Thursday, March 31, 2011

April is NetGalley Month!

NetGalley is a place that lets publisher share ebook copies of books (ARCs) to bloggers, reviewers, librarians. There are some absolutely awesome books there!

Emily over at Red House Books decided to make April

 NetGalley Month

with a challenge to read and review as many NetGalley books as you can.
Since the Kindle button went away, I've gotten so very behind in my NetGalley reading because I'm not a good on-computer book reader (I tend to get too involved in my reading and don't BLINK sometimes when caught up in a good book which kills my eyes). BUT NetGalley has been working hard and 
the Kindle button is BACK!! (For most publishers, anyway)

Here are the books I plan to read:

The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder
Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Lost Voices by Sarah Porter
Populazzi by Elise Allen
Bumped by Megan McCafferty
Die For Me by Amy Plum

Okay, there are a TON more on my Kindle but I'm trying to chill, even though I'm so excited about reading them! Maybe I'll read more. And, of course, the reviews will go up within a week or two of the release date.

I've requested a few others, so I might add to this.  My Nook is going to get a workout!!!

Rules to Enter according to Emily at Red House Books

Rules to enter:
*Make your own post declaring April NetGalley month linking back to this post


*Tweet the following:
@NetGalley April as been declared! I'm joining @WilowRedHouse for a chance to win some awesome prizes-will you join us?

*If you don't have a blog or Twitter - post it to Facebook with a link

*If you don't blog, tweet or FB but still want to join in - send me an email  at Wilow[at]yahoo[dot]com

AND THEN go to THIS LINK and sign up.
If you want to participate check out THIS POST over at Red House Books for the scoop!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Teen Review: BOOK OF MORDRED by Vivian Vande Velde

Final Grade: 100/A
344 pages
Available now
Personal copy

Dark forces are taking hold in the kingdom of Camelot: King Arthur struggles to keep his knights in line as they steadily divide themselves into factions; the great Merlin has vanished at the hands of his lover and pupil, Nimue; wizards all over the countryside battle for whatever measures of power they can find. At the center of the maelstrom stands Keira, an innocent girl who possesses the ability to foretell the fate of her world. When Keira is kidnapped from her village home, her mother, Alayna, flees to Camelot and finds Mordred, an enigmatic knight who will ultimately become Keira’s greatest champion, Alayna’s greatest love, and King Arthur’s greatest enemy.
In the long tradition of Arthurian legend, Mordred has been characterized as a buffoon, a false knight, and a bloodthirsty traitor. The Book of Mordred reveals a mysterious man through the eyes of three women who love him.

Characters: I knew most of the characters in this book already, as I enjoy reading Arthurian stories. The author kept true to their natures, while exploring different sides of their personalities. The biggest difference I saw was in Mordred, and I loved him in this book. Instead of causing all the problems intentionally, he’s swept away by events outside of his control and is dealing with them in the best way he knows how to. Kiera and her mother, Alayna, are new to the story, and both characters were well-developed and believable. Their addition made the other characters feel more three-dimensional, as the reader seems them through a fresh set of eyes. Finally, this is the first time I have read anything told through Nimue’s point of view, and it was refreshing to see her take on events.

Plot: The plot of this story is one that has been around for ages, but the author still manages to make it feel fresh. All of the main components of the Arthurian legend are there, but it is in the details where the author’s contributions to the story shine. Even though I already knew how the story would end, I kept reading to see just what path the characters would take to get there. I kept finding myself thinking, “So that’s what really happened,” as though I was reading a first-hand account, and the other stories had been hearsay. There weren’t any slow parts to this book, and I was always reluctant to close it in order to take care of life.

Cover: I’ve admired this cover for a long time. The illustration is beautiful and, while I don’t always like faces on my covers (I am of the type who likes to picture the characters for myself), these really worked. The front cover goes perfectly with the book, and I feel it captured the characters and mood as well. (I believe it is Mordred and Keira on the front cover.)

Reviewed by Brandon, who prefers to keep it on the DL (down low).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bye-bye Book Ratings?

So, I'm thinking about changing things up a tad here at the Book Swarm by dropping the book ratings. I haven't come to a final decision about it yet but I'm kicking it around and would love to hear what you think about ratings.

