Sunday, September 27, 2009

Summerland Blog

Now that school has started, everyone is super busy with homework, tests, sports, clubs, and countless other things we're involved in. Everyone is wistfully looking back at the summer months and wishing that we had a few more weeks of uninterrupted bliss. If you, like me, are missing summer dearly, you should check out a new blog called Summerland. It's focusing on summer reads that you can enjoy even in the depths of winter. They are also having a mega contest that ends October 1. So go over there and check it out!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Holden Caulfield is surely one of the most recognized names and favorite protagonists in contemporary American literature. Several generations of young readers especially have been startled to recognize so many of their own ideas and feelings in Holden's distaste for all the "phonies" that surround him. (Taken from back cover)

I was pleasantly surprised by The Catcher in the Rye. I thought that I wouldn't like it, but I actually did. I had to read it for my AP English literature class, so look out for reviews on a bunch of "classics" because I have to do a lot of reading for that class. Anyway, Holden definitely has that teenage angst/moodiness thing going on. He is what some adults think every teenager is like. He's sarcastic, uses profanity, fails classes in school, the whole deal. He also thinks that everyone around him is "phony" and is putting on some kind of act. I actually thought that aspect of his personality was quite annoying. Obviously, there's psychological reasons why he thinks that way, but to believe that everyone is putting up some kind of front is ridiculous. It's also ridiculous because Holden lies all the time. Besides that, I enjoyed the book immensely. It was easy to read and was actually pretty funny at times, since it's told in first person with Holden narrating the story. It was not what I expected at all, but in a good way. I would definitely recommend this book to all readers, and especially to those who need a "classic" for their book report.

7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

Scarlett Martin has grown up in a most unusual way. Her family own the Hopewell, a small Art Deco hotel in the heart of New York City. When each of the Martins turns fifteen, they are expected to take care of a suite. For Scarlett's fifteenth birthday, she gets both a room called the Empire Suite and a permanent guest named Mrs. Amberson. Scarlett doesn't quite know what to make of this C-list starlet and world traveler. And when she meets Eric, an astonishingly gorgeous actor who has just moved to the city, her summer takes a second unexpected turn. Before the summer is over, Scarlett will have to survive a whirlwind of thievery and romantic missteps. But in the city where anything can happen, she might be able to pull it off. (Taken from back cover)

I loved Suite Scarlett! I think it was one of the best books I've read in awhile. The characters were extremely likable, especially Scarlett and her older brother Spencer. And speaking of Spencer, he is hilarious! Every other word that came out of his mouth was some funny, sarcastic remark. The only character I didn't really like was Marlene, Scarlett's incredibly spoiled younger sister. But Marlene comes around, which is good. I like character development. What I also like was the originality of the story. First, Scarlett lives in a hotel, which is probably the coolest thing ever. And then I loved the theater and acting subplot, especially since Spencer and his acting troupe were putting on the play Hamlet. I'm so glad that I had to read that in tenth grade because it seems to be very popular for contemporary literature (see also: Eyes Like Stars). I also liked that the romance wasn't predictable, and turned out differently than I imagined. So if you're looking for a cute, witty, and unique book, Suite Scarlett is a perfect choice!

9 out of 10.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Used Book Sales Directory

I recently received an email from a representative of She wanted to let me (and other bloggers) know that there is a website with lists of book sales that support local libraries. All you have to do is type in your zip code and state and find tons of used book sales. Read on for more info.

All across the nation, many Friends of the Library organizations hold book sales that feature cheap books that were either donated or removed from circulation. Typically these sales sell books, CDs, magazines, and DVDs for rock bottom prices. A typical sale will sell most of their items for under 3 dollars.

Being charity organizations, these Friends of the Library organizations often have limited resources to advertise and promote their sales. As such, many people are never made aware of the excellent deals they are missing within their own communities. That's where comes in. We are attempting to bridge the gap between Organizations looking to more effectively advertise their sale, and people looking to find more places to get good deals on books and media.

Friends of the Library organizations and other non-profit groups can freely advertise their sale on our site. Our site currently has 2500 active listings, and we have been adding over 100 everyday.

People looking to find sales can use our powerful search tools to find these sales. They can search by state, zip code, sale size, and date ranged. Furthermore, people can create an account and save sales to their calendar to help them better track the sales they want to go to. You can also sign up for notifications to be emailed when a new sale in your area is listed, or a reminder email a few days before the sales on your calendar so you don’t ever miss a sale you want to attend.

