Monday, December 30, 2013

The Scent of Fear Blog Tour & $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

the scent of fear by susan j. reinhardt

First came The Moses Conspiracy, now comes..... The Scent of Fear.

The Zimmermans enjoy the tenuous peace in the wake of their hair-raising year battling the New Patriots. Unexpected visitors once again throw them into turmoil.

Jim Kenneman, Director of National Security, masterminded the plan to break up a hate group ravaging the Christian community. Now, his enemies are out to eliminate him. Should he make a run for it or stick by his tried-and-true negotiating skills?

Monty Addison, a topnotch operative, carried out his assignment in Bird-in-Hand. A plot to destroy his boss sends him on a mission. Without agency sanction, it may cost him everything - his career, his family, and maybe his life.

Dr. Abby Weaver strives to save infants and toddlers in Holmes County, Ohio. When she meets two strangers, she can't get the tall, handsome one out of her mind. Will their paths intersect again or will dangerous times keep them apart?

The Scent of Fear is available at:

susan j. reinhardt
About the Author
Susan J. Reinhardt's publishing credits include her debut novel, The Moses Conspiracy, as well as devotionals, short articles, and contributions to anthologies. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers.
A widow, daughter, stepmom, and active church member, Susan resides in Pennsylvania. When not writing, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, couponing, gardening, and finding small treasures in antique shops.
You can connect with Susan at her Blog, on Twitter, and Facebook.

. The Giveaway Open to US addresses only. One person will receive a $25 Amazon GC and a copy of The Scent of Fear. Please use the Rafflecopter below to be entered: a Rafflecopter giveaway The winner will be chosen from those entries and announced January 17, 2014. Good luck!
Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code. Winning entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by Rafflecopter and announced here as well as e-mailed, and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Diane at That’s What I’m Here For… and sponsored by the author, Susan J. Reinhardt. The author provided me with a free copy of The Scent of Fear to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose. Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a giveaway in return for the free book.VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Wish and a Song

In the midst of this holiday season, I want to share with you my new favorite Christmas carol.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, surrounded by the ones you love most!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

More Mini Reviews

THE FREEDOM THIEF By Mikki Sadil. Mikki is one of my critique partners and her debut MG novel released last month from MuseItUp Publishing. I'm so excited for her! She completed this manuscript before I joined the group, so although I’ve read several of her works in progress, this was my first time reading The Freedom Thief. It’s the story of thirteen-year-old Ben, the son of a slave owner and the lengths he goes to save his friend and stand up for what he believes. Ben leads his best friend, a crippled slave, and his family through collapsing tunnels, foreboding swamps, a dangerous forest in a life or death adventure towards freedom. This is a book I would have enjoyed reading with my children when they were young. It's a story both boys and girls will enjoy.

Once I had commandeered my daughter’s Kindle, I decided to keep it long enough to read ELIXIR BOUND By Katie L. Carroll.(Am I the only one who forgets about books once they're loaded onto the Kindle?)  I don’t usually (ever) read fantasy, but I’ve been visiting Katie’s blog and hearing about her book and, I just couldn’t help myself. I won’t say it made a fantasy convert out of me, but I did enjoy the family aspect to the story. The quest and the life-changing decision Katora had ahead of her kept me pressing that page turn button. The characters were likeable, there was a sweet romance, and I couldn’t help but root for Katora and hope she would make the right decision.                   

Another title that had been waiting on the Kindle was Rachele Alpine’s CANARY. Contemporary YA is where my heart is and I thoroughly enjoyed this one – even though I wanted to shake Kate sometimes. She, her brother and her father are all trying, in their own way, to hold what’s left of their family together after their mother’s death. When Kate and her brother transfer to the elite private school where their father has become the basketball coach, a whole new world opens up to them, and changes them both in very different ways.