Right now, my reviewers and I give each book we read a grade. This is because my reviewers are students and used to grades, so it works for them. It's familiar territory and, since part of the reason I started this blog was to introduce teens to some of the awesome books out there, that's why the grades are there, up at the top of each review.

One of the reasons I'm thinking of dropping the grades is because I'd like for this to be more of a discussion about books, rather than a "This is Good" or "This is Not Good" review kind of thing. I would love for it to be more open, to encourage comments... actually, not just comments but a dialogue, like you'd have at a book club. Snacks and drinks optional (but, in my mind, necessary).

Another reason I'm thinking about it is because, well, even with the books that I don't love have something I usually *like*. Does that make sense? For example, I didn't like THE GODDESS TEST by Aimee Carter, which is coming out the end of April. (You can check out my full review on GoodReads here: But even though I didn't like what she did with mythology and the gods and goddesses, I loved the idea of it and am curious to see what she does in the next novel. This would be a prime example of a book that could inspire an interesting discussion. I've already read some of the wildly opposing views on GoodReads -- while a ton of people love it, there are a bunch who don't like it and everyone has a good reason why they feel the way they do.

I started this blog to talk about books. So, I'm looking for your opinions: Will removing the grades and treating the reviews more like book discussions help promote a back-and-forth commentary or not? Do you like ratings or do you care? I look forward to our discussion! :) 

Monday, March 28, 2011

E-Book Readin'

This weekend, I had the opportunity to try out an iPad. I can't tell you how excited I was. I'm a total Mac geek. I love my MacBook and my iPods (yes, I have multiple iPods. Don't you? Kidding.) and I've been lusting after an iPad since they came out. Plus, I haven't been able to download any NetGalley ARCs to my Kindle in ages due to the PDF issues they're having and haven't yet resolved (darn it all!). So, when this chance came along, I jumped at it. 

After figuring out the basics and looking at the possible applications in the classroom setting (there are plenty but when choosing between an iPad and a laptop, I'm going with the laptop), which is the whole reason I had my hot little hands on this pretty piece of technology, it was time to play.

First thing I did was download a free version of Angry Birds. I had to know what all the fuss was. And it was fun, I'll give you that, but I think I like Bejewelled better. Stupid birds who don't want to fly where I want them to. Stupid pigs who grunt with laughter when I can't topple poorly built scaffolding onto them and kill them.

Then I figured out how to read NetGalley ARCs on the iPad. And proceeded to read two books this weekend. Sure, it was pretty but by the time I finished the second book, my eyes hurt from the glare. And I'm not talking about a sunshine glare. I'm talking about the ambient computer light glare. It's like reading a book on the computer, something I don't do a ton of because it hurts my eyes to focus too much on the screen and gives me a wicked headache. I stare at a computer too much anyway (what, with the blogging, reading of blogs, tweeting, and so on) and don't need another reason to do it. 

All in all, I like my Kindle better.

Wow. Never thought I'd say that, considering the amount of lust I had for an iPad but I do. The Kindle's lighter, so it's easier to hold for long periods of time. It's a better size and more comfortable to snuggle up with. And, most of all, it doesn't hurt my eyes.

I haven't tried out a Nook/Nook Color yet and don't know if it's more like a Kindle (easier on the eyes) or like an iPad (bright and colorful). Anyone out there have a Nook who can speak to this?

Now, I'm not saying I'll never get an iPad (or a tablet of any kind, for that matter). It's gorgeous, especially when playing games and watching shows/Netflix. The keyboard isn't too difficult to use, though flipping back and forth between keyboards can be a bit annoying. The internet's a bit tedious to use but, again, not that bad. I'm sure there are a million other lovely little things I can do with it that I haven't had time to figure out.

But when it comes to reading e-books, I think I'm going to stick with my Kindle. What about you? Any opinions?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Teen Review Week: THE TERRORIST by Caroline B. Cooney

Final Grade: 99/A
YA Thriller (Realistic)
208 pages
Personal Copy
Available Now

SHAELI'S SUMMARY: Can you imagine having someone you love die when you least expect it? Unfortunately, sixteen-year-old Laura Williams can, and her life will never be the same after it.