I believe book sales are a great way to find bargain books and media while at the same time supporting the local libraries and non profits we all know and love. It's a total win-win.

I thought this was such a good idea and will definitely be using it to find cheap books.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

Emily's summer is going to be a little different this year. Instead of tanning and hanging out by the pool with her best friend Meg, Emily will be attending a prestigious art program in Philadelphia a few days a week. Coming from a wealthy suburb in New Jersey, Emily isn't like the kids at the school, who are extremely serious about their art and individuality. Emily doesn't feel unique, special, or talented; that is, until she meets Fiona. Fiona is passionate about art and some of her enthusiasm begins to rub off on Emily. But when the old and new Emily's clash, Emily must decide what kind of person she really wants to be, and discover who her true friends really are.

So I really wanted to read Same Difference because it takes place in Philadelphia, and I live about twenty minutes outside of the city. It was awesome seeing all the famous landmarks, like the William Penn statue and South Street. Not too many books are set in this area, so it fun to recognize the different places Emily visits. I'm not a big art person, but I liked reading about the art program and seeing all the different projects Emily worked on. Unfortunately, Emily started getting a little annoying because she was trying too hard to be unique. She comes from a town where everyone conforms and wears the same type of preppy clothes. But when she comes to Philly, everyone is the opposite and is obsessed with being different. So Em has to figure out who she wants to be. I also didn't like how she drops her best friend because Meg isn't artsy like her new friends. But everything works out in the end, so I guess it's okay. Emily learns that she doesn't have to wear crazy clothes and hairstyles to be an individual. I think anyone who likes art or coming of age stories will enjoy Same Difference.

7 out of 10.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Win a copy of Melinda and the Wild West!

On Tuesday I interviewed Linda Weaver Clarke about her Family Legacy Workshop and recently released books. Here's some information she sent me about a contest that she's holding at her website:

Hello everyone! My last book in this series, "Elena, Woman of Courage," has just been released. As a celebration, I'm having a free book give-away for the first book in this series: Melinda and the Wild West. This book was a Semi-finalist for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.” Go to my blog at and leave a comment on the "Elena, Woman of Courage Press Release" along with your e-mail address. I will announce the winner on my birthday: Oct 2nd.

If you're interested in winning this book, please visit Linda's blog. Thanks Linda for a great contest!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interview with Linda Weaver Clarke

Since it's Book Bloggers' Appreciation Week, I have a special treat for you: an author interview! I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Weaver Clarke, a historical fiction novelist whose newest books, David and the Bear Lake Monster and Elena, Woman of Courage, were released this past summer. Linda also runs a Family Legacy Workshop, where she travels around the country teaching people how to write about their ancestry.

Short Bio

Linda Weaver Clarke was raised on a farm surrounded by the rolling hills of southern Idaho and has made her home in southern Utah among the beautiful red mountains. She travels throughout the United States, teaching a “Family Legacy Workshop” at libraries, encouraging others to turn their family history and autobiography into stories. Clarke is the author of the historical fiction series, “A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho,” which includes the following novels: Melinda and the Wild West - a semi-finalist for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007,” Edith and the Mysterious Stranger, Jenny’s Dream, David and the Bear Lake Monster, and Elena, Woman of Courage.

Family Legacy Workshop

Can you tell us about the Family Legacy Workshop?
I teach people how to take their family history or their own autobiography and turn it into interesting stories. It’s important to teach our children their heritage. Each of us has a story from our ancestors to tell. If these stories are unwritten, then they’ll be lost forever. Our children need to be proud of their ancestors. To read samples of what you can do with your stories, visit my website at and read the “short stories” of my ancestors.

How is writing about ancestry different than writing fiction?
When writing your own ancestors stories, everything is taken from biographies, letters, or autobiographies. Sometimes, they’re stories that have been handed down for generations. Leon Garfield said: “The historian, if honest, gives us a photograph; the storyteller gives us a painting.” What I’m teaching people to do is how to paint their stories, to be the storyteller.

What kind of information do people need to have before they start writing their family history?
First, write down any experiences that you remember. Talk to family members and discuss memories. Use letters they wrote to one another. If possible, go to the area your ancestors settled, walk around, find specific places of importance, where your ancestors lived, went to school, and played. If you can’t go there, then do research and find pictures of that area. Time Period is another important part of research. Find out what the country was going through, and insert it in the history of your ancestor. The turmoil of a country helps you to understand what your family went through and why they suffered. Did they live during the depression, and if so, how did it affect them? If they lived during war times, it helps your children understand why their grandparents had such tough times. When writing my father’s biography, I found out that in 1942 they rationed gas to three gallons a week. To me, that was amazing. How about prices? Did it cost ten cents to go to the movies and five cents for an ice cream cone? And what flavors existed? Did they travel by horse and buggy or a Model T Ford?