I also read Gayle Forman’s JUST ONE YEAR, the sequel to Just One Day. I loved Forman’s If I Stay and Where She Went and how the second book was told from a different character’s point of view. I was excited to hear that Just One Day and Just One Year followed suit. But after reading the first book, I felt duped, slogging through a fluffy middle only to arrive at an end point that wasn't an ending at all. It felt as if one book had been split into two. I would have preferred one tighter book where the viewpoints alternated. Still, as disappointed as I was in the first book, I read the second one – because, let’s face it, I was invested. *SPOILER ALERT* Sadly, a lot was lost in the wait for the second book. The near misses the characters have while searching for each other go under appreciated because the finer details have been forgotten in the wait for the second book. And by the end of book two, Willem doesn’t seem like much of a prize anymore. You almost don’t care if they end up together. But the biggest disappointment was that book two ends exactly where book one ended. (With all of a paragraph or two more – which is all telling.) Yup, I got to the end feeling even more duped than I had with book one. At 368 and 323 pages, it was a big investment with little payoff.

What have you read lately? Tell me about a book I just have to bump to the top of my TBR pile ;)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Vulnerability & Self-Preservation

Photo courtesy of Free Artistic Photos

Several months ago, my good friend, Jen, recommended to me Brene Brown's TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability. I jotted down a note to self and fully intended to watch it. But as with so many things that would benefit me, I delayed. But I've been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately. I mean, as a writer, we put ourselves out there every day. From the first words we lay on the page to sharing our work with critique partners and beta readers, to querying agents or seeing your words appear in publication. How can we make such a regular practice of something so uncomfortable?

For me, that reason is connection. As someone who's always been incredibly shy, the written word has given me a way to connect with others. Yet, I didn't do any writing last week. I wasn't sure why at first, but I soon recognized the feeling: my old self-preservation response to feelings of vulnerability. I reacted to a positive response to my work. Instead of celebrating, I started pulling away from my projects, separating myself from the work, preparing myself for future disappointments by telling myself that I don't really care and none of it really matters anyway. Yeah, it was an odd reaction that led to a rather depressing week.

"Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives." - Brene Brown

Then, Jen reminded me about that TED talk. (I told you she was a good friend.) And this time, I watched it. The timing was perfect. This was my first introduction to Brene Brown, but her words served as a timely reminder to something I learned long ago, and that is, "You can't selectively numb emotion. We can't numb vulnerability without numbing joy, gratitude, and happiness as well."

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity." - Brene Brown

The time I spent last week trying to convince myself that my writing doesn't matter, was time spent kidding myself, trying to become less vulnerable by raising the old walls of self-preservation. In doing so, I was blocking my own creativity. No wonder it was such an uninspired week.

Photo courtesy of Free Artistic Photos

This Monday, I have a better plan. I'm going to take Ms. Brown's advice. I'm going to try my best to embrace creativity, authenticity, and yes, vulnerability.

How do you feel about vulnerability? Have you ever had a negative response to positive feedback? Do you ever hold yourself back in order to avoid possible disappointment?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Homeschool Co-ops 101 by Karen Lange, Book Tour & $25 Amazon GC Giveaway

homeschool co-ops 101
Essential co-op tools, tips, and options for today’s homeschool families. Thinking about joining or starting a homeschool co-op? Not sure if a co-op is a good fit? Homeschool Co-ops 101 weighs the pros, cons, and creative options available for today’s homeschool family.
  • Section 1 includes essential, digestible info on co-op ingredients such as planning and organization, schedules, teaching, finances, and addressing conflict and burnout.
  • Section 2 shares a sampling of co-op games and activities, and
  • Section 3 contains five hands-on unit studies. These ready to use studies include lessons on Leonardo da Vinci, Birds of Prey, Public Speaking, Tall Tales, and Creative Writing, and are suitable for co-op or home use. This section also includes unit study guidelines that are easily customized to suit any topic.
  • Section 4 offers suggested books, curriculum, and other resources.
Karen Lange has gathered insight from years of co-oping and now shares her own and others’ experiences in this valuable and encouraging handbook.
Homeschool Co-ops 101 is available at:
karen langeAbout the Author Karen Lange, her husband, and three children were active in co-ops during their sixteen-year homeschool journey. Her experience includes serving as a local homeschool support group coordinator and consultant for a state homeschool network in New Jersey. Karen’s children have since graduated, and she is now a freelance writer and online writing instructor for homeschooled teens. You can connect with Karen at her Blog, on Twitter, and Facebook. homeschool co-ops 101
Blog Tour Schedule
November 4 ~Ruth Schiffman, ~Robyn Campbell,
November 5 ~Carol Alexander,
~Diane Estrella,
November 6 ~Gena Mayo,
~Marja Meijers,
November 7 ~Sandie Crozek,
~Melissa Brander,
~Cecelia Lester,
November 8 ~Susan Reinhardt,
~Cecelia Lester,
November 10
~Laura V. Hilton,
~Melissa & Tiffany,
~Janette Dolores,
November 11 ~Susan Sundwall,
~Michelle Isenhoff,
November 12 ~Carol Alexander,
~Jeanette Levellie,
November 13 ~Susanne Dietze, ~Sherryl Wilson,
~Anne Payne,
November 14 ~Rhonda Schrock, ~Abi Buening,
~Amber Schamel,
November 15 ~Crystal King, ~Barb Winters,
~Tyrean Martinson,
November 16
November 17 ~Amada Chavez,
~Cindi Clubbs,
~Rebecca Boerner,
November 18
~Carlene Havel,
~Cindy Loven,
November 19
~Karen Loethen,
~Amy Smith,
November 20
~Darlene Arroyo-Lozada,
November 22
~Sarah Bailey,
~Thumb Updown,
December 2
~Jennifer Shirk,
~Ticia M.,
My Review