London, England: Laura and her family have a great life. Laura has some really great friends, her parents are happy (except when her father gets upset when he has to fire people), and her little brother, Billy, always puts a smile on everyone's faces. Plus, she's living in one of the most wonderful cities. What could possibly go wrong?

Except... One morning, they travel to school, with Billy and his friends heading to the subway station. While there, he gets a mysterious package from a stranger. Once he realizes what it is, it's too late. Standing on the escalator, Billy sacrifices his life for those around him.

Laura's family goes into a deep depression and Laura vows she won't rest until she finds the killer. As she gets closer to solving the mystery, the truth shocks her and changes her life completely.

SHAELI'S THOUGHTS: I would have to say that this was one of the best mystery/thriller books that I've ever read. Once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. This was the first Caroline B. Cooney book I've read and, after reading this one, it had me wanting to read more. She did a wonderful job writing this story.

My favorite characters were Laura and Billy Williams. They always put others before themselves. For example, when Billy found out what the package really was, he could have easily thrown the package away. However, he knew that if he did, then someone else would have gotten wounded or killed. So he sacrificed himself to save others. also, Laura was willing to do anything to find out who killed her brother and make sure they were punished for it. I really didn't like Jehran. At the beginning, she seemed to be a really nice girl. However, as the story went on, she started acting suspicious. I just had the feeling that she must have done something terrible. She made me so angry. 

This was an awesome book and I'm definitely going to read more of Caroline B. Cooney's books.

Teen Reviewer SHAELI: Loves to play basketball, draw, read, and hang out with friends and family. Hopes to play professional basketball and/or be an artist when she grows up.
Other reviews by Shaeli: DON'T JUDGE A GIRL BY HER COVER by Ally Carter

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Teen Review Week: PEELED by Joan Bauer

Final Grade 95/A
YA Contemporary
256 pages
Library Copy
Available Now

Something's rotten in the heart of apple country!
Hildy Biddle dreams of being a journalist. A reporter for her high school newspaper, The Core, she's just waiting for a chance to prove herself. Not content to just cover school issues, Hildy's drawn to the town's big story—the haunted old Ludlow house. On the surface, Banesville, USA, seems like such a happy place, but lately, eerie happenings and ghostly sightings are making Hildy take a deeper look.
Her efforts to find out who is really haunting Banesville isn't making her popular, and she starts wondering if she's cut out to be a journalist after all. But she refuses to give up, because, hopefully, the truth will set a few ghosts free.
Peeled is classic Joan Bauer, featuring a strong heroine, and filled with her trademark witty dialogue, and problems and people worth standing up to.

CODY'S PEELING BACK THE LAYERS: When 16-year-old Hildy Biddle, reporter and writer for her high school newspaper, starts hearing rumors about a haunted house on Farnsworth Road, her instincts kick into overdrive to try and sort out the facts from fiction. Leaving behind a trail of confusion, annoyance, and pure anger from a select few, young Hildy learns what it takes to save her happy apple valley village from the cruel jaws of deceit.

In my eyes, this book was great. Great storyline, great characters, great dialogue, and great suspense. When you think you have this book figured out, it will turn around and leave you sitting there, dazed, thinking, "What just happened?"

But it's not long before you're back on track and into the groove of the story, this time with a better perspective. Hildy takes you on a wild ride through the tipsy-turvy world of adolescence and high school journalism, an experience that, I assure you, will not be easily forgotten.

CODY's life is, in one word, diverse. He wakes up every morning at a fork in the road (love that!) and, although he may not always choose the best path, he strives to make the best out of what he has. A reader and aspiring writer, he spends most of his time with either a book or a pencil in his hand, ready and waiting for whatever life might offer...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Teen Review Week: SNOW QUEEN by Emma Harrison

Final Grade: 84/C+
YA Contemporary
336 pages
Available now
Personal copy

Chamberlain Ski Resort and Spa
Welcome to the 10th Annual Snow Queen competition!
I can't believe I got roped into this.
Snow Princesses must attend all pageant rehearsals, with appropriate outfits.
Well, no matter what it takes, I'm going to wipe that smirk off Layla Chamberlain's face.
Our rehearsal space can be booked to practice your talent.
Um, does "looking dumb in a dress" count as a talent?
See Grayson Chamberlain, the assistant director, with any questions.
If you insist! First question: How can someone so sweet (and hot!) be a Chamberlain?
Good luck! One of you will soon be our new Snow Queen!
Oh joy.
Unless Grayson comes with the tiara . . .