What have you learned from traveling all over the United States?
I have learned that many, many people are interested in writing their family history. I have met wonderful people who are family oriented or want to bridge the gape between them and their children by writing their stories down.

I see that you work with abused teenagers. What techniques do you use to teach writing as a therapeutic tool?
Writing can be a healing process. When writing your own autobiography or even fiction, it helps to express your innermost feelings and desires. What I teach the youth are the writing techniques that will help them put a story together. We discuss setup, characters, plot, and the importance of conflict and emotion. The secret of holding a reader is using emotion. It’s the difference between a slow or a lively recounting of a story. The greatest reward I received was the hug of a young teenager.

Your Books

What is your historical fiction novel David and the Bear Lake Monster about?
It’s about deep-rooted legends, long family traditions, and a few mysterious events! While visiting the Roberts family, David finds himself entranced with one very special lady and ends up defending her honor several times. Sarah isn’t like the average woman. This beautiful and dainty lady has a disability that no one seems to notice. He finds out that Sarah has gone through more trials than the average person. She teaches him the importance of not dwelling on the past and how to love life. After a few teases, tricks, and mischievous deeds, David begins to overcome his troubles, but will it be too late? Will he lose the one woman he adores? And how about the Bear Lake Monster? Does it really exist?

What kind of research did you have to do to write that novel?
It was so much fun to research. My great grandmother, Sarah Eckersley Robinson, was my inspiration. I wanted to use her experiences for my heroine to bring some reality into my story. As a child, she lost her hearing but she never let her deafness stop her from living life to its fullness. I took a lot of her experiences from her biography and gave them to my heroine to bring some reality into my story.

Sarah was known as one of the most graceful dancers in town. My mother told me that she glided across the floor with ease, with just a touch of her partner’s hand. Sarah had such agility and gracefulness while swimming, that people actually threw coins in the water so they could watch her dive after them. Once an intruder hid in her bedroom under her bed, thinking he could take advantage of her since she was deaf. He must have thought she was an easy victim but was sadly mistaken. She swatted him out from under her bed with a broom, and all the way out of the house, and down the street for a couple blocks, whacking him as she ran. What a courageous woman! Because of my admiration for my great grandmother, I named my character “Sarah.”

In my research about the “hearing impaired,” and talking to a friend who became deaf in her youth, I became educated about the struggles they have to bear. I didn’t realize that concentrating on reading lips for long periods of time could be such a strain, resulting in a splitting headache. After all my research, I found that I had even more respect for my great grandmother and her disability.

Now you may wonder about the Bear Lake Monster and how it fits into my story. Is it fiction or non-fiction? Well, my book is considered historical fiction so I decided to add some parts of history that may sound incredible to you but actually happened.

The mystery of the Bear Lake Monster has been an exciting part of Idaho history ever since the early pioneers arrived. Some people claimed to have seen it and gave descriptions of it. The monster’s eyes were flaming red and its ears stuck out from the sides of its skinny head. Its body was long, resembling a gigantic alligator, and it could swim faster than a galloping horse. Of course, it only came out in the evening or at dusk.

Throughout the years, no one has ever disproved the Bear Lake Monster. A bunch of scientists tried to discredit the monster and said it was a huge codfish that was shipped in from the East but could not prove this theory. Does the Bear Lake Monster exist? Whatever conclusion is drawn, the legend still lives on and brings a great deal of mystery and excitement to the community.
Why did you choose to write historical fiction?
I love to learn about the past. It has always intrigued me but one of the greatest reasons was because I had just finished writing my ancestors’ stories and their experiences were still vivid in my mind. They settled in Paris, Idaho so I decided to set my Òfamily sagaÓ in Bear Lake Valley and then gave some of my fictional characters their experiences. To me, it brings a story to life. For example: In “Melinda and the Wild West,” I inserted an experience that happened to my dad. When he was young, his father asked him to bury the skunks he had shot. Before my dad buried them, he drained their scent glands into a bottle. He called it “skunk oil.” Then he took it to school to show his friends. While explaining how he had done it, he must have gotten a little too excited because he accidentally dropped the bottle and it splattered on the floor. The scent of concentrated skunk oil permeated the room with a stench that was indescribable. Everyone ran out of the school as fast as their little legs would go. And the teacher followed close behind. My father said that he was a hero for one day because he got school out for his classmates. This novel eventually won an award as one of the semi-finalists for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.”