One of the things I liked best about homeschooling was the freedom - not being tied down to someone else's schedule. But that didn't mean I wanted to go it alone. For several years, we participated in a local co-op. I wish I had a resource like Homeschool Co-Ops 101 to get me started at the time.

Whether you're looking for opportunities to network with other homeschooling families, looking for social outlets for your children, or hoping to find someone who's good at teaching a subject that you struggle with, there are many benefits to joining a co-op.

Karen packs all the “need to know” information you might be looking for into this easy-to-read 78-page book. And that’s good, because a homeschooling parent is a busy parent!

  The Giveaway Open to US addresses only. One person will receive a $25 Amazon GC and a copy of Homeschool Co-ops 101. Please use the Rafflecopter below to be entered: a Rafflecopter giveaway The winner will be chosen from those entries and announced December 5, 2013. Good luck!
Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code. Winning entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by Rafflecopter and announced here as well as e-mailed, and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Diane at That’s What I’m Here For… and sponsored by the author, Karen Lange. The author provided me with a free copy of Homeschool Co-ops 101 to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose. Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a giveaway in return for the free book.VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Kidlit Q & A

I was tagged by the lovely, Vijaya Bodach to answer a few questions about my current writing project. (Click here to read her answers.)

Years ago, I took a writing class where the teacher advised us not to give our stories away. By that, she meant that we should not talk too much about them before getting them written. Talking about our stories, she said, steals some of their energy. The more we talk them out, the more we lose some of the drive to actually capture them on the page. I have found this to be true and often have to hold myself back from submitting a project to my critique group too soon. I do better to keep my stories close as they develop. So I'm going to keep my answers brief.

1.  What are you working on right now?

I'm polishing two picture books and drafting a YA suspense novel.

2.  How does your YA suspense novel differ from other work in its genre?

As I write this, it's getting late, and if I fret over this question too long, I'm not going to get to bed, and then I'll be cranky in the morning. So in the best interest of all the individuals who I will encounter tomorrow, I'm going to skip this one.

3.  Why do you write what you do?

I wrote short stories, articles, and essays for years before having the courage to tackle a book. Writing for a YA audience has always been my first love, so it was a given that I would try my hand at YA novels. And writing flash fiction has helped me to be concise - very helpful with the ever decreasing word counts desired in picture books these days.

4.  How does your writing process work?

Until recently, my process consisted of snatching as many moments at the computer as I could. Those moments were hard to come by, so I never squandered them. Now that I have more time, I'm realizing that I have a real need for structure. Although I've always considered myself a pantster, with my current WIP, I've deliberately tried something new. I've done a ton of planning. I'm hoping this means the actual writing will go more quickly. I guess I'll have to wait and see.

5.  Any departing words of wisdom for other writers?

As best you can, focus on your work and trust the process. The more we get involved with social media, the more distracted we can become with the successes of others. It can seem like everyone is moving ahead but you. Nothing good comes from comparing ourselves to others. We're all on our own journey. We all have to find the way that works for us.

