Growing up is hard to do.

Linda Vigen Phillips new book, Crazy, is due out in October and, judging from the trailer, it’s gonna be a spell binder. CRAZY (Eerdmans/October 2014)


She asked me if I would be willing to review it, which made me think that maybe I could do that for others of you who would like to have reviews done. If you like the way I review books, please feel free to contact me. See if you can get an ARC copy, so I can get the review out ahead of time. But do understand that I might not be all positive about your book. I’m also open for doing interviews. The one I did with Carole Weatherford is about a year old, but will give you an idea of what I can do. Carole gave me a list of questions and answer from which to pick, but I can stretch my mind and come up with questions on my own, if you’d prefer.


If you’re wondering how I have all these books to review. They are sent to me by Emily Griffith who owns a firm that provides book reviews for the Children’s Literature Database. She sends me 5 books at a time, usually once a month, and after I’m through reading them I send the reviews as attachment to an email. It’s a good way for me to see what’s being published and what the marketing department thinks will sell. I get to keep the books. Check out the database at




Now on to this week’s reviews:


Family dynamics are very complex, as we all know, and are exacerbated by our own insecurities or arrogance. And that’s from a 73 year old woman, who has had a lot of years to trying to figure the dynamics out. But try remembering back to when you were a teenager. How did you feel about your family and yourself back then? Probably lots different, huh? The three books I picked for this blog entry include stories of kids navigating life as a teen. Hope you find them interesting.




I hope most of you have not mourned a dead sibling when you were still a child. My children and my sister’s children have, so I know how much it hurts. This story has a powerful impact.


Adios, Nirvana

Conrad Wesselhoeft

      Jonathan’s twin brother, whom he calls Tellamachus or Telly, died last year during their sophomore year in high school when they thought they were on the top of the world and he can’t deal with it. So he’s in jeopardy of flunking his junior year. His friends, whom he calls his thicks, are trying to help him sort things out, as is his high school principal, Gupti R. Jacobson, PhD. Last year he won a major poetry award, but he dismisses that as a fluke. Telly was the talented one; a standout guitar player and skateboard rider. Jonathan was happy being his shadow. But now he’s floundering. Gupti and Jonathan’s English teacher, Dr. Robert Bramwell (a.k.a. Birdwell) team up to get him to believe in himself and in living. Birdwell gets him a job ghost writing an elderly World War II veteran’s war story and Gupti insists he perform a song from the wimpy rock group she likes. Reluctantly, Jonathan begins to relate with the world again and, with the help of all the people who believe in him, he starts to believe in himself. This is well written book about surviving life’s hurts and learning to thrive despite the pain.

BIBLIO: 2010, Houghton Mifflin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 14 +, $16.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-547-36895-5




I’ve also reviewed the sequel to this book and have gotten fonder of the characters.

The sequel is: Ask Amy Green: Dancing Daze


Ask Amy Green: Boy Trouble

Sarah Webb

      First off the title bugs me. Although thirteen year-old Amy Green helps out, she is not the advice columnist—her seventeen year-old Aunt Clover is. Plus the book really isn’t just about boy troubles; in fact it is more about finding one’s place in the world and not judging people without getting to know them. Amy is not in any particular group in her Irish school, but her best friend, Mills, has started hanging around with a wannabe popular girl named Sophie who tries to leave Amy out of the group. So Amy ends up not having in real friends in school until she gets to know Seth, who is in her art class. He is reticent about making friends because of comments he’s heard Amy’s friends say about him. But they do eventually start dating. Amy does have a chaotic home life having to frequently babysit her toddler half-brother and infant half-sister and deal with her mother’s partner. She also is having a hard time dealing with her father’s new wife, Shelley. Amy doesn’t know they’ve gotten married until after they announce their going to have a baby. Plus, Shelley pushes Amy’s dad to do things that were supposed to include Amy, like get a puppy, but then does snarky things like commandeer Amy’s bedroom for the baby. In the end, with the help of Aunt Clover and Seth, Amy learns to rise above the petty stuff and restore peace to her family. Clover seemed a bit too wise for her young age and I don’t believe girls really use words like “fave” and “fab” with regularity. It was nice the author provided a glossary of Irish teens’ terms.