In “Edith and the Mysterious Stranger,” I based this story around the courtship of my parents. They wrote letters to one another before they ever met. She said that she fell in love with the soul of my father, what was deep down inside and they didn’t even know what one another looked like. The day they met, my mother told me that her heart leapt within her and a warm glow filled her soul and she knew she would marry this man. I knew this would be the basis of my next novel, but there’s one difference. In my story, you don’t know who the mysterious stranger is until the end of the book. Some readers guessed right while others were pleasantly surprised.


What do you like most about being an author?
I love uplifting others with my stories. To bring a smile or a laugh to a weary person makes it all worthwhile. I also enjoy teaching others to write and see the enthusiasm in their faces.

How did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

I have always loved writing, but it wasn’t until I wrote my own ancestor’s stories that I realized how much I loved it. Afterward, I couldn’t stop writing so I turned to historical fiction.

Is there any other information you think the readers would like to know about?
Oh yes! “Elena, Woman of Courage” is the last in this series and was just released. It’s set in 1925. It was a blast to research. I found words that I didn’t even know such as: Cat’s pajamas! Ah, horsefeathers! Attaboy! Baloney! You slay me! When referring to a woman, they used doll, tomato, and bearcat. When a person was in love, he was goofy. If a person was a fool, he was a sap. And when a woman wasn’t in the mood for kissing or romance, she would say, “The bank’s closed.” I was able to use all these words and much more in my book. The language was great!

It’s about a “Happy-go-lucky Bachelor” that is completely fascinated with a woman doctor: Elena Yeates. Of course, women weren’t encouraged to go to college back then, let alone become a doctor, and this fascinates him to no end. With the 1920’s rise of women’s rights, this novel gives you an insight at the struggles women had to go through, while watching a young love blossom! To read an excerpt, visit

Thank you so much Linda for doing this interview with me! I, and the other readers, have certainly learned a lot about you, your books, and the Family Legacy Workshop. If you would like to learn more about Linda Weaver Clarke, please visit her website.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Anna's best friend Frankie has the perfect idea: when they go to California for a three-week vacation they should meet a new boy every day. That way, they'll each be sure to find someone they like and have time for a summer romance. But Anna is hiding a secret, one that she isn't sure if she should tell Frankie about. The summer before, Anna had a summer romance, but it was with Frankie's older brother Matt, right before he died in a car accident. The three of them had been best friends their whole lives, so Matt wanted to wait to tell Frankie, but never got the chance to because he died. Anna doesn't want to forget about Matt but she also wants to move on, too. Fortunately, a vacation in Zanzibar Bay will help to heal both Anna and Frankie and their friendship.

I really enjoyed Twenty Boy Summer. It had a really interesting idea: a girl having to move on from the death of her secret boyfriend. I had never read a book like that before, so it was nice to read something different. I also liked the characters. Frankie was the pretty boy-crazy girl who liked to get into mischief, while Anna was the shyer one. I liked their idea of meeting twenty boys over a span of three weeks. I was actually disappointed when we didn't get to see that many different boys; both girls find a boy they like and stick to them. As for Sam, Anna's new love interest, I liked him but I felt like we didn't get too much information about him. He seemed like a nice guy, but was kept in the background. Maybe the author wanted the focus to be on Matt, but I would have liked to learn more about Sam. I also enjoyed reading the flashbacks about Matt. It made the story more real and showed us Anna's grief in a different way, since she loved revisiting old memories. The story was sad, but it was also one of healing, as both girls start to move on and accept the fact that Matt might be gone from the world, but he won't be gone from their hearts. (That was pretty corny, but true).

8 out of 10.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Swimming by Nicola Keegan

Philomena Ash has always known she would be a swimmmer, even at a young age. Ever since her parents brought her to an infant swim class, Pip has spent as much time in the pool as she can. And the hard work and long hours in the water finally pay off when Pip begins attending state meets and training with the best coaches in the country. But winning Olympic gold medals can't fix Pip's life. With a completely dysfunctional family, Pip has been trying to stay afloat in more ways than one. What seems to be a story of success turns out to be a coming of age story as Pip loses and finds herself in this debut novel by Nicola Keegan.

