Monday, March 31, 2014

Ninja Librarians are on the way! PLUS ten items I would take from books if I could!

The Ninja Librarians
By Jen Swann Downey
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
April 2014 ● ISBN: 9-781-4022- 8770-1
Hardcover/$16.99 ● Ages 9 -13

“A rollicking adventure with a smart heroine, heaps of mystery and the whole of history to explore. 
It's like finding Lara Croft running your local library!” —Lissa Evans, author of Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms, long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (2012) and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize (2011)

Your  mission should you choose to accept it: support and promote the unsung heroes of literature, the defenders of the Dewey Decimal system, the freedom fighters of free speech -- Ninja Librarians!

Dorrie Barnes had no idea an overdue library book would change her life. When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase her pet mongoose into the janitor’s closet of their local library, they accidentally fall through a passage into Petrarch’s Library —the headquarters of a secret society of librarians who have an important mission: protect those whose words have gotten them into trouble. Anywhere in the world and at any time in history.

Dorrie and Marcus meet highly trained, dangerous, sword-fighting, karate-chopping freedom fighters with an important mission: protect those whose words have gotten them into trouble. Here, Hypatia of Alexandria and her colleagues train many of the world's librarians to not only catalogue and sharpen short pencils, but to pull heretics off of stakes in fourteenth century Spain, and track down stolen manuscripts through the wilds of ancient Persia.

Dorrie would love nothing more than to join the society. But when a traitor surfaces, she and her friends are the prime suspects. Can they clear their names before the only passage back to the twenty-first century closes forever?


Jen Swann Downey’s nonfiction pieces have appeared in New York MagazineThe Washington PostWomen's Day, and other publications. She’s never visited a library in which she didn't want to spend the night. Jen lives in Charlottesville, VA with her family.


Sneak Peek - The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand from Monica Babaian on Vimeo.


Chapter 1
Books and Swords

Twelve--year--old Dorothea Barnes was thoroughly un--chosen, not particularly deserving, bore no marks of destiny, lacked any sort of criminal genius, and could claim no supernatural relations. Furthermore, she’d never been orphaned, kidnapped, left for dead in the wilderness, or bitten by anything more bloodthirsty than her little sister.

Don’t even begin to entertain consoling thoughts of long flaxen curls or shiny tresses black as ravens’ wings. Dorrie’s plain brown hair could only be considered marvelous in its ability to twist itself into hopeless tangles. She was neither particularly tall or small, thick or thin, pale or dark. She had parents who loved her, friends enough, and never wanted for a meal. So why, you may wonder, tell a story about a girl like this at all?

Because Dorrie counted a sword among her most precious belongings. Yes, it was only a fake one that couldn’t be relied upon to cut all the way through a stick of butter, but Dorrie truly and deeply desired to use it. Not just to fend off another staged pirate attack at Mr. Louis P. Kornberger’s Passaic Academy of Swordplay and Stage Combat (which met Tuesdays behind the library after Mr. Kornberger finished work there) but, when the right circumstances arose, to vanquish some measure of evil from the world.

Dorrie regarded every opportunity to prepare for that moment as a crucial one, and the Passaic Public Library’s annual Pen and Sword Festival—always bursting with costumed scribblers and swashbucklers—afforded, in her strongly-held opinion, one of the best. On its appointed day, she pounded down the wide battered staircase of her home long before the rising sun finished gilding the rusty dryer that sat, for lost reasons, on top of it. She did so in the one tall purple boot she could find, dragging her duffel bag behind her.

At the bottom, in the vast chamber that had once served as a ballroom, Dorrie caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror that hung over a bureau by the back door, and hiked up her wide leather belt. She had buckled it over a hideous, electric-blue-and-black-striped suit jacket with ripped-out sleeves that Dorrie’s father swore he had worn proudly out in public in a bygone era. Underneath it, a shirt with great puffy sleeves and dangling cuffs screamed “pirate” loudly and well. After taking a moment to tug on the hem of the moth-eaten velvet skirt that was meant to hang to her knees but had got caught in the waistband of her underwear, she glowered into the mirror, her sword aloft. Despite the missing boot, the overall effect pleased her.

“Yo ho, Calico Jack,” called her father. “Put this back in Great--Aunt Alice’s sitting room, will you?” 

