Some books aren’t quite up to snuff

As a birthday present to myself–71 today–I’m taking time to update my blog.  Today I thought I’d add three books I was not so thrilled with.  We’ve all heard the mantra “show don’t tell,” but evidently you can get a book published even if you “tell.” Again, please let me know what you think and whether you agree with my reviews or am I just full of beans?

World’s End

Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski

Make use of any sleepwalking tendencies you may have.  Could be you’re actually from Dormia, where people do their best work when they’re sound asleep.  Alfonso discovered in “Dormia,” the first book of this series, that he is the land’s Great Sleeper and saved the people from dying by bringing a new Founding Tree. But now new problems confront the country which is nestled in the Ural Mountains, so Alfonso is once again lured home to save the day and also his – father.  Though the series will make great fantasy movies, this book, at least, was a chore to read.  The writing is stilted and frequently repetitive, making the mechanics of the plot hard to follow—when were the protagonists asleep and when awake, for instance.  Writers are berated at conferences and in writing classes to not use adverbs, yet this book abounds in them and the narrative often “tells” rather than “shows” the action.  On the other hand, the play on words having to do with sleeping was fun and inventive.

BIBLIO: 2011, Houghton Mifflin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 12 +, $18.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-547-48037-4

Viola in the Spotlight

Adriana Trigiani

Viola has just spent a school year in a Midwest boarding school while her parents were filming a documentary in Afghanistan and is thrilled to be reunited with them, especially since they’re heading back to her beloved Brooklyn, NY.  She’s looking forward to catching up in person with her two best friends, but the summer of chilling out with her friends turns out not the way she planned.  First off Andrew is going to camp and then Caitlin, whose ultra-strict Indian parents won’t even let her have a cell-phone, falls for a British boy, Maurice Longfellow, living in the basement apartment of Viola’s row house.  Which leaves Viola stuck lying to Caitlin’s parents so Caitlin and Maurice can have time together.  And that is the biggest problem Viola has all summer.  Her relationship with Andrew is changing, but that never really goes anywhere in the story.  Viola is a likeable girl, with kindness and loyalty in her make-up and I would be happy to know her, but as far as a protagonist for a story she doesn’t have much punch and the plot has very little arc. Having not read Viola in Reel Life, the first book in this series, I can’t say whether it has more pizzazz.  And at the risk of being too picky, there were some glaring copy editing mistakes—such as not remembering whether Viola’s grandmother is called Grand or Gram.  Oh well, might do for light summer reading.

BIBLIO: 2011, HarperTeen/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 13 to 15, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-06-145105-8

The Lighter Side of Life and Death

C. K. Kelly Martin

Sixteen year old Mason Rice loses his virginity the same moment his best friend Kat Medina does, when they get carried away after drinking at a party. To further complicate his young life, Kat won’t have anything to do with him after that because she’s so freaked by what happened.  And their mutual best friend, Jamie, is mad at Mason, because he—not so secretly—has the hots for Kat.  Plus, Mason’s dad’s fiancée and her kids are coming to live with them.  So now his peaceful home life is disrupted by an angry thirteen-year-old stepsister-to-be, Brianna, her equally angry cat, and a happy six-year-old stepbrother-to-be.  Mason’s mother used him to fulfill her fantasy of being a model when he was younger, but then left .  He sees and talks to her occasionally.  In the meantime, Mason gets involved with a twenty-three-year-old woman, Colette, who teaches him a thing or three about the joys of sex.   Eventually, he and Kat and Jamie sort their drama out; Brianna sees him with Colette, which causes him to fess up.  He has already realized that Colette just likes to toy with boys/men and is really quite a self-centered, callow person.  The title of this book is an adult perception of Mason’s problems, because, to him, these problems are not light at all.  I had a hard time drumming up any sympathy for any of the characters and feel boys will be very disappointed in the lack of titillating sexual description.

BIBLIO: 2010, Random House Children’s Books/Random House, Ages 14 +, $16.99

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-375-84588-8

ISBN: 978-0-375-95588-4

ISBN: 978-0-375-84589-5

ISBN: 978-0-375-84590-1

What happens to the time?