JANE'S THOUGHTS: SNOW QUEEN is a very cutesy book to read. It's not a kind of book that makes you think a lot and, obviously, not a book that you're going to find life's answers in. However, it is a sweet and quick read. It's a typical chick flick-like book: girl meets boy, girl misunderstands something about boy, boy is oblivious, they work it out and have a happy ending (HEA, for you romance fans).

The story was very easy to follow, storyline-wise. The plot is predictable and it's not too hard to guess what's going to happen next. There are some twists, with misunderstandings and arguments here and there between the boy and girl but they do get their HEA. There's not too much substance but it's not a book that needs too much.

It is a really sweet book to read and when you're done, you get a nice, warm feeling like when you remember your first crush and how hard you worked trying to get him to notice you and how good it felt when he finally did. It's one of those books you read on a boring Friday night to get you in a calm and happy mood. It fits perfectly when you want to read cuddled up in a warm blanket on a winter night or as a fun beach read.

Overall, I thought the story was pretty simple - a cute, quick book to read. It doesn't take forever and it doesn't have a super-complex plot line to follow. It shows a typical teenage girl's life: the back-stabbing girls, oblivious (yet complicated) boys, and fights with a best friend. Definitely a book to read when you're looking for a happy book.

TEEN READER JANELoves golf, Swedish Fish, dance, violin, and naps. Wants to be happy when she grows up and being a cardiologist or lawyer would be pretty rad, too.

Other reviews by Jane: THE FROG PRINCESS by E.D. Baker 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Teen Review: BURNED by Ellen Hopkins

Final Grade: 97/A
YA Contemporary
532 pages
Student's copy
Available now

Raised in a religious -- yet abusive -- family, Pattyn Von Stratten starts asking questions -- about God, a woman's role, sex, love. She experiences the first stirrings of passion, but when her father catches her in a compromising position, events spiral out of control. Pattyn is sent to live with an aunt in the wilds of Nevada to find salvation and redemption. What she finds instead is love and acceptance -- until she realizes that her old demons will not let her go.

***Review Contains Spoilers!***

KHANA'S REVIEW: I give this book a 97. It really had me guessing the whole time I was reading it. It's not like your typical love story. It sort of has a little twist. Pattyn was a Mormon teenager who, for all intents and purposes, didn't like her large family. She didn't feel loved and often had disturbed thoughts.

My favorite part in this book is when Pattyn is sent to her Aunt J's house for the summer. This trip teaches her that the way her family is living is not usual. She learns her father's abusiveness didn't start when he got married, it started when he was young. Aunt J is a role model to Pattyn. She teaches Pattyn that life doesn't have to be all about tradition and that life should be fulfilling and happy.

I love when Pattyn meets Ethan, a true, loving boy. He treats Pattyn with respect and loves her unconditionally. I think that's how love is always supposed to me - pure. Pattyn and Ethan are perfect together and do almost everything together. But, of course, their happiness just has to come to an end. Pattyn has to move back home but at least it's closer to the college that Ethan goes to. Back home, Pattyn's mother is pregnant, so Pattyn is the one getting abused by her father. Time and time again, Pattyn gets hurt and can't do anything about it.

My least favorite part is when Pattyn finds out that she's pregnant. She gets scared because she knows that no unmarried, Mormon teenager should ever get  pregnant at seventeen. So she thinks of a plan which, of course, involves Ethan. They plan to run away together but their plan backfires when Pattyn's father sends state troopers after them.

This story is truly sad. I know Pattyn had big plans but they just washed away.

KHANAI like hanging out with family and friends. My favorite hobbies are softball, volleyball, cheerleading, and reading. Yes, I am a book worm but I don’t read all books. I love books with a twist and when they have real-life problems. My favorite subjects THIS year are social studies and language arts. (I change every year—my mind just starts liking something else better!)