Dorrie looked away from the mirror to see her father, holding a tiny carved owl. He wore a ruffled, candy-striped apron that read, “You Breaka My Eggs, I Breaka Your Fast”. With his free hand he was stirring a pot of glopping oatmeal in the part of the old ballroom the Barnes called “The Kitchen”. Other parts of the once grand chamber served as “The Living Room”, “The Office”, “The Rehearsal Hall” for Dorrie’s fourteen-year-old drum-pounding brother, Marcus, and “The Playroom” for Miranda, Dorrie’s four-year-old sister.

Dorrie made her way to her father across one of the dozen rugs bought cheap from thrift stores currently living out their end days beneath the daily burden of ill-conceived art projects, the occasional mislaid plate of scrambled eggs, and books. Heaps and hills and hoards of books. Books left open on the back of the sway-backed sofa and under the piano, on the top of the toaster and hanging from the towel rack.

“Miranda borrowed it,” he said, dropping the carved owl into Dorrie’s outstretched hand. Dorrie gave her father “a look.” Her sister had a deeply ingrained habit of “borrowing” things. Dorrie set off for Great--Aunt Alice’s sitting room, which lay on the other side of the deteriorating mansion.

Great--Aunt Alice had invited Dorrie’s family to live with her two years ago when her sprawling home had become too much to care for by herself.

Besides the ballroom and a few bedrooms, the rest of the mansion was her territory. Just as shabby, she kept it spare and clean and orderly. Great--Aunt Alice claimed the Barnes side of the house gave her fits of dizziness.

After Dorrie set the owl back on its shelf in Great--Aunt Alice’s empty sitting room, the thick hush tempted her to tuck her sword beneath an arm and open a little stone box that stood beside the owl. Inside lay an old pocket watch and a silver bracelet set with a cloudy black stone.

The doorbell rang, and Great--Aunt Alice’s voice in the marble--floored hallway made Dorrie’s hand jerk so that the box’s lid fell closed with a small clack.

Hurriedly, Dorrie pushed the box back onto the shelf. Then, in a silly horror at the thought of Great--Aunt Alice—-who often seemed as remote and unfathomable as a distant planet—-catching her snooping, she wrenched open the lid of a cavernous wicker trunk that stood against the wall and scrambled inside, sword and all. She pulled the heavy lid down on top of her. It bounced on her fingers, trapping them, just as Great--Aunt Alice hobbled into the room. Dorrie sucked in her breath, the pain making her eyes water. She heard the sitting--room door close.

“Well, did he see you go in?” asked Great--Aunt Alice.

“Oh, he doesn’t have the imagination to suspect,” said a young woman breathlessly.

Dorrie pressed her eyes to the gap made by her swiftly swelling fingers. Amanda, Dorrie’s favorite librarian at the Passaic Public Library after Mr. Kornberger, stood now, inexplicably, just inside Great--Aunt Alice’s sitting--room door. Everything about Amanda Ness was long. Her skirts, her hundred braids which hung down below her shoulders, and her nose—-which had been given the usual infant inch and had taken a mile. If a long temper was the opposite of a short one, well, she had that too.

“You should be more careful,” said Great--Aunt Alice, stopping at her writing desk. She smoothed a few white hairs back toward the tight bun at the back of her head. “Has anything changed?”

“Not yet,” said Amanda, sitting down on the edge of a little pale--blue sofa.

“No. Of course not,” said Great--Aunt Alice, easing herself down into a straight--backed chair. “It’s patently absurd that we’re even discussing the possibility.”

Amanda looked vaguely hurt.

“I don’t know what I’ve been thinking,” said Great--Aunt Alice. “Sneaking around in there like a thief these past weeks.”

Amanda clasped her hands together. “You were thinking that the stories might be true!”

Dorrie listened so hard that she could almost feel her ears trying to creep away from her head.

Great--Aunt Alice picked lint from a sweater hung on the back of the chair. “Well, I’m a foolish old woman.” She caught Amanda staring at her. “Oh now, don’t look so disappointed.”

“Give it more time!” pleaded Amanda. “He said he wasn’t sure how long it might take.”

Great--Aunt Alice absently toyed with a little jar of pens on her desk. “I’m ashamed that I believed even for a moment in the possibility.”

In her wonder at the thought that Great--Aunt Alice could believe in anything fantastical for even the briefest of moments, Dorrie barely felt the wicker strands of the trunk embedding themselves in her knees. After all, Great--Aunt Alice had frowned disapprovingly when Miranda asked her to clap her hands so that Tinkerbell wouldn’t die.

Amanda leaned toward Great--Aunt Alice. “But it’s obvious that something special is supposed to happen there.” Dorrie held her breath so as not to miss a single word. The conversation positively bulged with mysterious possibilities.