Now this is the point where I'm supposed to nominate other writers to answer these questions, but I think this has made the rounds pretty thoroughly (and like I said, it's getting late and I really want to get to bed.) So, if you're reading this, and you'd like to share a little bit about your WIP, please consider yourself tagged. And do stop back and let me know you've posted so I can come by and read your answers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sweet Talk

I hope you have a sweet tooth, because today's post is full of sugar: sweet blogging buddies and drool-worthy photos. By the time you click away, you may have a sugar buzz.

First I'd like to thank Marcia Hoehne for nominating me for the Super Sweet Blogging Award.

The rules are: 1. Answer the following five sweet questions 2. Nominate five sweet bloggers.

1. Cookies or Cake? Cookies, preferably chocolate chip, or peanut butter, or peanut butter chocolate chip. Of course, homemade are best, but I'll confess to keeping Place and Bake's on hand for- ahem, emergencies.

2. Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, unless we're talking Oreos. Then it's the Golden variety all the way. 

3. Favorite Sweet Treat? H
omemade fudge. My mother's recipe.

4. When Do You Crave Sweet Things The Most? After lunch and dinner. The meal just doesn't quite feel complete until I have a taste of something sweet.

5. Sweet Nick Name? My husband calls me Honey. Always. I have rarely heard him say my name. Actually, I think it would freak me out and I'd wonder what was wrong if he called me Ruth. Although, not as much as if he called me Debra, or Angie, or, oh never mind.

Now, I'd like to share this award with five sweet blogging friends:
Victoria Lindstrom When I think of sweet people, Victoria is at the top of the list.
Le&ndra Wallace Even though she gives a shout out to vanilla in her profile, and I am decidedly chocolate.
Sara Bowers Her posts are short, sweet, and give you a lift - just like a good snack.
The Art of Puro This boyfriend/girlfriend illustrating team have the sweetest illustrations. Take a look at their blog header.
Sara Dobie Because your first blog award should be absolutely delicious!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Catching Up: Three Quick Reviews

Today I’m doing some catching up with a few quick reviews.

     The first is a book I received as an advanced copy from the author. Gabrielle Prendergast runs and does a tremendous job supporting the genre, so I wanted to support her by spreading the word about her book, Audacious, (YA) which releases October 1st. I hadn’t read a novel in verse in a while and I think I was long overdue. I finished this one within a day.   
     From reading her blog posts, I know that Ms. Prendergast enjoys a bit of controversy. During Banned Book week she expressed the desire that her own novel would make the most challenged list one day. Given that a great deal of the story revolves around the C word, I’m betting she’ll get her wish. Although the story wasn’t really for me, I think the audience for verse novels is growing and there are plenty of readers out there who will feel differently.

     My second review is for Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon. The premise sounded unique: a 17-year-old cancer patient tries to get the most out of life while living out his final days in Hospice. I hunted down a copy of the ARC at BEA, even though it meant crossing the Javits Center more than once with critically aching feet. The writing was excellent, the boy voice rang true, and the story line kept me reading at a quick clip. I would have preferred more romance and less lustiness, but perhaps that’s more true to the teenage boy POV.

     Also at BEA, I picked up The Show Must Go On! By Kate Klise (for ages 7-10). I’ll be honest, I didn’t seek this one out, but someone handed it to me and I didn’t know how to say no. I recently decided to share it with my 8-year-old nephew and before giving it to him, I thought I’d read it, so we could discuss it later. I was pleasantly surprised. It was a lot of fun, with black and white line drawings throughout. It has humor. It has heart. It has a dastardly villain who the circus performers must band together to overcome. It uses wordplay and even incorporates a little math, as well as clever characters that young readers will root for. I hate to nag my nephew, but I’m dying to know what he thinks of it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Multitasking Fails

Do you ever feel like you're so preoccupied with constructing fictional lives for your characters that you fail at real life?

We all multitask, right? Whether we're good at it or not. We're trying to get more done in a day than is reasonable so we try to juggle more and more.

