Monday, February 28, 2011

Review: HUMAN.4 by Mike A. Lancaster

Final Grade: 87/B
240 pages
YA Science Fiction
Available March 2011
Review copy provided by EgmontUSA
Rated PG

BLURB: The Millgrove talent show has the same performances as any other small town — a cheesy ventriloquist, off-key karaoke singers, and bad dance routines. But after Kyle Straker is hypnotized as part of his friend’s mysterious new act, Millgrove will never be the same again. 

When Kyle and the other volunteers awaken, the entire audience, the entire town, and possibly the entire world, is frozen still. Telephones, radios, televisions, and computers no longer work— only a strange language flashes across the screens. When everybody suddenly wakes up, it becomes clear that they have changed—and that Kyle is now an outsider, one of the 0.4. 

Is Kyle still under hypnosis, or is this chilling new world real? Will he awaken from a dream to roars of laughter, or is there something much more sinister happening? 

One of the last of his kind, Kyle records his story on a series of cassette tapes, describing the shift, and what it means for the future of mankind.

MY THOUGHTS: Wow. This book kind of freaked me out. It was one of those where, after I finished it, I needed to sit and absorb what happened in the story. And then read something light and cheerful to rid myself of the lingering creepy feeling.

Oh, it starts out unassuming enough. Kyle’s a regular guy with some regular friends in an average little town whose major form of entertainment is a talent show on the village green. Then he gets hypnotized, wakes up and everything’s different. Everyone’s different. Except for him and the three people who were on stage with him. Very pod people, in its own, unusual way.

The first (and only) time I saw the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the 1978 version with Donald Southerland), I couldn’t get it out of my head, I was so creeped out. HUMAN.4 affected me in the same way. What would I do if the whole world changed? Would I want to be one of the masses or would I fight to remain the person I am? When Kyle and the survivors are given that same choice, I wondered what I would do if I were in their position.

Back to Kyle. I liked how he was an average guy put in a very atypical position. He handles it admirably (after a couple freak outs), especially considering his entire world has gone wonky and is completely unfixable. His interactions with the other three “survivors” is realistic and well written, as they struggle to figure out what happened and how they’re going to deal with it. Poor Kyle—think of how you would feel if you saw your dorky little brother suddenly sprout filaments out of his hands or your friend light up a room using his own bioluminescence.

The whole book is written as if it were transcribed from tapes Kyle made describing the days right after people changed. The scientists, who have no first-hand knowledge of the world before the “incident”, do their best to analyze Kyle’s words through editorial notes. There are also notes containing definitions of words no longer in use. One of my favorite examples is when they try to explain Kyle’s reference to Teletubbies, which one scholar is sure is a collection of gods or goddesses almost exclusively worshipped by children.

Unputdownable, HUMAN.4 will haunt you long after you finish it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Blogger Hop (It's been a while!)

It seems like forever since I've done a blog hop so I figured it was time to pop my head up and see what new (or new-to-me) blogs are out there in the world since the last time I hopped! *waves* Hi all!
Book Blogger Hop
Jennifer over at Crazy For Books hosts the Book Blogger Hop and 
her question of the day is:
"Do you ever wish you would have named your blog something different?"

Well, sometimes. "The Book Swarm" is kind of a weird name, I know, but I had a whole thought process that went into it. First off, I wanted something with bees because my last name starts with a "B". The Book Hive was taken (although that person hasn't used their blog since, like, 1998!) so I did some brainstorming and came up with The Book Swarm. I really want to design a bunch of books with wings "swarming" their way to my bookshelves...but that would entail me learning a design program!

Anyway, happy hopping and thanks for stopping by! Leave me a link and I'll be sure to stop by and say hi.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


So, here's a question for you: 
Do you genre hop or are you genre loyal?

The reason I ask this is, the longer I write this blog, the more aware of my reading habits I become. When I was in high school, I rampaged my way through historical romance novels. Not contemporary--historical. Specifically, historical novels set in England and Scotland back in the 1700's, 1800's and 1900's. I liked reading about the snobby ton, the lords and ladies, and all the rules they followed--and broke. It helped that there was always a super-hot, muscular man on the cover, so very different than the noodle-armed boys I went to school with (I always did go for the older guys.). God, I loved those bodice-rippers. I'm pretty sure my parents were horrified with their teenaged daughter reading all those (awesome!) trashy novels but they were surprisingly good sports about my choice of reading material.