“It’s obvious my father wanted something special to happen,” Great--Aunt Alice corrected. “My believing that it will happen is as ridiculous as Dorothea believing that she’s going to corner modern evil with a sword.”

At the mention of her name, Dorrie nearly lost her grip on the sword in question and had to scrabble to keep it from falling noisily to the floor of the trunk. There was a moment of silence during which Dorrie felt certain that Amanda and Great--Aunt Alice could hear the small cave-in taking place in the general vicinity of her heart, but her great-aunt only sniffed and began to talk about Mr. Scuggans, the new director of the Passaic Public Library, calling him insufferable.

Dorrie began to breath again in shallow little huffs. Ridiculous! She turned the stinging word over in her mind. Dorrie had never stopped to think about whether her desire to wield a sword against the villains of the world was sensible or ridiculous. It just was. She squeezed the hilt of her sword, drawing strength from it until the crumbling hollow feeling in her chest faded a little.

The conversation outside the basket had turned to the difficulty of cleaning the library’s gutters, and stuck there for what seemed like an excruciating eternity until, at last, Great--Aunt Alice showed Amanda out. Dorrie, her heart pounding, slipped from her wicker prison, and back through the double doors that led into her family’s side of the house.


  1. Wings--from The Wings of Merlin by T.A. Barron--I've always wanted to fly (of course I'd have to get over my fear of heights first).
  2. Wand--from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling--I'd love to wave a wand and clean my house (among other things).
  3. Toilet plunger from Janitors 2: Secrets of New Forest Academy by Tyler Whitesides--would allow me to pick up all sorts of heavy things (like boxes of books,etc.)
  4. The healing music from Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin, music seems to have a unique ability to touch the soul.
  5. Castle Glower from Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George--awesome building that rearranges itself when needed.
  6. Flying books and library from The Fantastic Flying Books from Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce.
  7. The Black Stallion from The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. What a magnificent animal.
  8. Emerald Atlas from The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens. What better way to learn history.
  9. Katana from Young Samurai series by Chris Bradford. (And the training to go with it of course.)
  10. Various devices from Lunch Lady series by Jarrott Krosoczka. I'm sure these would come in handy at school. ;)

BLOG TOUR/GIVEAWAY: Wish You Weren't by Sherrie Petersen


Marten doesn't believe in the power of wishes. None of his have ever come true. His parents ignore him, his little brother is a pain and his family is talking about moving to Texas. Not cool. So when he makes an impulsive wish during a meteor shower, he doesn't expect it to make any difference.

Until his annoying brother disappears.

With the present uncertain and his brother’s future in limbo, Marten finds himself stuck in his past. And if he runs out of time, even wishes might not be enough to save the ones he loves.

AMAZON                    BARNES & NOBLE                   KOBO

Praise for WISH YOU WEREN’T:

“If you’re looking for the same old formula middle grade fantasy, this isn’t it. Wish You Weren’t is magically real. You wouldn’t be surprised if you met Marten in “real” life, but what he encounters in this story is pure magic.” ~VALERIE HOBBS, award-winning author of Wolf, Sheep and Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind

“Wish You Weren’t is a sweet story about the blessings of family contained within the rip-roaring roller coaster of time travel. It is a page turner that kids are going to love!” ~KATIE D. ANDERSON, bestselling author of Kiss & Makeup

“I love all the science details mixed with fantasy in Wish You Weren’t — just the kinds of flights-of-science-fancy I wish I had as child!” ~SUSAN KAYE QUINN, bestselling author of the Mindjack Trilogy, Faery Swap and Third Daughter

“Fun and accessible, rich with realism and heart, this magical adventure reminds us of the things truly worth wishing for.” ~CASEY McCORMICK, literary agent intern and blogger at Literary Rambles


Sherrie Petersen still believes in magic and she loves to write (and read!) stories that take her on fantastic adventures. In addition to writing middle grade novels, Sherrie moonlights as a graphic designer, substitute teacher, freelance writer, school newspaper advisor, yearbook advisor and mother of two children. She spends her free time watching movies, driving kids around and baking cookies. Or eating them.

WISH YOU WEREN’T is her debut novel.

Social media links:

Book on Goodreads
Author on Goodreads


Wish You Weren't is based on a rather interesting idea. What if wishing on stars really did work and what if you made a wish in the heat of frustration that you soon realized you shouldn't have made?  That's what happens to Marten after he wishes his little brother, Aldrin, away.  With the supposed help of an otherworldly being named Tor, Marten tries to figure out what has happened and how it can be undone, but as things continue to go wrong, it becomes apparent that his life may never be the same, if he is even able to get his family back.