I am not great at multitasking. Mostly, I am aware of this shortcoming. I don't talk on my phone while driving. In fact, if you know me well and you're riding in the car with me, when I come to a particularly hairy intersection, you stop talking and let me focus. (Yes, I turn down the radio, too.)

The other night, when I finally peeled myself away from the computer to prepare dinner, my mind was still on my WIP. In my head, I was writing the next scene as I prepared two dishes - chicken Parmesan for my husband and I, and a stuffed chicken breast for my daughter. When the timer rang, the table was set and we were ready to eat. I went to the oven and pulled out one casserole dish. My daughter's dinner was done, but where was the chicken Parm? It didn't take long for me to find it--in the fridge. I have no idea why I put it there and no recollection of doing so, because my head was in a fictional land of my own making, putting words in my characters' mouths instead of dinner on the table.

Do you make these blunders, or are you better at turning your stories on and off?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Enchanted by Possibility

It's September! I love this time of year - the weather, the change of pace, the feeling of fresh starts. During the years that I homeschooled my daughters, September marked a return to structure. We had chosen new school books, new readers, new notebooks, fresh pens, perfectly pointed pencils with unused erasers. We were embarking on a brand new year of endless possibility.

Those school days are behind us, but I find myself feeling some of that blank-slate excitement. Maybe that's why I cleaned my desk last weekend. It took an entire day. (It got a lot worse before it got better.) I left no slip of paper un-turned. The grand payoff is that I can now see the welcoming surface of my desk and it's calling to me, as are the notebooks I bought (because with back to school prices, who could resist?)

Yesterday was one of those easy writing days, where the words flow and you can see where your sentences are taking you. I know they won't all be like that, but I also know enough to relish them when they come.

Hope is a renewable option: if you run out of it at the end of the day, you get to start over in the morning." - Barbara Kingsolver

What do you like best about September? 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reviews: Fangirl, Starry Nights, Nowhere Girl, The Monstore

After a week of distractions, I am back at work on my latest projects - dividing my time between novel and PB. As much as I enjoyed all the M&Ms and YouTube videos, it does feel good to be productive again! As promised, here are a few reviews.

FANGIRL By Rainbow Rowell
Release date: September 10

From Goodreads:

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

At BookExpo America in May I heard Rainbow Rowell read an excerpt from Fangirl and I was sold. I waited in line for over an hour to get my hands on an ARC. It was so worth it! I love, love, love this book. The dialogue is smart, fun, and real. The setting, for the most part, is the college dorm, but I liked that the author didn't use that as a reason to eliminate parents from the story. Cath and Wren's dad is a great character and although it's complicated, I enjoyed the relationship they have with him.

I had heard lots of good stuff about Ms. Rowell's previous YA novel but hadn't gotten to it yet. The minute I finished Fangirl, I headed to the library to get Eleanor & Park, (which I also adored.)

STARRY NIGHTS By Daisy Whitney
Release date: September 3

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Julien is a romantic—he loves spending his free time at the museum poring over the great works of the Impressionists. But one night, a peach falls out of a Cezanne, Degas ballerinas dance across the floor, and Julien is not hallucinating.

The art is reacting to a curse that trapped a beautiful girl, Clio, in a painting forever. Julien has a chance to free Clio and he can't help but fall in love with her. But love is a curse in its own right. And soon paintings begin to bleed and disappear. Together Julien and Clio must save the world's greatest art . . . at the expense of the greatest love they've ever known.

This one was also on my BEA wish list. I stopped back at the Bloomsbury booth at least a half dozen times before I finally got a copy. Sadly, it was hugely disappointing. I didn't care about any of the characters. There seemed to be odd things thrown into the story just for the sake of being odd. The friend with a carousel in his living room--really? The story was set in Paris, but even the setting felt flat. I was so underwhelmed that I didn't finish--and I don't do that often. I'll be passing my copy along and I hope the next reader gets more enjoyment from it than I did.