In college, I read a lot but it was mainly for school. I don't really remember sitting down to read many books for pleasure then--too much going on, too many classes and reading assignments, and too many other obligations. I kind of lost touch with my inner bibliophile. (Though, now that I think about it, college is when I read all the classics: Austen, Faulkner, Dickens, and all those folks. Not too shabby, even if they were class assignments.)

Luckily, as soon as I graduated, I rediscovered my love of reading for enjoyment. Since then, I've gone through a cozy mystery phase, a thriller stage, a hard-core science fiction phase, a straight fantasy phase and an urban fantasy phase.

Currently, I'm deep into YA but I seem to be open to more variety than when I was younger. Does this mean I'm becoming a hopper? (To borrow a line from Seinfeld, not that there's anything wrong with that.) Maybe it's because YA is such a broad category with romance, dystopians, fantasies, and horror all nesting up against each other on the shelves of the teen section. Whatever the reason, I read pretty much anything that tickles my fancy nowadays (urban fantasy and mysteries with some romance are my fave adult genres).

But, really, I am curious about your reading habits. Do you get deep into a genre groove, rarely venturing into another section or are you experimental, reading anything that catches your fancy?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Okay, here's me working on my resolution to read AND review more e-books. And, this time, it's a three-fer!

First up, a creepy one...

CRYER'S CROSS by Lisa McMann

Final Grade: 93/A
240 pages
YA Mystery
Available now
Review copy provided by publisher (e-galley)
Rated PG

The community of Cryer’s Cross, Montana (population 212) is distraught when high school freshman Tiffany disappears without a trace. Already off-balance due to her OCD, 16-year-old Kendall is freaked out seeing Tiffany’s empty desk in the one-room school house, but somehow life goes on... until Kendall's boyfriend Nico also disappears, and also without a trace. Now the town is in a panic. Alone in her depression and with her OCD at an all-time high, Kendall notices something that connects Nico and Tiffany: they both sat at the same desk. She knows it's crazy, but Kendall finds herself drawn to the desk, dreaming of Nico and wondering if maybe she, too, will disappear...and whether that would be so bad. Then she begins receiving graffiti messages on the desk from someone who can only be Nico. Can he possibly be alive somewhere? Where is he? And how can Kendall help him? The only person who believes her is Jacian, the new guy she finds irritating...and attractive. As Kendall and Jacian grow closer, Kendall digs deeper into Nico's mysterious disappearance only to stumble upon some ugly—and deadly—local history. Kendall is about to find out just how far the townspeople will go to keep their secrets buried.

Oooh, the creep-tacular-ness that is CRYER'S CROSS. Even the town's name is freaky. This one's a quick read, but one that will keep you up finishing it and haunt your dreams afterwords. I went to a teeny school for part of my elementary years and the desk on the cover is exactly like the one in some of my classes. I can remember the creak of the lid opening, tracing my finger across graffiti left by past students. So, when something starts leaving messages  on the desk and moving it around, it was even more eep-inducing. I loved how Kendall's OCD plays such a role not only in her everyday life but in helping her solve the mystery of her boyfriend's disappearance. And the interactions between Jacian and Kendall are great (not too steamy but they do get dirty on the soccer field!).

THE IRON QUEEN by Julie Kagawa

Final Grade: 97/A
358 pages
YA Fantasy
Available Now
Review copy provided by publisher (e-galley)
Rated PG-13

My name is Meghan Chase.
I thought it was over. That my time with the fey, the impossible choices I had to make, the sacrifices of those I loved, was behind me. But a storm is approaching, an army of Iron fey that will drag me back, kicking and screaming. Drag me away from the banished prince who's sworn to stand by my side. Drag me into the core of conflict so powerful, I'm not sure anyone can survive it.
This time, there will be no turning back.