BIBLIO: 2010 (Orig. 2009,) Candlewick Press, Ages 12 +, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan         

FORMAT: Young Adult          

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5006-3




Sometimes unappealing main characters can have merit, if they learn from their mistakes.


Swoon at Your Own Risk

Sydney Salter

      Seventeen year-old Polly Martin is a brain, but also obsessed with boys and dating. She agreed to take a summer job at the local water park, because her now ex-boyfriend wanted her to work where he does. She has a tendency to passively agree to do things others want her to do, but generally ends up ruing her decisions. She’s angry with her father, who left the family for another woman; young woman. And now Polly’s mom is working as a waitress at the local hamburger hangout. Plus Grandma, a.k.a. Miss Swoon, the world renowned advice columnist, is going to be living with them, so Polly has to share her younger sister Grace’s room. Polly is so caught up in her own self; she doesn’t see the problems the rest of her family’s having. I found her to be a very unsympathetic, selfish character. She’s so self-centered; she doesn’t understand why her best friend won’t speak to her anymore. She can’t even see that Xander, the kid down the street, has turned into a handsome and caring young man. But in the end Polly does come to an understanding of who she really is and what the others around her need from her. There is humor in the story and teens will relate to Polly’s struggles for self understanding.

BIBLIO: 2010, Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., Ages 14 to 18, $8.99

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-15-206649-9



Death and children–not as dark as you might think

Since I’m on my way to Buffalo, NY, for my sister’s memorial service, death and how we deal with it are on my mind. Thank goodness I have my husband and children as rods I can lean against and I do have the memories of my sister’s bravery and humor in dealing with her long battle against breast cancer. So I will channel those feelings and remember the good times. May you have courage and love in whatever sorrows you may face in your lives.


This first book is a powerful read and well written. Enjoy.


Torn Away

Jennifer Brown

            Just as she ‘s about to finish her junior year in high school, Jersey Cameron’s whole life is blown away when a massive tornado wipes out a large swath of her Missouri town. Her mother and younger sister, Marin, die and then her stepfather, Ronnie, ships her off to her biological father and her paternal grandparents whom she has never met. Her remarried birth father has twin daughters who are cruel to Jersey. She sleeps on the screen porch of her grandparents’ seriously overcrowded house. With the exception of her aunt, who lives in the house with her two out-of-control sons, everyone is mean to her and very unaccepting. Then she learns her parents didn’t separate in the way she had always been told; that her mother wasn’t as truthful as she could have been. Eventually she is foisted off on to her also unknown maternal grandparents, but by now is so hurt and angry and guilt-ridden for ignoring Marin, she is rude. Since her mother told her lies about them she is surprised to discover they are good people who just want to help her heal. The description of Jersey’s surviving the storm all alone in the basement of her house is electrifying and her struggle to survive the pain and suffering she endures is emotionally powerful. The book is a good read and the characters are well defined.

BIBLIO: 2014, Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group, Ages 13 +, $18.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-316-24553-1

ISBN: 978-0-316-24551-7


Because her father’s reaction to her mother’s drug death leaves Emma pretty much a hostage, I included this book because of the message that the death of one person affects those around her.