Other reviews by Khana: BLUE MOON by Alyson Noel

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Perfect Reading Afternoon

I just finished an awesome book today. Read it from cover to cover in one sitting (well, except for getting up to get something to drink and to feed the dogs). Read it on my porch, which is my favorite place to be when the weather is perfect. (It was RIVER MARKED by Patricia Briggs, if you're interested. When I'm not reading YA, I'm devouring Urban Fantasy like the Mercedes Thompson series. Love that Mercy and her gorgeous Alpha, Adam.)

Part of my porch and the kids with fur.
To me, there's just nothing better than having the time to sit down and read an entire, fabulous book. Of course, that opportunity doesn't come along often and, many times, we have to go out of our way to make it happen. I took a quarter day (yes, we don't just get to leave early from school, we actually have to request a quarter personal's a little nuts but welcome to the world of education.). Anyway, I took a quarter day just so I could run a couple of errands and have some uninterrupted day time left over to take advantage of my screened porch and the completely gorgeous weather we're having. It was bliss. And exactly what I needed to recover from, quite frankly, a week from hell. (I just looked on the calendar and read that tomorrow's a full moon. Yep. That plus the Spring weather explains why the kids were hanging from the rafters.)

Next week will most likely be little different than this week. We have the first round of state-mandated testing (writing, in which my students have to write a comprehensive essay one day and take a multiple choice test on writing the next. Yahoo.) next week so, in an effort to both save my sanity and get more teen reviews into the world, I'm designating next week as TEEN REVIEW WEEK! *trumpets and clashing cymbals* Every day next week, there will be a review written for this blog by one of my many teen reviewers. These are books that they picked from the library, bought, or chose off my classroom shelf. I had nothing to do with their selections, which makes them randomly delicious. 

I hope you enjoy next week's reviews. If you get a chance, please leave them a few words of encouragement! They can't hardly believe that random people (that'd be you, fellow book lovers!) read their reviews and want to comment on something they wrote. And, while they can read the comments at school, they can't comment back because of our district's crazy firewall (blocking them from all things "bad" *cue scary music*). But please know they do read the comments and LOVE them!

And, of course, if you have any suggestions for more reading material that they might enjoy PLEASE pass that info on to them. Anything we can do to encourage these kids to read is HUGE and greatly appreciated!!

Oh, by the way, there are several lovely upcoming contests for some great books so don't go anywhere! (Yes, I know I've been incredibly slack and I do apologize. Second semester just about kills me with all the stuff we have to do, yanno, besides teaching.)

As always, you all rock! 
Here's to a perfect day, 
an excellent book and 
happy reading.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Teen REview: X-KAI: Volume 2 by Asami Tohjoh

Final Grade: 95/A
192 pages
Available now
Personal copy

Kaito receives his next assignment--assassinate a religious cult leader. But things get complicated after he is sucked into joining the cult, and flashes from Kaito's past stir up memories from his mysterious childhood. The truth behind his brother's coma is revealed, and Kaito will be forced to confront a secret that has finally caught up with him... –from

Brittany D.’s Thoughts: What I like best about this book is that it’s dramatic! It keeps you guessing the whole time. It’s like a puzzle—you get pieces from the left and the right and, by the time you finally get the full picture, it’s the end. The book has descriptions of great detail, and you can really create a good mental picture.

During this story, Kaito is very emotional. The thing is, Kaito’s emotions are draining sometimes, and I don’t like that so much but, at the same time, you feel like you are Kaito. You are emotionally involved. It’s like the book consumes you and eats you whole.

What I didn’t really like for Kaito is that he’s tormented with memories of his past. Like when he has memories of when he was molested by his father, which made it really bad for him to remember. Because of these memories, I think Kaito has had a lot of pressure to do things he didn’t want to in life and never really got to live.

This book was the bomb!