I love this series. The mythology that Julie Kagawa created for the new fey is fabulous, especially considering how the "old" fey were always susceptible to iron and these new intruders are destroying everything in their path. Then there's the whole Team Puck/Team Ash debate. While I actually liked Puck better in the beginning, I like Ash so much better in this book. Just like Puck, he's willing to risk so much to aid Meghan but there's a real connection between the two of them. Puck's a better friend for Meghan while Ash is a better boyfriend (even though technically, they should be at war, being Summer and Winter fey). A bittersweet ending (yes, I cried. Don't judge.), I was sure this was the last book in the series but, to my surprise, there's going to be a fourth book called THE IRON KNIGHT, which is set to release in November (no blurb yet, though).

THE DARK DIVINE by Bree Despain

Final Grade: 94/A
372 pages
YA Paranormal
Available now
Personal copy (e-book)
Rated PG-13

A Prodigal Son
A Dangerous Love
A Deadly Secret

Grace Divine—daughter of the local pastor—always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared and her brother Jude came home covered in his own blood.
Now that Daniel's returned, Grace must choose between her growing attraction to him and her loyalty to her brother.
As Grace gets closer to Daniel, she learns the truth about that mysterious night and how to save the ones she loves, but it might cost her the one thing she cherishes most: her soul.

I'd read a ton of great reviews on this book but just didn't get around to reading it until recently. And I really liked it! It starts out as a kind of standard YA with the bad boy who reappears in a family's life, a dark secret, and a girl with a crush on the bad boy. A very bad boy, it seems, especially considering how much Bree's brother hates Daniel. There's so much tension in this book--between Bree and Daniel, Bree and her brother, her brother and Daniel--and it builds so slowly, so masterfully, you don't realize it until you're on the edge of your seat. Plus, everything's shrouded in mystery. What happened between the two guys? What's going on with Daniel? Where was he and why did he come back? What's going on with Bree? I can't wait to read the next one--and this time, I won't wait so long!

Okay, so there are some of my E-READS! Yay for e-books, the wave of the future (I promise that was written with minimal sarcasm. I do like e-books, I just forget about them, since they're stored away so neatly on my Kindle and computer!).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Teen Review: PROJECT SWEET LIFE! by Brent Hartinger

Final Grade: 94/A
YA Contemporary
288 pages
Available now
Personal copy

Amanda’s Blurb: JOBS!!! But not just any job…Summer jobs. This is the worst thing any 15-year-old could ever possibly endure. Or, at least, that’s what Dave and his two best friends think. To them, getting a summer job is like the end of the world. Once you start working, people expect you to do it for the rest of your life. So, Dave, Victor and Curtis are in for a shock when their parents all want them to get summer jobs.

Too bad they don’t listen. Not only do they not get jobs, they spend the summer tricking their families into thinking they actually have jobs. This seems like the perfect solution until Dave’s dad wants to see the paycheck. Now, they have to get “proof” and have to do it without getting caught. Easier said than done.

Amanda’s Thoughts: Overall, I think this was a really good book. It was funny and, at the same time, creative and informative. I would give this book a 94/A. PROJECT SWEET LIFE has a lot of instances where things didn’t turn out like I expected. For example, the first time they tried to earn money was by throwing a yard sale. This proved successful until they damaged a car and had to use the earnings as repayment. And the second time when they won a hundred thousand dollars for catching bank robbers didn’t go too well, either. The use of irony in the story kept me wanting more. Another good thing about the book was the background and history. Although the story of the Chinese in Tacoma was fiction, it seemed like it was based on fact (and probably was).

Even though the story was really good, I thought it could have been improved. The end was too fiction-like, not realistic like other parts of the story. The chance that three teenagers would find something hidden like that is very unlikely. Another part that didn’t fit in with the story was when the robber started shooting at them with a gun. It was unlikely that they’d get away without getting hurt. Still, it was a very good book and I liked it.

TEEN REVIEWER AMANDA: Funny, obsessed with Ron Weasley from Harry Potter and Embry from Twilight; loves to look up phones; and in love with Eli from Degrassi.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pondering Reading "Real" Books vs. E-Books

Why is it, I wonder, that when I think of books, when I list them for IMM, and talk about them with other book lovers, I forget about all the ebooks I have?