From Goodreads:   

Luchi Ann only knows a few things about herself: she was born in a prison in Thailand. Her American mother was an inmate there. And now that her mother has died, Luchi must leave the only place she's ever known and set out into the world. Neither at home as a Thai, because of her fair skin and blond hair, nor as a foreigner, because of her knowledge of Thai life and traditions, Luchi feels as though she belongs nowhere. But as she embarks on an amazing adventure-a journey spanning continents and customs, harrowing danger and exhilarating experiences-she will find the family, and the home, she's always dreamed of. Weaving intricate elements of traditional Thailand into a modern-day fairy tale unique unto itself, Nowhere Girl is a beautifully rendered story of courage, resilience, and finding the one place where you truly belong.

This has been on my list for a long time but when I heard that Ms. Paquette was going to be at our local bookstore a few weeks ago, I rushed out to the library to get it. My hope was to buy a copy at the bookstore the day of the event and get it signed. Sadly, there wasn't a copy to be found that day. (She was there to promote her more recent books.) Anyway, I love everything about this book. (That cover!) For all of the physical challenges Luchi Ann is faced with, the story is equally about her inner growth. The author does an amazing job of getting the reader to feel what Luchi Ann feels, dread what she dreads, and hope for what she hopes for.

THE MONSTORE By Tara Lazar, Illustrated by James Burke
From Goodreads:

At the back of Frankensweet’s Candy Shoppe, under the last box of sour gumballs, there’s a trapdoor.

Knock five times fast, hand over the bag of squirmy worms, and you can crawl inside The Monstore.

The Monstore is the place to go for all of your monsterly needs. Which is perfect, since Zack definitely has a monsterly need. The problem? His pesky little sister, Gracie, who never pays attention to that “Keep Out” sign on Zack’s door—the one he has made especially for her.

But when Zack’s monsters don’t exactly work as planned, he soon finds out that the Monstore has a few rules: No Refunds. No exchanges. No exceptions

I have been trying to get my hands on Tara Lazar's The Monstore since it released in June. The first attempt through inter-library loan was met with the message that none of the libraries were willing to loan out their copy. Which is great--must be popular, right?! But not so great for me. The second attempt was more successful. Persistence does pay off.

This is such a fun story. I love the gorgeous, vivid illustrations, and the smart ending. It's a great story all around. When I showed the book to my (adult) daughter, she read the first page and said, "I already like it." So of course, I added those opening sentences to my list of great story openers, then I rushed the book back to the library, so as not to keep it out of the hands of eager young readers.

Next up on my TBR list is Sara Dobie Bauer's first novel, Life Without Harry. Find out what it's about, why she's giving it away, and request your own copy here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Waiting Strategies

I discovered something this week: It's a little unsettling the things I will do to take my mind off the waiting that is such a huge part of the writing business.

I started querying last week. We all know the best thing to help counter the waiting anxiety is to work on your next project, right? And I have a perfectly enchanting story all started. Chapter three is just waiting to be written. But, I didn't do that. Instead I watched this video. Obsessively.

And also: I watched the "How it was made" video (just as obsessively.)

I ate M&Ms before 9 A.M.

I read like a fiend. (Reviews coming next week.)

I even joined Twitter. (I told you. Unsettling.)

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with these things, (except maybe the M&Ms before 9 A.M.) But I am hoping that this week I can finally concentrate and get back to work.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crayons, Piranhas and Lies, Oh My!

This week I read two more of the books I received at BEA, both of them illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. The Day the Crayons Quit is written by  Drew Daywalt. I absolutely love this picture book! Duncan opens his desk one day to take out his crayons and finds instead a stack of letters. Each one is from a different color crayon and voices their reason for quitting. Red is overworked, purple is tired of straying outside the lines, pink wants to know if the reason she gets so little use is that she's too girly, and so on. This book is adorable. Love the way the text is presented as handwritten notes in varying crayon colors. This is a new favorite for me!

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas is written by David Almond. This book is very quirky MG. I didn't love it. It rambles a bit too much for my taste. I was halfway in and came very close to giving up on it. I did end up picking it back up, and it did get a bit better - enough so that I finished. There were things I liked about it. It has bits of charming, rich description  The main character, Stan, is a sensitive boy. He's lost his parents and lives with an aunt and uncle. We see a tender side to him the day he goes to the fair and rescues the goldfish that are in tiny bags of water as prizes. We get to see him grow and discover himself. But the rest of the cast is so flat, so caricature-ish. At times the story felt like farce. Perhaps children will find Chief Envistigator Clarence P. Clapp and his fight against appallin' fishiness in the land of Rackanruwin funny. "Good afternoon, ossifer!" he says "My porpoise is to seek out daftness and destroy it." It felt cartoonish. Maybe kids find this funny. I just wanted to skim to the next scene and make it to the end of the book.