I promised myself to add a blog at least twice a week, but as poet Robert Burns–one of my favorites, I might add–said, “The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft awry.” Howsoever, I’m back and full of more reviews. This post is about stories that show hope for those whose lives have taken a wrong turn.  Hope all has been good for you and you’ve been productive.  Sarah.

Alison does know horses.


Alison Hart

Jasmine Schuler is in foster care because she attacked Hugh Robicheaux with a hoof pick.  But Robicheaux had just accused Jas’ grandfather of killing Whirlwind, a valuable mare, by giving her yew to munch on. Her grandfather suffers a heart attack, leaving Jasmine nowhere to go. And Jasmine is sure of the truth—Hugh is the culprit.  She is relieved to discover that Whirlwind is not dead; that a look-a-like, but less valuable horse, was poisoned instead; for the insurance money. At first Jas is not keen on being in foster care, but when she ends up at horse rescue farm run by the no-nonsense Miss Hahn, things begin to look up. She still has to wear a tracking anklet because she attacked her nemesis, but she does have some freedom. The insurance company decides to prosecute the evil Robicheaux and needs Jasmine’s help in finding the real Whirlwind.  Plus, the good-looking Chase seems to have an interest in her and her problems. The book, a sequel to Shadow Horse, is fast paced with death threats and intrigue, plus a little romance thrown in for good measure. Horse lovers will enjoy all the horse talk and other readers will enjoy the mystery and romance.

BIBLIO: 2010, Laurel-Leaf/Random House Children’s Books/Random House, Ages 12 +, $7.99

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-375-86005-8

This one should be at every school.  I read it one night and cried copious tears.

Want to Go Private?

Sarah Darer Littman

Abby isn’t looking forward to high school.  She just knows it’s going to be the same as middle school where she was the “smart girl” nerd.  But her best friend, Faith, embraces the changes and begins to branch out, making Abby feel more isolated.  Plus, at home, she doesn’t think her family cares about her.  She’s ripe fruit for an online sexual predator, “Luke,” who convinces Abby he alone loves and listens to her.  Even though a boy at school expresses interest in her, Abby doesn’t believe he could really be attracted to her.  And Luke warns her that he is the jealous type who might harm the school boy.  The more Luke isolates her emotionally, the more she’s willing to participate in his sexual games.  Eventually he convinces her to run away with him.  In the end, the FBI is able to track them down and rescue Abby.  Plan to stay up until you finish this book and make sure to have plenty of tissues on hand.  School internet safety classes should make this required reading.  It’s a compelling read and a horrifying story.

BIBLIO: 2011, Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-545-15146-7

This one made me want to yank the protagonist away from the fellow to whom she loses her virginity, but she does manage to out grow him without getting pregnant.


Stasia Ward Kehoe

Hard as it is to write a novel in regular prose without getting wordy, try writing in verse.  That’s a whole ‘nother level of succinctness.  On top of that, to write so the emotions show through and the plot advances seamlessly is masterful.  Ms. Kehoe wrote a winner of a book.  Sara, who has lived her sixteen years in small town Vermont, where her dad grows apples and her mother is a driven business executive, wins a year’s scholarship to the prestigious Jersey Ballet.  Now four states away from her home, Sara is lonely and overwhelmed and soon enamored of the handsome, compelling, twenty-two year old Remington.  Her dancing grows stronger, but her body aches all the time and she isn’t quite good enough for the solo parts.  Still, she does make tentative friends and, with the help of her English teacher at the private school she now attends, discovers a gift for writing.  Is dancing really what she wants, she now wonders.  Is it wrong for her to make love with Rem?  Probably, but she likes being his dance-creating muse.  Until he begins to distance himself from her and selects someone else to perform the dance Sara helped Rem create.  In the end, she realizes ballet will always be a part of her, but it is not what she wants totally.  Not enough to put up with the pain and rigor and constant dieting.  So she heads home to Vermont—wiser and stronger.  A bit more description of what the many ballet terms mean would have been nice, but all-in-all an excellent read.

BIBLIO: 2011, Viking/Penguin Group, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-670-01319-7