of music for us to check out. How 'bout best music of 2010?

Tara: I’m loving the new Bat For Lashes album

Book Swarm: What about books? Favorite books of 2010?

Tara: So far: SOME GIRLS ARE by Courtney Summers, BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I’LL BE DEAD by Julie Anne Peters, THE LIGHTER SIDE OF LIFE AND DEATH by CK Kelly Martin, THE DEATHDAY LETTER by Shaun Hutchinson

Book Swarm: Excellent choices. We've read some of those but will have to read the others you suggested. Beyond music, what inspires you?

Tara: Living life. Simple, but true.

Book Swarm: Nice. Just a couple more. Finish this sentence: When I’m not writing, I…

Tara: I’m job hunting. Ha, okay. I’m making music, hanging out with friends, or discovering some new corner of Oregon.

Book Swarm: Good luck with the job hunt! Dogs or cats?

Tara: A fluffy orange cat named Maestro

Book Swarm: Aw--love the name! Mac or PC?

Tara: Definitely Mac!

Book Swarm: Right there with you (oh Mac, how we love you). Tara, again, thank you so much for your time and fantastic answers! We look forward to your next novel. :)

Tara: Great questions! Thank you so much for having me on your blog!

Check out Book Swarm's review of HARMONIC FEEDBACK (Final Grade 99/A+) and order your copy from AMAZON or INDIEBOUND!