Ann Redisch Stampler

     The reader might say Emma Lazar is held in “protective custody” by her father, who doesn’t want his daughter to turn out like her mother—a dead addict found behind a convenience store with a needle in her now lifeless arm. And Emma has had to give up a lot: her name, Amélie; her country, Quebec, Canada; her native language, French; and her religion, Judaism. But keeping a teenage girl from going to parties or out with friends or other normal adolescent behavior generally causes rebellion. So when Emma and Dad move to L.A. for his new job and her new fancy prep school, the girl goes wild. The first day of school she meets Siobhan Lynch, who is already past wild into dangerous and she leads Emma to over-the-top behavior. She tries to resist, but is sucked into “not-a-good-girl-anymore” behavior. Siobhan makes up a French boyfriend for Emma, supposedly to protect her from snarky remarks by the school’s mean girls. Of course, this keeps the school’s hottest guy, Dylan, from showing an interest in Emma. At Siobhan’s prodding, Emma’s behavior is increasingly dangerous. She sneaks out her bedroom window, frequently drinks too much, and tries drugs. Siobhan needles Emma into losing her virginity. By the time the notorious prom “Afterparty” rolls around, Siobhan has made Emma promise that if they aren’t ecstatically happy at the party, they should jump off the roof of the hotel. When Siobhan drags her to the roof, Emma resists her friend’s attempt to push over her over the side. Siobhan jumps over herself and survives. Siobhan refuses to be Emma’s friend, because she didn’t keep her promise to jump. This is a cautionary tale for both parents and children.

BIBLIO: 2014, Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, Inc., Ages 14 +. $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2324-4


Though a bit outlandish, this book does have the good message that those of us who remain living after the death of someone dear to us must learn to move on. Holding on to the past does no one any good.


Cold Kiss

Amy Garvey

      Wren inherited magical powers from her mother and grandmother. If she’s angry, things tend to catch on fire or be hurled across the room by using the energy in her body. But Wren gets carried away when her boyfriend, Danny, dies in a car crash. She misses him so much, she casts a spell and brings him out of his grave, but not really back to life. Obviously, Danny must stay out of sight—most people freak out around the “undead.” Wren soon learns the Danny she brought back isn’t the Danny she loved and soon he begins to chafe at being stuck in a garage attic. Her two best girl friends are bewildered, hurt, and then angry about Wren’s refusal to hang out with them, but she can’t let them in on the secret and she can’t leave Danny alone too much. Plus her mother is being closed mouthed about their powers, which frustrates Wren, especially when she sees her younger sister, Robin, beginning to develop powers of her own. To top off her miseries, Wren is befriended by Gabriel—a new boy in school—who happens to have psychic powers of his own and for whom she begins to fall. She finally realizes the selfish mistake she made by bringing Danny back as he begins to remember more about his death and searches out a new spell to put him back in his grave. The book is a good read, with a compelling narrative and plenty of angst. It could be a good jumping off point for a philosophical discussion of what is life and is there a soul, not to mention how to deal with death.

BIBLIO: 2011, Harper/Teen/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-06-199622-1


Again, please feel free to leave me your comments. Thanks for reading me. Sarah

Happy Summer

This may show up twice because I’m having trouble getting this blog to load on my site.  So just read it once, unless it thrills you so much you just have to read it again.

Anyway, I do hope everyone is having a happy summer and not getting flooded out, dried out, blown away, or burned out.  Time on the beach or in the pool or in the garden or on the golf course or paddling up the river is a good thing, so do try to get some of that in. Ride a horse in the woods and cool off your soul with the beauty of the woods and the serenity of being with a special companion.  Take the dog for a long walk and a swim in the river.  Wherever you are, be sure to have at least on book along for company. 

For this post I included books that take place in the summer or include summer time activities.   Hope you enjoy them.

I do not recommend this first book except as a cautionary tale of why you shouldn’t let your daughters spend time in ritzy resort towns without supervision.

Beach Lane: Summer Fun in the Hamptons!