I have been swimming competitively for almost ten years, so reading a book about an Olympic swimmer is right up my alley. Though I am nowhere as good as Pip, I could definitely relate to her love of the water. I originally picked up this book because I wanted to see how the author would approach the topic of swimming. Everything I saw seemed correct, but I actually wish there were more references to swimming. The author probably wanted to make this book accessible to people who have no knowledge of swimming, but I would have liked to see this book be a little more authentic.

As for the book itself, what was interesting was the way the author chose to write the dialogue. When most people write dialogue, they use quotation marks. Instead, Nicola Keegan made all dialogue in italics. For the most part, it was easy to read, but a few times I wondered if I was reading dialogue or the thoughts in Pip's mind. And speaking of dialogue, Pip is the most inarticulate character I have ever read about. It was so annoying watching Pip struggle for the right words. On page 259, there is a perfect example of her eloquence: "We have to think of something else. People are starting...My speeches aren't what...I had a big problem today, Hank...I didn't...I don't know." Imagine reading speech like that! It started driving me crazy.

Anyway, I liked the book until about two thirds through. Near the end Pip runs away to Paris to rediscover herself and the book gets really weird after that. Pip hallucinates and sees people that are dead, and it just became very odd and not exactly relevant to swimming. I really didn't like the end portion because it didn't make any sense. So if you like swimming, I would recommend this book, but otherwise, it's kind of an annoying book.

7 out of 10.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Auden West has always been driven and focused, which has allowed her to be accepted into a great college, but has also denied her a normal childhood. So when she decides to spend the summer in Colby, a small beach town, with her father, stepmother and baby half-sister, she wants to do something different. It's there that she meets Eli, an insomniac like her, and there that they travel around during the midnight hours, doing the things that Auden missed out on. But when Auden's father and step-mother start fighting and she gets confused about Eli, Auden must decide if she wants to continue her quest or stay the concientious studen her mother adores.

Since this book is written by Sarah Dessen, you automatically know it will be good. And Along for the Ride definitely was. It wasn't my favorite (it's still Just Listen) but it was one of the better books Sarah has written. What I really like about Sarah's books is that she continually uses people and locales from her other books. So we got to go to Colby again (it appears in both Keeping the Moon and The Truth About Forever), and the characters that live there (Isabel, for instance). I like that all the books are connected. What was also fun was that I was in North Carolina while reading this book, which was neat because all the books take place in that state.

What I realized about Sarah's books after reading Along for the Ride was the complexity of the plot. There are always a lot of different things going on, but they are intertwined nicely into a wonderful story. Seriously, we had Auden's relationship with a bunch of different people (her parents, brother, Heidi, Eli, the girls at the shop), then all the stuff with college, learning to ride a bike, the insomniac/childhood quest with Eli, overcoming stereotypes, stuff like that. It's just crazy how many different things go on, and it's all completely relevant and interesting at the same time. And that is why I love Sarah's books. Okay, it's not the only reason, but it definitely makes her books stand out from the other ones on the shelf. So go out and read this, and while you're at it, pick up the rest of Sarah Dessen's work.

8 out of 10.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Native Son by Richard Wright

Bigger Thomas is an African-American growing up in Chicago during the Great Depression. When he accidentally kills Mary Dalton, the daughter of the family he's working for, he burns her body and sends the family a ransom note to cover up his crime. When her bones are discovered in the basement furnace, Bigger must run for his life. But the police and hundreds of volunteers comb the city streets for Bigger and soon he is captured and taken into police custody. Now Bigger is charged with both rape and murder, though he is only guilty of one, and has little hope of escaping the electric chair.

This was the last book I had to read for summer reading and when I finished it, I sighed a breath a relief. It actually wasn't too bad, but I was so glad to be finally done the reading portion. I didn't mind reading Native Son too much. It was written in the forties, but the language wasn't any different than today's. The book was interesting, but the parts about Bigger killing Mary Dalton and stuffing her in the furnace were actually pretty gruesome. What I didn't like about Native Son was that I felt that Bigger didn't learn from his mistake (killing Mary). It seemed like he resolved himself to the fact that he would eventually kill someone, instead of feeling remorseful about her death. All in all, it was probably better than most other classics my teacher could have chosen from, but it definitely wasn't anything spectacular.

5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


What happened to August? It went by so fast! And now summer's almost over and I'll be starting school in exactly a week :( I'm a little disappointed that I didn't read as many books and blog as I much as I wanted to. But oh well, life moves on. Sorry I haven't been posting any book reviews. I procrastinated on my summer reading so I don't really have time this week. I'll post something soon though. Enjoy the rest of your summer, everyone!