TEEN REVIEWER BRITTANY: Heyo!! Brittany here! I love the beach and going boogie boarding. I want to go sky diving. I love chick flicks and playing soccer. My favorite color is blue, and this book was the bomb!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Teen Review: MY SISTER’S KEEPER by Jodi Picoult

Final Grade: 93/A
YA Realistic Fiction
423 pages
Available now
Personal copy

Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and a role that she has never challenged...until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister -- and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.
My Sister's Keeper examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child's life, even if that means infringing upon the rights of another? Is it worth trying to discover who you really are, if that quest makes you like yourself less? Should you follow your own heart, or let others lead you?  –from

Julia’s Thoughts: This book was two words: Freaking. Amazing. I absolutely loved this book. It was awesome, and the book made me cry. Four times, actually. I think it was very heartbreaking how Anna wanted to sue her parents and not help her sister but the I realized she was helping her sister by doing that because Kate wanted to die. I think she was sick of going into treatment and just not having a normal life like it used to be. Anna and Kate were both sick of fighting and they were both ready to let go.

Through all of this, Anna went through so much fighting and crying and screaming and stress just to help her sister, I think she became a stronger person. I loved how, when everything was going on, Kate and Anna stayed close, and they were like best friends. They were there for each other, and Anna was never mad at her sister, they understood each other.

(SPOILER ALERT) The only thing I didn’t really like about the story was the ending. I just didn’t think it was very good. Anna won the lawsuit, and they left the court but, on the way to the hospital, Anna was in a wreck and was killed. So, it turns out Kate got the kidney transplant and lived, even though Anna died. The movie was much better because Anna lived and Kate died and both of them got what they wanted. I think it brought peace to Anna and her family.

Overall, I would give this book a 93/A. It was fantastic, and I would read it again.

TEEN REVIEWER JULIA: Sweet girl who loves to dance, draw and hand out with friends. She wants to be a brain surgeon and be very successful.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Interview: Kirsten Hubbard

Oh, yay! Another fabulous author is visiting The Book Swarm! Kirsten Hubbard, intrepid travel writer and all-around awesome chick, joins us today to answer some questions about her debut novel, LIKE MANDARIN (check out my review HERE), and her writing life. Check out her website and blog (HERE)--besides info on her books (including WANDERLOVE, set to release in 2012), she's got some great stories about her travels and, of course, her obsession with baby animals (so cute!).

What character traits do you share or wish you shared (or, in Mandarin's case, are happy you don't share) with your main characters, Grace and Mandarin?
Wow, this is tough! Mainly because Grace is so young, and still figuring herself out. Although Grace often crosses the line from alone into lonely, I wish I was as good at hanging out by myself as she is, especially outdoors. I admire Mandarin's forthrightness, though sometimes she's just a jerk. I'm glad in the years since I was their ages, I've grown much more sure of myself, more certain who I really am. Grace and Mandarin are still searching.  

You’ve mentioned on your blog that setting plays a big part in your writing. Why did you choose the badlands of Wyoming for Like Mandarin?
My mother grew up in small-town Wyoming, and when I was 10-13, we used to road trip there to visit my grandparents. As a California suburbs girl, I was fascinated by all of it – the tiny, oppressively knowable town, the stark, rugged beauty of the badlands. My mother used to take me on walks out there to hunt rocks, like she did as a child. There's such a unique sort of silence in the badlands, a sense of time without beginning or end. It's never left me, and it worked so well for Like Mandarin – placing a story about different kinds of beauty in a setting where the beauty's hard to find. (Though it's there.)

You’re also a travel writer and backpacker (so cool--love hearing about your travel adventures). What are your favorite places in the world to visit? (and/or) Most memorable trip?
Thanks! I've visited Central America the most, due to my position as Guide to Central America Travel for – about ten times total, I think. I particularly love the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala and the islands of Belize, both which serve as important settings in my second book, Wanderlove (Delacorte, Spring 2012).
But I so loved Thailand, and the lake in Cambodia, and the odd, post-communist angles of Eastern Europe, and of course Wyoming – there's such vibrancy every place I've been. I can't wait to see what I'll encounter next.

What do you like to listen to when writing?
I'm definitely an indie rock sort of girl! I compose a playlist for my books early on, and I play them every time I sit down to write. They help guide me the storyworld. You listen to part of my playlists for LIKE MANDARIN and WANDERLOVE on my blog (scroll down a bit).