There was a lot that I really liked about the book.  The characters are well-developed and I cared about them almost immediately.  It was easy to sympathize with Marten and his frustration with his annoying little brother.  And haven't we all made wishes at one time or another that we would want to take back later if they had actually come true?

There were some thing that I found a bit irritating.  Marten's parents scold him on several occasions for not watching his brother properly, which is fine and appropriate, but his little brother does some dangerous things such as running out into the road and combining dangerous chemicals that should have led the parents to sit down and teach him otherwise, there should be consequences for those things and all I saw was them comforting him afterwords. Five is old enough to be taught better. And when Marten saves his brother from getting run over, his parents barely say thank you.  These aren't major things, but I did find them a bit irritating.  It's a good sign actually, that the characters felt real enough for me to be irritated about such things.

The plot was interesting enough that I read the book in one sitting.  There were just enough science details to be interesting without slowing the story unnecessarily. The only problem I had was the time travel aspects. Time travel is such a hard thing to portray in a believable way and it's presentation here was a bit confusing and underexplained.

Overall though I don't think the things that bothered me will bother child readers and they will enjoy following Marten on his journey from resentful son and brother, to appreciating what he has and learning to care about others besides just himself.


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Friday, March 28, 2014

BLOG TOUR: Charlie Bumpers vs. The Really Nice Gnome by Bill Harley


Charlie Bumpers has his heart set on playing the role of the evil Sorcerer in the fourth grade play. He's even got the laugh down pat: Mwa-ha-ha-ha! But his dreams of villainous stardom go up in smoke when he finds out that Mrs. Burke has cast him as the Nice Gnome! Determined to rectify this terrible injustice, Charlie concocts one plan after another, but nothing seems to work. To make matters worse, his dad has assigned chores to all the kids in the family and Charlie's job is walking Ginger, the diggiest, sniffiest, and poopiest dog in the universe. Can Charlie deal with these challenges without causing havoc all around him?


A two-time Grammy award-winning artist, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the RI Council for the Humanities and an NPR commentator, Bill’s songs and stories paint a vibrant and hilarious picture of growing up, schooling and family life. Home of "Zanzibar", "Monsters In The Bathroom", "50 Ways To Fool Your Mother", "You're In Trouble", "Dad Threw The TV Out The Window", "Down in the Backpack" and "The Ballad of Dirty Joe", Bill’s work spans the generation gap. Singer, storyteller, author, playwright, educator, performing artist – welcome to the world of Bill Harley – a world of wit and wisdom.


One of the things I enjoyed most about this book is how genuine it feels.  Charlie thinks and behaves exactly like a fourth grade boy.  In fact, he reminded me specifically of some of the boys I work with, boys who intentions are generally good, but whose impulsive decisions often land them in trouble.  In this story, Charlie really doesn't like the part he is assigned in the class play and so he does everything he can to get out of it. An entertaining look at the trials and tribulations of a fourth grade boy who can't seem to help being messy and unorganized and exasperating. With plenty of humor and much for children to sympathize with this series is sure to be a winner.


Tuesday- The World of Peachtree Publishers (we had to drop this blogger from the tour)
Wednesday- Shelf Media Group
Thursday- Kid Lit Reviews
Friday- Geo Librarian

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Thursday, March 27, 2014


Grimmtastic Girls: Cinderella Stays LateAbout the Books: The Grimmtastic Girls

Book #1

Title: Grimmtastic Girls #1: Cinderella Stays Late | Authors: Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams | Publication Date: March 25, 2014 | Publisher: Scholastic Inc. | Pages: 192 | Recommended Ages: 8 to 12 

Summary: The authors of the hit Goddess Girls series put a fun and girly twist on another super-popular theme: fairy tales! Once upon a time, in faraway Grimmlandia... A Grimmtastic girl named Cinderella is starting her first week at Grimm Academy on the wrong foot. Cinda's totally evil stepsisters are out to make her life miserable. The Steps tease Cinda, give her terrible advice about life at the academy, and even make her look bad in front of her new friends, Red, Snow, and Rapunzel! But when Cinda overhears the Steps plotting a villainous deed that could ruin Prince Awesome's ball, Cinda, her new friends, and a pair of magical glass slippers have to stop them--before the last stroke of midnight!