Obviously, I love books. I wouldn't read them or blog about them or sing their praises if I didn't or buy so many that my shelves bulge with them. But, when I think of books, I think about the dead tree kind of books. The ones I can touch and smell and flip through, the breeze of the pages' passing soft against my face. Not ebooks.

Picture from
Not that I have anything against ebooks. When I went on vacation before the holidays, my Kindle rocked. Instead of bringing a huge stack of books with me on my cruise, I slid my Kindle into my backpack. It was awesome. If I came across a book I couldn't get into, I could pull up another book with a few clicks. Plus, there are fantastic egalleys out there! Netgalley completely rocks, with some of my very favorite books of the entire year on their list. Simon and Schuster started a "Galley Grab" beta program, yet another way to get their upcoming releases out to bloggers so we can spread the word about our faves. But, despite having access to ebooks I've been drooling over, I go to the physical books themselves first, even if they're not at the top of my to-read list. 

Is anyone else having this issue? Or is it just me? (I'll admit it: I'm really set in my ways, which makes adding new things to my repertoire...difficult.)  *sigh* 

But I'm trying to get into a new mind-set with ebooks. So, my plan is to review as many ebooks as I can over the next month (and more!) and, hopefully, start a new habit of ebook reading. While this doesn't include the Tuesday Teen reviews since those are already set and I don't control what they review or how they choose to read it, I've got a ton of fantastic-fabulous, drool-inducing books to read & review on both my Kindle and on my computer.

On Kindle:
THE DARK DIVINE by Bree Despain (read)
UNEARTHLY by Cynthia Hand
THE IRON QUEEN by Julie Kagawa (read)
Screenshot of my library
FEED by M.T. Anderson
OUTSIDE IN by Maria V. Snyder
RAGE by Jackie Kessler Morse

On Computer (Adobe Digital Editions):
EVERCROSSED by Elizabeth Chandler
INVINCIBLE SUMMER by Hannah Moskowitz
PALE DEMON by Kim Harrison
RED GLOVE by Holly Black
TEN MILES PAST NORMAL by Frances O'Roark Dowell
THE DAY BEFORE by Lisa Schroeder
WITHER by Lauren DeStefano

So, I'm putting it out there. I'm going to prioritize my ebooks (well, along with any ARC's I still need to read and review) and get into the habit of reading ebooks as well as the tangible ones. At least once a week, I'll review an ebook. Yep. There it is. Out into the world with my declaration.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In My Mailbox (10)

Welcome to In My Mailbox, the slacker edition! It's been one of those weeks--never-ending but so packed-full, I got behind on so many things, including reviews (notice I didn't say reading. That was a priority!). So this IMM is actually two weeks worth of mail.

IMM is hosted by The Story Siren

For review:
MERCY BLADE (Jane Yellowrock Book 3) by Faith Hunter
UNSEEN (Outcast Season Book 3) by Rachel Caine
THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW by Peter Boganni (thank you, Penguin!)

Purchased: (I couldn't resist--too many good books...must have them!)

THE RUNNING DREAM by Wendelin Van Draanen
RHYMES WITH CUPID by Anna Humphrey
SUBJECT SEVEN by James A. Moore
BEIGE by Cecil Castelluci

And finally...
Fiona's Pick of the Week
Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins
snagged from my middle school's library. (Can you tell she's a little aggravated that I'm disturbing her reading time?)

So, what books did you get that you're excited about reading?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Teen Review: TAKEN by Edward Bloor

Final Grade: 97/A
YA Dystopian
272 pages
Available now
Library copy

BY 2035 THE RICH have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, and kidnapping has become a major growth industry in the United States. The children of privilege live in secure, gated communities and are escorted to and from school by armed guards.

But the security around Charity Meyers has broken down. On New Year's morning, she wakes and finds herself alone, strapped to a stretcher, in an ambulance that's not moving. She is amazingly calm - kids in her neighborhood have been well trained in kidnapping protocol. If this were a normal kidnapping, Charity would be fine. But as the hours of her imprisonment tick by, Charity realizes there is nothing normal about what's going on here. No training could prepare her for what her kidnappers really want . . . and worse, for who they turn out to be.