Melissa de la Cruz

      If you like books about “Barbie Doll” spoiled brat, teenage girls, this is the book for you. Originally published as The Au Pairs, it is told from the points of view of three girls who take jobs as Au Pairs to a family of wealthy children whose parents really can’t be bothered with them. Eliza Thompson is used to summer in the Hamptons, but only as a member of the elite. Now, thanks to her father’s bank fraud disgrace, she has to take the bus from her new home in Buffalo to be the hired help. Her parents wouldn’t even buy her a plane ticket. Mara Waters is used to scrimping and thrilled to be out of Sturbridge for the summer, even if her boyfriend, Jim, was scalding mad that she was going. Jacarei (Jacqui) Velasco is from São Paolo and is quite used to picking up older men to help her on her journey. The girls get to the Hamptons and meet at their employers’ house. Although the girls do adjust their views of the world a bit during the summer, Eliza and Jacqui stay pretty much the same throughout the book—obsessed with pretty clothes and pretty boys. Mara learns to salivate over the same things. She and Eliza do try to take care of their four charges, but Jacqui conveniently comes up missing when any real work is to be done. This book will do nicely if you want to encourage your teen daughters to drink, smoke and have sex.

BIBLIO: 2013 (orig. 2004,) Simon & Schuster BFYR/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, Inc., Ages 14 +, $9/99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-4424-7409-3

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0765-2


The second book has to do with scuba diving and treasure hunting, which many people do on vacation.

In Too Deep

Coert Voorhees

      Annie Fleet loves scuba diving, history and searching for treasure, which makes her feel even more out of place at the fancy private school she attends in Los Angeles, California. She’s surrounded by very wealthy kids, who, if not actors themselves, are the children of actors. Annie goes there because her father teaches there. She is going on a community service/treasure hunt to Mexico and the hottest guy in school, Josh Rebstock, is also going. The community service bit is hardly worth mentioning as far as Annie’s concerned and since she’s not much of a party girl, she’s bored with the after-work-hours drinking. Finally, they’re done with the community service part of their trip and on to the treasure hunt. Unfortunately, Annie is left for dead by her diving partner after she recovers a clue to the famed Golden Dragon, but makes it to the surface in tact. The rest of the story follows Annie and Josh trying to find the treasure and out wit the bad guys. It’s a rollicking good story with well drawn characters and lots of excitement. Teachers can use it as a jumping off point for history, social values or science.

BIBLIO: 2013, Hyperion/Disney Book Group, Ages 14 +, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-4231-4035-1


The last book is a good tale of learning to stand up for yourself and why it’s good not to lie.

The League

Thatcher Heldring

      Eighth-grader, Wyatt Parker, wishes he was macho enough to not be picked on. Plus, he wishes the girl next door, Evan Robinson, would get romantic feelings towards him instead of the hulky quarterback, who seems to be all muscles and self-assurance. Still Wyatt’s at the movies with Evan and the quarterback isn’t. But Wyatt decides he’ll go out for summer football, so he can toughen up. Only problem, his dad has signed him up for golf camp, so they can play golf more often. Wyatt doesn’t even really like golf, but he’s not used to going behind his parents’ backs. And his best friend, Francis, is psyched about going to the golf camp also and hanging out with Wyatt. Wyatt’s younger sister, Katie, is also very excited about going to the camp. Older brother Aaron, introduces Wyatt to the “League of Pain,” a no holds barred, tackle football league that plays in a secluded part of the community’s sports park. His father won’t let him out of the golf camp, so he lies about it, telling the camp he’s going to a space camp instead. Then he hurts Francis’ feelings by not even calling to say he won’t be going to the professional golf tournament they have tickets for. Wyatt does get more muscular and more respected by the end of the two-week long league. Along the way, he discovers that telling lies and being deceptive really aren’t cool. He also learns that he can stand up for himself without giving in or being a bully. This is an engaging story, with good characters and could be useful in classroom discussions about bullying and self-esteem. There could have been a bit more effort to explain why the parents don’t seem to want much to do with their older son.

BIBLIO: 2013. Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books/Random House, Inc., Ages 13 to 17, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-385-74181-1

ISBN: 978-0-375-99025-0

ISBN: 978-0-375-98713-7

Whatever you do this summer have a good time and wear sunblock.  Talk to you soon.  Sarah