This is the introduction to a fun new series about major fairy tale characters attending a school as tweens (Cinderella is 12 as this story opens). I enjoyed reading about this version of Cinderella, or Cinda as she calls herself.  I found the idea of her loving sports and being an awkward dancer an entertaining twist.  I especially loved the school library, sigh, I'd love to have a library like this one. I think a lot of readers will enjoy this series, girls especially.  The only problem I have with the book is the cover.  That girl does NOT look twelve to me although I do like the sneakers she's wearing.

Red Riding Hood Gets LostBook #2

Title: Grimmtastic Girls #2: Red Riding Hood Gets Lost | Authors: Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams | Publication Date: March 25, 2014 | Publisher: Scholastic Inc. | Pages: 192 | Recommended Ages: 8 to 12 

Summary: Red Riding Hood might have a terrible sense of direction, but her grimmtastic friends are always there to help! Once upon a time, in faraway Grimmlandia... Red Riding Hood is thrilled to try out for the school play. Acting is her dream, and she's great at it--too bad she has stage fright! After a grimmiserable audition, Red decides to focus on helping her friends Cinda, Snow, and Rapunzel save Grimm Academy from the E.V.I.L. Society. But when Red gets lost in Neverwood forest and runs into Wolfgang, who might be part of E.V.I.L., she needs her magic basket and a grimmazingly dramatic performance to figure out what's going on!


Joan HolubAbout the Authors: Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams

Joan Holub has authored and/or illustrated more than 130 children's books, including Little Red Writing (illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet) and Zero the Hero. She lives in NC and is online at

Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads

Suzanne WilliamsSuzanne Williams is the author of nearly 50 books for children, including the award-winning picture book Library Lil (illustrated by Steven Kellogg). She lives near Seattle, WA and is online at

Author Blog | Goodreads

Co-authors Joan and Suzanne have written the Goddess Girls, Heroes in Training, and Grimmtastic Girls series. Though they live in different states and hardly ever get to see each other, they spend lots of time together in Grimmlandia.

Facebook (Grimmtastic Girls) | Facebook (Goddess Girls Books)

Online Author Visits 

$50 Book Blast Giveaway

Amazon $50 Gift Card 
Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice)
Contest ends: April 23, 11:59 pm, 2014
Open: Internationally
How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the authors, Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

BLOG TOUR: About Habitats: Forests by Cathryn and John Sill


Award-winning author Cathryn Sill and her husband, noted wildlife illustrator John Sill, offer young readers a first glimpse into forest habitats. In simple, easy-to-understand language, this guide teaches children what forests are and what kinds of animals and plants live in them. A glossary and afterword provide readers with further fascinating details.


Cathryn Sill, a former elementary school teacher, and John Sill, a prize-winning and widely published wildlife artist, have published twenty-one books in the acclaimed About and About Habitats series.  The Sills live in North Carolina.


When I first heard about this series, I wasn't sure I was going to like it, I mean, so many great nonfiction books use first-class photographs, I wasn't sure illustrations could live up to that.  I am happy to announce, however, that I was completely wrong.  These books are not only incredibly beautiful, but the simplified text makes these perfect for sharing with preschoolers, kindergartners, and first graders.  Despite the shortness of the text, there is much here to share and talk about. The book covers a variety of types of forests and includes a map showing where different types of forests can be found (I'm always thrilled when this type of book includes a map, makes it easier to explain to children how and why certain habitats are the way they are).  The types of forests discussed include: boreal, tropical rainforest, cloud forests, temperate rainforest, and deciduous forest.  Each forest receives several pages with gorgeous illustrations showing different aspects of the forest as well as a variety of animals and plants that can be found in each type.  The extra information at the end is nice for extended discussion or for those who simply want more. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: One Little Match by Thomas S. Monson


Thomas S. Monson loved spending summers at his family's cabin in Utah's Vivian Park. One summer day, he and his best friend, Danny, decided to clear a field so they could gather with their friends and have a campfire that night. The tall, stubborn weeds would not pull out easily. So Tommy had the idea to burn them up instead.

He knew he shouldn't use matches without permission from his parents. But he ignored the feeling that warned him of the danger and raided the matchbox in the cabin. Back in the field, he lit one little match and prepared to set the parched June grass ablaze...

Readers of all ages will resonate with this wonderful true story that demonstrates the blessings of obedience and "the dangers that can come from something as small as one little match."


PRESIDENT THOMAS S. MONSON has served as the sixteenth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2008. He was called as an Apostle in 1963 at the age of thirty-six. After serving as second counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson and then President Howard W. Hunter, he served as first counselor to President Gordon B. Hinckley from 1995 to 2008.