Trevor’s Thoughts: The book was great, and I give it a grade of 97/A because it kept me in suspense throughout the story. My favorite part was when Charity went to talk to Victoria. She showed real courage trusting Victoria not to tell Mickie that she’d changed her name and her looks.

I didn’t really like when Charity figures out who really kidnapped her. That knowledge had to cut deep, especially since she thought her dad was dead. Charity was my favorite character because she showed great courage and pride during her kidnapping.

Her father, on the other hand, I didn’t like. He could have at least told her about the planned kidnapping and told her why he wanted to do it. She probably would have gone along with the plan because she loved and trusted him. But her father didn’t bring her into the plan because he wanted to scare her to make it look real. Now, what kind of father does that make him?

TREVOR: loves tennis, video games and hanging out with my friends and brother; want to be an accountant or attorney when I grow up.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Teen Review: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

Final Grade: 98/A
YA Modern Classic
336 pages
Available now
Personal copy

Lawyer Atticus Finch defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic, Puliter Prize-winning novella, a black man charged with the rape of a white woman. Through the eyes of Atticus's children, Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with rich humor and unanswering honesty the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. –from

Tal’s Thoughts: The grade I give this book is a 98/A. It has a lot of suspense. Like when they were in court, it was very nerve-wracking because I did not know if he was going to be declared guilty or innocent.

My favorite character out of this whole entire book would have to be Jem because he has a brave heart and isn’t scared of anybody. Like when somebody attacked him and Scout in the woods, he tried to fight them off but ended up unconscious with a broken arm. He always looked after his sister while his dad was gone.

Another character I liked was Tom Robinson. He was a very good man but I’m not going to tell you what happened (in case you haven’t read the book) but the cop shouldn’t have done what he did.

TAL: Loves to play basketball, loves money ($!); fave food is shrimp alfredo and crab legs; cannot stand my sister when she plays around all the time.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Teen Review: JAY'S JOURNAL by anonymous

Final Grade: 97/A
YA Realistic
240 pages
Available now
Personal copy

Brian’s Blurb: Jay’s a smart boy. With a genius IQ, he’s never really had trouble with school work or anything, for that matter. Almost every problem that’s arisen in his life, he’s been able to fix with logical reasoning. This changes however, when he succumbs to peer pressure and gets into drugs and alcohol. His life gets very complicated when he gets caught stealing prescription pills from a pharmacy and is sent to an all-boys corrections academy. There he discovers the “O”, the occult, which sends his life into a nosedive he can’t reason his way out of.

Brian’s Thoughts: I would give this book a 97/A. This is probably one of the best books I’ve ever read, maybe because I can relate to it extremely well.

One dislike about this book was that the opening plot was extremely boring. I put the book down several times just because I couldn’t get into it. The book starts out with Jay obsessed with this girl—he keeps writing her poetry and drooling over her.

But then the book got exceptionally good, to where I never wanted to put it down! I loved how I could feel how the character felt. Since this book is written in journal format (hence the title), reading it is like getting into the main character’s head. It’s almost like you are Jay! I can’t really choose a favorite part, mainly because there are too many to pick from, but I really did enjoy when Jay was being possessed and haunted by a demon named Raul.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Interview: Sara Bennett Wealer and Mini-Giveaway!

I love when authors come to visit The Book Swarm! Today, a fabulous author, one of the Elevensies, is joining us: Sara Bennett Wealer. Her debut YA novel, RIVAL, releases February 15th from HarperTeen. RIVAL's absolutely fantastic--she has such insight into rivalry and the dual perspectives from the two main characters puts the reader right there in the midst of their battle. You can read my review from yesterday HERE.

Oh! Oh! Plus, I have some lovely swag for RIVAL (and some awesomeness for ANGELFIRE by Courtney Allison Moulton, too) to give away to you lovely people. (*Very simple* entry instructions at the bottom of this post. Yay!)