What’s your writing routine?
When I'm deep in drafting or revising, I treat writing like a full-time job. Get up, get comfy, make chai (I'm so addicted), turn on Leechblock (distractions, begone!) launch my book's playlist, and wrestle with words 'til steam escapes from my ears. Sometimes I need a break from my home office, and then I lug my laptop to a coffee shop. It's strange how sometimes that distraction-filled setting is just what we need to concentrate!

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered since stepping on the writing path? 
I think the strangest thing was accepting how much in publishing goes on off-screen, outside my reach. It almost seems like somebody's pranking you, at first.
More than that, the "letting go" of my story. It started when I was on sub; since my sale, and especially after the last round of proofreading, there's been this gradual acceptance that my book is no longer my own. It really is strange, and scary, but also thrilling. That, soon, this story that's filled with so much of my heart won't just be mine, or mine and Random House's… it'll belong to all of you.

What does your ideal writing space look like?
I haven't had the chance or funds yet to really remodel my office the way I'd love it. Now, there's a lot of black iron and black wood and glass. My ideal office would include more warm wood, vibrant colors, and maybe a fireplace. Plus, vintage maps. That's a project I keep meaning to embark on. Sounds lovely.

The Badlands--inspiration for
(read more HERE)
Finish this sentence: When I’m not writing, I…    am probably revising.

What inspires you? 
Really good writing is the obvious answer. And exciting settings, which can range from the macro (Wyoming!) to the micro (an creepy, abandoned barn, filled with rusted-over farm equipment and dust motes in the light streaming from the rafters…).

Favorite fuel for writing? 
Chai! And Trident Tropical Twist, the one in the orange pack.

What’s your biggest distraction when writing?
Definitely the internet. Particularly, Metafilter and its subsite, Ask. It's a collective internet filter forum filled with brilliant people, and has essentially granted me a master's degree in Everything over the years. But it is a terrible/wonderful distraction. Along with Facebook, Twitter and my inbox, of course. 
Oh, no! Something new and wonderful to distract me on the Internet!

Any reading recommendations for 2011? What books are you looking forward to?
I'm very much looking forward to the releases of books by friends of mine, like Veronica Roth's Divergent, Michelle Hodkin's The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, and Elana Johnson's Possession. I'm dying for Melina Marchetta's semi-sequel to Saving FrancescaThe Piper's Son. Also, I just read Tessa Gratton's Blood Magic, and I can't wait until it's released – it's fantastic. Ooh, more books to read! Yay!

Thank you so much for stopping by, Kirsten! Good luck with LIKE MANDARIN and WANDERLOVE!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: LIKE MANDARIN by Kirsten Hubbard

Final Grade: 99/A
YA Contemporary
320 pages
Available now
Review Copy won on Goodreads
Rated PG

It's hard finding beauty in the badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, but 14-year-old Grace Carpenter knows it's not her mother's pageant obsessions, or the cowboy dances adored by her small-town classmates. True beauty is wild-girl Mandarin Ramey: 17, shameless and utterly carefree. Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin. When they're united for a project, they form an unlikely, explosive friendship, packed with nights spent skinny-dipping in the canal, liberating the town's animal-head trophies, and searching for someplace magic. Grace plays along when Mandarin suggests they run away together. Blame it on the crazy-making wildwinds plaguing their Badlands town. Because all too soon, Grace discovers Mandarin's unique beauty hides a girl who's troubled, broken, and even dangerous. And no matter how hard Grace fights to keep the magic, no friendship can withstand betrayal.

When I was in school, I was an awkward, geeky kid - boring brown hair, hazel eyes that everyone thought were brown (I hoped for someone to notice the green but they never did), a little too tall, and my nose buried in a book. In other words, not unusual or stand-out among my peers. I had a small circle of friends (my own geek squad, so to speak) and we all just blended in with everyone else. So, when I picked up LIKE MANDARIN, I immediately connected with Grace and her obsession with the unusual Mandarin.