I also spent a few hours in the children's room of the library, where I grabbed a stack of picture books and settled in. Of them, my favorites were Donna Welch Earnhardt's Being Frank. This one is a lot of fun. It made me giggle out loud. Who can't relate to being in that spot between being honest and sparing someone's feelings?

Also, Audrey Vernick's Brothers At Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team. I'm not a sports fan. I'm not a regular reader of non-fiction, but I loved this book! What made it special for me was not just the surprising fact that there could be a baseball team comprised solely of brothers, but also it was refreshing to read about the bonds of family: siblings getting along, respecting each other, enjoying each other's company.

As I finish books, I'm filling a box for an under-funded school library in Texas. Maybe you have books to donate as well? Here's the announcement as posted by Larry on Verla Kay's Blueboards.

"Well, I recently accepted a position as principal/curriculum coordinator at a local charter school here in Texas. We are a PK-8th grade campus with approximately 300 students. Over 90% are at poverty level. Our library is coming along slowly. We are in need of lower level AR books (PK-2nd grade for sure). Our library budget is nonexistent. We could use new or gently used books. If anyone knows of publishers/bookstores/individuals who might be willing to donate some books, I'd greatly appreciate it. We are the Ehrhart School in Beaumont, TX. Thanks so much!"

If you'd like to help, send your gently used books to:

The Ehrhart School
Dr. Larry Haynes
3380 Fannin Street
Beaumont, Texas 77701

Sunday, August 4, 2013

More Reviews: I'm With Stupid & The Bronte Sisters

I am reading several books right now, and yet I keep getting distracted by the titles of other books. That's what happened with these two. I had requested Geoff Herbach's I'm With Stupid, and of course it came in when I was in the middle of three other books. But, I was dying for more of Felton's story. So I picked it up and read it within a few days.

Felton Reinstein is one of those character's you can't forget. His story started with Stupid Fast, continued with Nothing Special, and in the final book of the series, I'm With Stupid, he is as funny, troubled, confused, and real as ever. Felton is in his senior year of high school and he's got some big stuff to contend with: being aggressively recruited by colleges, a strangely uninvolved mother, his father's suicide coming back to haunt him. He's also got all of the normal high school stuff, girlfriend troubles, figuring out who he really is, who his friends are, how to have fun, blow off steam and just get through another day.

There's something about the staccato, stream of consciousness writing that really puts you in Felton's head. He's a character you have to root for, when he's screwing up, when he's flipping out, and when he's getting it right. All three books are well worth reading, but you wouldn't have to read them all to enjoy I'm With Stupid.

I don't know why I go to the library when I have an abundance of reading material. But, last week I was overwhelmed with the desire to read some of Audrey Vernick's picture books. They were all checked out - good for her, not so good for me - but that's when Catherine Reef's biography of the Bronte sisters caught my eye. The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne is a gorgeous book full of heavy, glossy pages and plenty of photographs. I'm not a big reader of biographies but this one held my interest from start to finish. It's technically a YA book, but it was shelved downstairs in the children's room, and I found it completely captivating. What I enjoyed most about it was being able to see where each of the sisters drew from their real lives in creating their stories.

Now I hope I can ward off further distraction long enough to finish Khaled Hosseini's And The Mountains Echoed before the library has to hunt me down to get it back.

I never realized I was so fickle. Do you ever stop reading one book to start another? 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mini Reviews: Into That Forest & The Infinite Moment of US

I went to BEA in May with a wish list of titles I was hoping to get my hands on. I had limited luggage space and was trying to be discerning about which books I picked up. I had not heard of Louis Nowra's Into That Forest, but the cover compelled me to pick it up. How much do you love this?