On with the interview!

What character traits do you share with your main characters, Brooke and Kathryn, the rivals in RIVAL?
I’ve definitely got Brooke’s dislike of BS. I try to focus on what’s important to me and avoid politics and stupid games. I’m also a bit like Kathryn in that I sometimes underestimate myself. Oh, and I worry too much!

Were you more like Brooke or Kathryn in high school? How so?

I think I was more like Kathryn in high school – I was really serious about schoolwork and wasn’t sure where I belonged socially sometimes. Most of the time I stuck with just a small group of friends. 

According to your website, you were in choir and plays in high school (Be sure to check out Sara's great pics HERE! Reminded me of high school, big hair and all. lol.). How much of your real-life experience made its way into your story?
I tried to work in some of the great songs I’ve had a chance to perform over the years, thinking readers might want to check them out. In fact, I’ve got clips of many of the pieces at my website, in Fun Stuff: Who in the What, Now?. I also wanted to communicate how it felt to sing—how great it is, and also how stressful it can be when you need to be your best and your body sometimes just doesn’t play along!

I love the playlist you have for RIVAL (HERE). What do you like to listen to when writing?
I actually can’t listen to anything while I’m writing. Too much background noise distracts me, and if there’s music playing, then my brain wants to focus there instead of on what I’m doing.  The only time I don’t have this problem is when I’m in a really public place like a coffee shop or an airport, then I’m able to block everything out and concentrate.

What’s your writing routine?

I try to write at least 500 words a night, or do at least an hour of editing. I have to do it in the evenings after my kids go to bed—that’s when I write all of my books! I get everybody squared away, grab myself a snack, then sit down and write until around midnight.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered since stepping on the writing/publication path?

I think the biggest surprise is that you never run out of opportunities to feel stressed out. A lot of writers think things will get easier once they land an agent and/or a book deal. Just getting that far means you’ve realized a dream—you’ve gone farther than many people ever are able to go, and you can’t lose sight of what an accomplishment that is. Because, for many people, the worries don’t end. You now get to think about whether your next book will sell, whether you’ll get good reviews, etc. And there will always be authors who seem to have it easier, better, etc. It’s very odd to be celebrating something as awesome as having a book published and worrying at the same time. That’s why we’ve got groups like Elevensies, Tenners, Debs, etc., and it’s why it’s so important to have a couple of close author friends who’ve been there, done that, so they can talk you down from the ledges every now and then. Great advice--and so very true! The worries don't end but you have to learn to channel that into productivity.

Where do you do the majority of your writing?
I do the majority of my writing on my living room couch. I’ve got a small house with no office, so that’s the most comfy spot!

Finish this sentence: When I’m not writing, I…

When I’m not writing, I’m either working my day job (I’m an advertising copy and scriptwriter) or spending time with my family.

What inspires you? 

I’m inspired by other creative, passionate people. I love ballet—a great production, an amazing dancer, an incredible new choreographer, can really light my fire. I got one of my biggest inspirations several years ago when the Lord of the Rings films came out – I loved how so many people came together in New Zealand to create something so wonderful. Watching the first film felt like seeing something special, and I still enjoy it.

Favorite fuel for writing?
My favorite fuel for writing is probably Dr. Pepper and potato chips or popcorn. I drink red wine when I’m not worried about falling asleep in the middle of a paragraph.

What’s your biggest distraction when writing?

My biggest distraction would have to be YouTube. I can surf around there for hours, watching ballet videos, haul videos, vlogs, old cartoons, etc. Before I know it I’ve squandered all my writing time!

Any reading recommendations for 2011?

There are so many amazing books coming out in 2011. I belong to the Elevensies, which is a group of 2011 debut authors. Here’s a link to our site: If you can’t find a book that appeals to your tastes there, then you are picky indeed! If you’re a fan of contemporary realistic books, then check out – we’ve got debuts and more established authors there, all releasing some really exciting titles. There are some fabulous authors at The Contemps--go visit when you get a chance!

Thank you so much, Sara Bennett Wealer, for visiting us and answering all those questions! Good luck with RIVAL and we look forward to hearing more from you!