Thomas Spencer Monson was born to G. Spencer and Gladys Condie Monson on August 21, 1927, in Salt Lake City. Following his service in the U.S. Navy near the close of World War II, he graduated cum laude from the University of Utah and earned an MBA from Brigham Young University. He had a distinguished career in the publishing industry.

He served as president of the Canadian Mission from 1959 to 1962 and was a member of several general Church committees before becoming an Apostle.

He married Frances Beverly Johnson in the Salt Lake Temple in 1948. They are the parents of two sons and one daughter. They have eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

DAN BURR earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from Utah State University and a master’s degree in illustration from Syracuse University. He and his wife, Patti, are raising their two children and numerous farm animals on twelve acres of river-bottom land in Tetonia, Idaho. Dan is a well-known Christian illustrator who also specializes in wildlife renderings. A few of the books Dan has illustrated are The Miracle of the Wooden Shoes, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, and The Mansion.


I loved this beautiful book! The illustrations are gorgeous and help tell the story very well. And the author tells the story in his typical straightforward and simple way. This is a powerful story about the need for rules and laws and what can happen when we ignore them.  Tommy makes one seemingly small decision and it had disastrous results. It's a reminder that the choices we make do have consequences that we generally can't control. Highly recommended.

Enjoy some pictures from the book!




BLOG TOUR: Lost for Words by Natalie Russell


Tapir wants to express himself, but he can't find the words! He and his friends all have nice new notebooks, just waiting to be filled. Giraffe decides to write a poem, Hippo writes a story, and Flamingo composes a beautiful song. But poor Tapir can't think of anything to write - and the harder he tries the more upset he becomes! But everything starts to change when Tapir stops trying to write, and instead he begins to draw . .


Natalie Russell is an author, illustrator and printmaker whose work has been widely exhibited. When she's not in her studio creating books, she can be found at Dundee University in Scotland where she teaches illustration. For more information, please visit


I found Lost for Words to be an adorable story about finding one's own voice. I really liked the fact that the author/illustrator used a tapir as the main character. I can't say as I've ever seen one of those in children's fiction before.  I loved the way the story highlights the strengths of Tapir's friends and how Tapir struggles to find his own talent.  Tapir tries to write poetry like Giraffe and a story like Hippo, but he can't come up with any words. It isn't until he follows his own innate feelings that he finds a way to express his appreciate for the beauty around him and his feelings for his friends. How many of us try to be as good at different things as our friends rather than developing the natural abilities God's given us? A sweet story with delightfully expressive illustrations. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

BLOG TOUR/GIVEAWAY: A Death in the Family by Marlene Bateman


Meet Erica Coleman—a gifted and quirky private investigator with an OCD-like passion for neatness and symmetry, a penchant for cooking, (ten terrific recipes are included), and a weakness for chocolate.

In A Death in the Family, the second in the Erica Coleman series, private eye Erica Coleman and her family happily anticipate Grandma Blanche’s eighty-first birthday celebration in the picturesque town of Florence, Oregon. But when the feisty matriarch, a savvy businesswoman, suspects wrongdoing and asks Erica to investigate her company, things get sticky.

Before the investigation can even begin, Blanche’s unexpected death leaves Erica with more questions than answers—and it is soon clear Grandma’s passing was anything but natural: she was murdered. When another relative becomes the next victim of someone with a taste for homicide, Erica uses her flair for cooking to butter up local law enforcement and gather clues.

Erica’s OCD either helps or hinders her—depending on who you talk to—but it’s those same obsessive and compulsive traits than enable Erica to see clues that others miss. When she narrowly escapes becoming the third victim, Erica is more determined than ever to solve the case.


Available at Deseret Book, Seagull Book, and wherever LDS books are sold.


Marlene Bateman Sullivan was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She is married to Kelly R. Sullivan and they are the parents of seven children. 
Her hobbies are gardening, camping, and reading.  Marlene has been published extensively in magazines and newspapers and has written a number of non-fiction books, including:  Latter-day Saint Heroes and Heroines, And There Were Angels Among Them, Visit’s From Beyond the Veil, By the Ministering of Angels, Brigham’s Boys, and Heroes of Faith.  Her latest book is Gaze Into Heaven, a fascinating collection of over 50 documented near-death experiences in early church history.

Marlene’s first novel was the best-selling Light on Fire Island. Her next novel was Motive for Murder, which is the first in a mystery series that features the quirky private eye with OCD, Erica Coleman. 