Then the blurb on the back of the book: Two girls. Two tigers. Four years in the wild. Two girls survive a terrible flood in the Tasmanian bush and are rescued by a pair of Tasmanian tigers who raise them in the wild. Their story of survival is remarkable, as they adapt to the life of the tiger, learning to hunt and to communicate without the use of human language. When they are discovered and returned to civilization, neither can adapt to being fully human after their extraordinary experience. Totally believable, their story will both shock and captivate readers as it explores the animal instincts that lie beneath our civilized veneer.

This book is unlike anything I've ever read, maybe that's why it was the first book I chose from my BEA cache. It's the captivating story of two young girls, ages six and seven, who go out for a picnic with one of the girl's parents and are swept away in a flood. Although the parents are killed, the girls survive. The story of their survival, after being adopted by a pair of tigers is both fascinating and disturbing. Honestly, the scenes where they kill and savagely eat birds, sheep, rabbit turned my stomach. I admit, I had to skim those passages, and even still, I had trouble eating meat for several weeks afterward. [My husband always tells me I would never have survived if I were born a hundred years ago. Give me nice, clean, boneless, skinless chicken breast please.] Still, the way the girls and the tigers come to depend on each other and function as a real family is riveting.

Although this story is about two girls, I think with all of its adventure, boys would enjoy it too. And I'm betting they wouldn't get nearly as grossed out as I did.

The second book I read was The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle. Hers was the first line I waited in at BEA and she was lovely to have a little chat with while she signed a book for me and another for my daughter (who was waiting in another line across the conference center.) I'm a sucker for a good, "meant to be" romance and with a title like that, I almost had to read this, right?! Plus, it alternates between the girl and the guy POV. I love seeing from both sides of the story. The sex scenes were pretty explicit (in the context of what I usually read, anyway) but somehow it didn't take away from the sweetness of the story. 

From Goodreads: For as long as she can remember, Wren Gray’s goal has been to please her parents. But as high school graduation nears, so does an uncomfortable realization: Pleasing her parents once overlapped with pleasing herself, but now . . . not so much. Wren needs to honor her own desires, but how can she if she doesn’t even know what they are?
Charlie Parker, on the other hand, is painfully aware of his heart’s desire. A gentle boy with a troubled past, Charlie has loved Wren since the day he first saw her. But a girl like Wren would never fall for a guy like Charlie—at least not the sort of guy Charlie believes himself to be.And yet certain things are written in the stars. And in the summer after high school, Wren and Charlie’s souls will collide. But souls are complicated, as are the bodies that house them . . .Sexy, romantic, and oh-so-true to life, this is an unforgettable look at first love from one of young adult fiction’s greatest writers.

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Distractions and Rewards

Wow, is that the fourth of July in the rear view mirror? The weeks just keep whizzing by! Summers are like that, aren't they? I always have high hopes for what I'm going to accomplish during these few months. Maybe unrealistically high.

Photo courtesy of Free Artistic Photos
So far, I've made a slight dent in my TBR pile, including several ARCs I received at BEA. Reviews will be coming as their release dates near.

I've also begun work on a new contemporary YA novel. The fact that I've done more pre-planning with this story than ever before doesn't seem to be helping me get words down on the page. I managed a first draft of chapter one and then came to an abrupt halt. After a day or two of frustration, I decided what I needed was a distraction, yet  I couldn't settle my mind enough, even to read. I needed something to get completely lost in. Enter YouTube, where I found Catherine Cookson's The Mallens. This is one of the titles I've never been able to find at our library. When it comes to distractions, this was the jackpot! This is not just a movie, it's a saga: The Mallen Streak, The Mallen Girls, The Mallen Secret, The Mallen Curse. They actually ran as a television series back in 1979. I spent the weekend watching them all. And I don't even feel guilty about it. I wasn't getting anything accomplished anyway.

This wasn't my favorite of Cookson's works, but when you spend ten plus hours with a cast of characters, it's hard not to become enthralled. If you ever want to study flawed characters, they're in abundance here. In fact, they're so flawed that by the end of the movie there was hardly a character left that I genuinely liked.

I'm tempted go back to YouTube to watch the other hard-to-find Cookson titles, but I think I'll save them for another day, maybe as a reward when I get the next chapter written.

What are your best distractions and rewards?