Okay, on with the swag-o-licious giveaway! Sara and Courtney were generous enough to send this my way:

That's nine signed RIVAL bookmarks, four signed ANGELFIRE bookmarks and four ANGELFIRE stickers, featuring the most adorable Will.

Because this will force me to stop at the post office and get some stamps, I'm going to have NINE winners! Four will win a RIVAL bookmark and an ANGELFIRE bookmark, four will win a RIVAL bookmark and an ANGELFIRE sticker, and one will win a RIVAL bookmark. Yay!

And all you have to do is leave a comment on this post (don't forget to include your email). Don't you love it when things are simple?

This giveaway lasts from Friday through Monday (2/11-2/14), so act fast for some gorgeous swag!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: RIVAL by Sara Bennett Wealer

Final Grade: 95/A
YA Contemporary
336 pages
Review copy provided by publisher
Available Feb. 15, 2011
Rated PG: underaged drinking

        Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star.
         Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship.
           The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal. With competition day nearing, Brooke dreams of escaping the in-crowd for life as a professional singer, but her scheming BFF Chloe has other plans. And when Kathryn gets an unlikely invitation to Homecoming, she suspects Brooke of trying to sabotage her with one last public humiliation.
           As pressures mount, Brooke starts to sense that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. But Kathryn has a decision to make. Can she forgive? Or are some rivalries for life?

This book? Awesome. Loved it. Maybe it's because I can relate to the rivalry of the girls. Maybe it's because I played in a close-knit band growing up and there was both friendly and not-so-friendly competition between us, especially when we completed solo. Whatever the case may be, Sara Bennett Wealer nailed it.

Because of the dual perspectives, the reader gets a glimpse into the minds of both the girls and how a friendship turns into a bitter rivalry. Through a series of delicately balanced flashbacks from senior year to junior year, the story of Kathryn and Brooke unfolds.

Brooke is a live-out-loud girl with money, friends, an incredible voice, and deep-seated passion for music. But she's not happy. Her friends don't understand her music, her older brothers are the stars of the show both at school and home and, in many ways, she's just riding their popular coattails as "Baby B". That is, until she meets Kathryn. Kathryn's a quiet, shy soul who shares Brooke's love of music. She's got her own musical gift--a soulful soprano voice. Then, through a series of both conscious actions and misunderstandings, Brooke and Kathryn's friendship shatters and reforms into a bitter rivalry, one tinged with regret on both sides.

I loved how we get to see in the minds of both of the girls. It's fascinating how both of the girls are so different but had many of the same goals and how that twists their view of each other. You'd think that, with two points of view and flashbacks between junior and senior year, the story would be muddled and confusing. However, it's not. Not at all and, if anything, this style of storytelling provides the reader with a clear picture of the girls' relationship.

Anyone who has been in competition with someone else (which is pretty much all of us, at one point or another, right?) will totally relate to this story. A beautifully told aria of friendship and betrayal, passion and drive, RIVAL hits all the right notes. (Come on. You knew it had to be said--this is a music-driven book, after all.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review: WHERE I BELONG by Gwendolyn Heasley

Final Grade: 90/B
YA Contemporary Romance
304 pages
Review copy provided by publisher
Available February 8, 2011
Rated PG-13: includes drinking, some sexual content, mild language

Meet Corrinne. She's living every girl's dream in New York City—shopping sprees at Barneys, open access to the best clubs and parties, and her own horse at the country club. Her perfect life is perfectly on track. At least it was. . . .
When Corrinne's father is laid off, her world suddenly falls apart. Instead of heading to boarding school, she's stripped of her credit cards and shipped off to the boonies of Texas to live with her grandparents. On her own in a big public school and forced to take a job shoveling manure, Corrinne is determined to get back to the life she's supposed to be living. She doesn't care who she stomps on in the process. But when Corrinne makes an unlikely friend and discovers a total hottie at work, she begins to wonder if her life B.R.—before the recession—was as perfect as it seemed.