I find I quite enjoy this type of mystery.  The characters are appealing and likable, but not perfect.  The plot is intricate and interesting to follow and the excitement builds to the often surprising climax. I confess, I did not expect the story to take the turns that it did, but I was glad that things worked out the way they did.  In a family story like this the relationships always complicate things and that is certainly the case here.  Erica faces the uncertain prospect of trying to figure out who murdered her husband's grandmother and why.  And everything points to issues regarding her grandmother's will and concerns about the family business. Investigating can be awkward to begin with, add family to that mix and things get very murky indeed. While the characters are LDS (Mormon) and that effects the feelings and actions of the characters, it does not in any way overwhelm the story and the focus on the murders. Well-written and enjoyable, I can easily recommend this to those who enjoy clean mysteries with plenty of tension.


How did you learn to write? 

Learning how to write is an ongoing process.  I started in elementary school, did more writing in junior high, and so on. I’ve spent countless hours on manuscripts that were never published, but I don’t count that as a loss, since it helped me improve my writing.  I have a bookshelf full of books on writing and every weekday morning, I try to read 2-4 pages.  I underline important parts, then type them up, which hopefully, sets the ideas in my brain. When I’m done with the book, I print out up my notes and save them in a master binder so I can look them over now and then.  

Another thing that helps me is that I try to pay attention when I read. If I don’t like something, I try to figure out why and then not do that in my own writing! And when I read something I like, I try to think about why it worked so I can use that same technique in my own writing.  I also attend a yearly writer’s conference and the wonderful workshops help me learn more about the craft of writing.  Anyone can write—as long as they are willing to practice and study.

What made you always want to be a writer, and what was the plot of the first story you ever wrote?
I think a large part of wanting to be a writer came from reading so much.  As a child, I was a voracious reader.  For three years in a row in elementary school, I won the award for reading the most books.  And the prize was: A book!  I was delighted, of course.  Sometimes I wonder if writers are born, because I’ve certainly always wanted to write.  I think one of my earliest stories was about my brother’s blue car, which he parked in the back yard when he went on his mission.  I was about ten, and wrote about how sad the car was to be alone, and how birds came and sat on it, and so on.  My mother thought it was so “precious” that she shared it with other people, which embarrassed me to death. 

Do you write as you go or do you have the book all planned out from page 1?  

Since I write mysteries, I have to know how the book is going to end before I can start the first chapter. I write a rough draft of the last chapter, then the first chapter, and go on from there. I have to plot very carefully to keep up the tension and so that all the clues are in place at the right time.  Plotting can be hard, but its very important and actually saves time in the end, since you don’t have to rewrite and add important information that should have been there in the first place. Once you get your storyline laid out, you have a structure to follow. A contractor would never begin building a house without plans, and to my way of thinking, a mystery writer would never write without having a basic plot down on paper.   

What makes your mysteries standout from the crowd?  

I think there are a few different things. First, if you’re considering books on the national level, my books stand out because they are ‘clean’ books, which means no swearing and no gratuitous sex or violence.  Second, I like to keep the reader guessing. My novels are ‘whodunit’ mysteries that keep readers trying to figure out who the killer is. Many current TV shows focus on high tech prowess to solve the crime. I focus more on the psychological aspects—why this person did that, why that person didn’t do this. I try to delve into the killer’s psyche and show the psychological aspects that drive their behavior. I like to have a lot of fun and interesting characters.  Third, I like to incorporate humor, because everyone likes to laugh now and then. Fourth, and the final standout point, is that I include plenty of intriguing plot twists and turns to keep readers turning the page. Each ending of every book has a surprising, final twist.  

Any other books in the works?  

I have two books that have been accepted and are awaiting publication. The first is Crooked House but my publisher always changes the titles so I don’t know what they will call it! Here is a short summary:
Someone is trying to kill Liz Johnson, and it is up to quirky private investigator, Erica Coleman, to find out who it is. With an authentic setting in Dover, Delaware and against a background of NASCAR racing, Erica works to stop the killer who has already survived two murder attempts. Then, the murderer kills an innocent bystander. It’s up to Erica to pinpoint the killer before he can succeed on his fourth try. Crooked House is a thrilling mystery that will keep you on the edge until the last page. As always, ten delicious recipes are included.

My second book that is awaiting publication is called, A Home for Christmas. Here is a short summary of it: 
Kenzie has big plans—the only problem is she hasn’t told anyone about them. One of them is to buy the house she grew up in—the home her brother, Tom, recently put up for sale. When she arrives in Lake Forest for Christmas vacation, Kenzie is shocked to find that her brother has accepted an offer on the house she desperately wants to buy. Unwilling to give up her plans, Kenzie tries over and over to wrest the house from the man who made the offer, a handsome widower named Jared Phillips. Although they find themselves attracted to each other, it’s impossible for Kenzie to even think about a relationship with the man who is taking away the house she desperately wants. Jared is also drawn to Kenzie, but is cool and suspicious because of what he considers her underhanded tricks. Then, a surprising revelation works a Christmas miracle. As a special bonus, seven delicious cookie recipes are included.