Grace is, well, I loved Grace. From the moment she flips her little dress over her head and shakes her booty in an act of rebellion against her mother dragging her all over the state to beauty pageants, I fell in love with this character (she was, like, seven at the time). She's kind of a lost soul, pretending she doesn't really care what her peers think of her but trying to hide her intelligence, fly under the radar, and blend in. For all that she complains about her town, the winds, the weather, and the Badlands and wants nothing more than to get out, Grace also seems to embrace her environment with her fascination with rocks and her hideout nestled in rock formations.

And then there's Mandarin. Grace has been absolutely fascinated with Mandarin, who is not like anyone else she's ever encountered. Mandarin, unlike Grace, stands out. She's gossiped about, watched, and wondered about more than anyone else at school and yet she's also a lost soul. It's no wonder that when these two polar opposites connect, there are fireworks.

While, as an adult, I realize how truly damaged poor Mandarin is, the kid in me can see how appealing she is. A free spirit, she's up for just about anything and anyone caught up in her wildness gets dragged along for the ride - and enjoys it. I would have loved to have a friend like Mandarin, just for a little while.

I could go on and on about this book but I'll hold back. Instead, let me just add two little things. Taffeta, Grace's younger sister, is adorable. Such a perfect foil for Grace. And Kirsten Hubbard's descriptions of Wyoming are gorgeous. Her background in travel writing shines through and makes the state and the Badlands truly come alive.

LIKE MANDARIN is a gorgeous debut novel, filled with all the loneliness of the Wyoming Badlands and the beauty of a spring cottonwood snow storm. 

I can't wait to read more from this fabulous new YA author (ooh, already have WANDERLOVE, coming out March 2012, marked as To-Read on Goodreads! Her teasers for this book are killing me!). Oh, and be sure to stop by to say hi tomorrow because the awesome Kirsten Hubbard is stopping by for a visit. Woot!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: THE LIAR SOCIETY by Lisa and Laura Roecker

Final Grade: 99/A
YA Mystery
361 pages
Available now
Review copy purchased
Rated PG

Kate Lowry didn't think dead best friends could send e-mails. But when she gets an e-mail from Grace, she’s not so sure. 

Sent: Sun 9/14 11:59 PM 
Subject: (no subject) 

I'm here… 
sort of. 
Find Cameron. 
He knows. 
I shouldn't be writing. 
Don't tell. 
They'll hurt you. 

Now Kate has no choice but to prove once and for all that Grace’s death was more than just a tragic accident. But secrets haunt the halls of her elite private school. Secrets people will do anything to protect. Even if it means getting rid of the girl trying to solve a murder...

Ooh, I do love a good mystery, and THE LIAR SOCIETY totally hit to spot! When her best friend in the whole world dies in a terrible accident, Kate has a hard time picking up the pieces, especially since her other friend abandoned her that night, too. One year later, Kate's still working through her pain but slowly moving on. Until she gets a mysterious email from her dead best friend.

Kate's a great character - brave and gung-ho, stubborn and (dare I say it?) plucky. Yep, I said it. She's plucky, just the kind of girl I like to root for. She's been through hell and is working her way back to normal, despite her parents eyeing her strangely (worried she's going to "relapse" into her post-Grace depression) and the kids at school giving her a hard time. Sure, she rebels a bit (if you can call dyeing your hair pink rebelling) but can you blame her? Kate rocks, and I love how she goes after the mystery "Grace" presents her.

And then there's the mystery. From the get-go, I had a ton of questions - the mark of a great mystery to me. As Kate works through the clues Grace sends her, she dives deeper and deeper into the secrets surrounding Grace's death and their school. Ooh, and there are so many secrets hidden throughout this old institution. Secret societies, passageways, cover-ups, and symbols. Kate may have been forced into detective-mode but she's darned good at uncovering the truths (yes, there's more than one mystery here), even those that are buried deep.

Multi-layered and intricately woven, this story will leave mystery lovers completely satisfied. Read it. You'll love it. As for me, I'm hoping to see a lot more of Kate in the future. Really, I have no idea if Kate will reappear in another book but I sure hope she does. One of the things I've been missing in YA is a straight-up mystery. Not that I don't love paranormal and fantasy and all that, but mystery's one of my favorite genres. Yay for THE LIAR SOCIETY!