A self-professed teenaged ice princess, Corrine feels the pain when her father loses his cooshy, seven-figure bank job in NYC, especially when she's sent off to live with the grandparents in Broken Spoke, Texas rather than to her fancy boarding school. Notice I'm not feeling too sorry for her? Yeah, that's because she brings it on herself. She's a spoiled, Gossip Girl-like socialite who thinks nothing of dropping thousands on a shopping spree. And I couldn't wait to see her snotty self get hers (especially since she was mean to her cute little brother, who totally hero-worshipped her!).

Corrine's life changes pretty quickly as she's packed up and sent off to a teeny-tiny town whose social life consists of keg parties in a field and parking at the Sonic. She's horrified and wants nothing to do with anyone. But her grandmother is having none of it and immediately hooks her up with an after-school job cleaning up after horses (karma!). 

There are some fabulous characters in this story. I particularly like Kitsy, an absolutely adorable, irrepressible Texas girl who doesn't let Corrine wallow. She reminds me so much of some of my small-town Southern friends--a spot-on characterization. Corrine's grandparents are great. I loved how her grandmother would cook all this yummy, calorie-ladened food and boss Corrine around while her grandfather would step in with his calm manner and smooth things over.

The town of Broken Spoke itself could be considered a character as well. It's representative of both Texas and small towns themselves and kind of reminded me of the town I went to college in. (For the townies, the loop between the Wendy's and Sonic was crusin' central and, if you weren't crusin', you were at the bowling alley. Typical small town.)

And then there were the two boys. Sort of a love triangle--if you can call one boy ignoring Corrine while she lusts after him and the other boy ragging on her constantly a love triangle. 

Back to Corrine. I always enjoy stories of transformation and, while Corrine didn't change completely, she learned a lot about herself and became a stronger, more independent, and thoughtful person. Much less of a brat (though there were some tendencies lurking but I guess you can't change your spots overnight). And, finally, someone who learns to appreciate the value of a hard day's labor and the compensation that comes with it.

This would be the perfect book to read while sitting in a hammock on a warm spring day (will this winter never end?). Highly enjoyable.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spring Blog Carnival - The Rollercoaster

What it is: 

May 1st-8th there's going to be a big party!  A way to celebrate Spring, and books, and blogging~ all at the same time!  This fun event is being hosted by Lori at Pure Imagination, Angela at Reading Angel, Candace at Candace's Book Blog and us here at The Book Swarm. 
What you do:  

The way you get involved is by having a giveaway.  Like a Giveaway blog hop you can all host contests!  But it's different because we (the hosts) have booths with challenges as well!

Lori at Pure Imagination has the Kissing Booth and is giving away romance book(s).
Angela at Reading Angel has the Haunted House Booth and is giving away paranormal book(s).
Mary at Book Swarm has the Rollercoaster Booth and is giving away contemporary book(s) .
Reading Teen has the Fortune Tellers Booth and is giving away witch-y books.
And Candace at Candace's Book Blog is holding the Food Court so she's giving away gift cards and/or books of your choice!
There's MORE! 

It's not only about the giveaways. We're also going to have challenges going on related to our booths.  Since I'm running the rollercoasters (yay!), I'll have a challenge that fits the theme. 
What you do:  
To participate, fill out the form and enter into the linky (it's the same one on ALL our blogs!). 
Your giveaway needs to be up by the morning of the 1st of May (posting at midnight is the best!) or you'll be erased from the linky list.
Your giveaway needs to be book related, but can be of your choice and of any value.
You must display the Spring Carnival Button in your giveaway, and please put it on your sidebar to advertise as well as a reminder to yourself.
Your giveaway needs to last until midnight of May 8th.
Have questions?  Email me at thebookswarm(at)gmail(dot)com
So, you in? Then: 
Fill out this form (it's the same on all our blogs)!
Grab the button! 
Enter into the Linky (scroll down)!

Spring Blog Carnival

When entering into the linky please include your blog name and who the contest is open to (US/Canada/International).
Example: The Book Swarm (Int'l)

(If the linky isn't working, you can either go to one of the other girls' blogs or just fill out the form & I'll add you to the list! Sorry, it's my first time using all this stuff and I'm finding I'm not so great at it--but I'll learn!)