I’m also working on another Erica Coleman mystery, called, Murder in the Black Hills. I’d also like to do a sequel for my latest non-fiction book, which came out last year— Gaze Into Heaven—Near Death Experiences in Early Church History. 


“It’s hard to believe she’s gone,” Kristen said dolefully. “When I moved here, I thought I’d have years with Grandma. She was always so active—I thought she’d keep going for years.”

“And all the time, her heart was getting weaker,” Trent said glumly.

Walter commented, “The last time I saw her, Blanche said the doctor told her she had the constitution of a mule.” 

There were a few smiles at this, but Martha’s brow furrowed in confusion. “But Mom’s death didn’t have anything to do with how healthy she was.”

“What are you talking about?” Trent’s impatient voice billowed out and filled the small room.
Martha squirmed but fluttered on, “Well, after what Mom said when she came to visit me, you know—about how something wrong was going on in the company—I worried that something might happen.” 

Her response reverberated around the room. Everyone went very still—as if they were holding their breath.  

Martha’s eyes went from one to another. “I didn’t mean—oh, I shouldn’t have said anything,” she stammered. Her voice was pure distress. “It’s just that . . . well, we’re all family here, so it’s okay, isn’t it? I mean, no one else knows.”

“No one else knows what?” Trent said brusquely. 

Visibly flustered, Martha’s hands twisted in her lap. “And . . . and Mother was very old and—and the police haven’t even come, have they?” 

Erica wondered what Martha could be getting at. Everyone darted quizzical looks at each other, trying to make sense out of Martha’s confused chirruping. 

After meeting blank looks all around, Martha blurted, “I mean, that’s good . . . isn’t it? For the family?” 

The room remained deadly silent as Martha’s cheeks flamed red.

There was a rumble as Walter cleared his throat. “Why would the police come?”

“Why, to arrest someone.” Martha sounded surprised—as if he had asked something that was completely and absolutely self-evident. She stared at Walter, as if he and he alone could straighten everything out. “Isn’t that why they’re doing an autopsy? I mean, don’t they always do an autopsy when someone has been murdered?” 


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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

BLOG TOUR w/ GUEST POST: Max Makes a Cake by Michelle Edwards


Baby sisters can be so annoying!

That's what Max thinks. Max needs his daddy's help—right now!—to bake a surprise Passover birthday cake for his mommy. But as baby Trudy fusses instead of napping, and Daddy tries to settle her down, their time to bake is slipping away.

With her warm and pithy storytelling, Michelle Edwards captures the moment in a child's life when he realizes that he has the power to do things on his own.

2010-mje-really-small.gifMichelle Edwards is the author and illustrator of many books for children, one book for adults, and nearly one hundred essays and cards for knitters. Her picture book titles include Chicken Man, winner of the National Jewish Book Award. Michelle lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with her husband, a house full of books, yarn, and the artifacts of their three daughters’ childhoods. Her next picture book, A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, will be published in 2016 by Schwartz and Wade and illustrated by Brian Karas.

“Warmly tinted, wood-textured illustrations fit this gentle, informative book.” Booklist

“Very cute!”  The Hiding Spot

Max Osher was an expert at getting dressed. He could almost tie his shoes. And he knew the Four Questions for Passover in Hebrew and English. The other night, he sang them in both languages at the Passover Seder. All by himself. Without any help. The youngest child is supposed to ask them, but Max’s sister, Trudy, was a baby. She couldn’t even talk yet.

 Max Makes a Cake: Celebrating Everyday Victories
In my newest picture book, Max Makes a Cake, Max does not battle trolls. He does not defend the world against dark and evil forces. He does not even rescue and marry a beautiful princess. At least not in this story.
But Max does make a surprise Passover birthday cake for Mama. All by himself.
Max and Daddy had planned to make the cake from a special cake mix they bought at the supermarket. But before they can get to work, Max must wait patiently for Daddy to settle Trudy, his baby sister, down for her nap. And that afternoon, Trudy won’t settle down.
Waiting, Max grows anxious and worried. Worried and anxious. Hungry, too. So Max concocts a snack. Then he gets a great idea. Soon he’s ready to lead a cake parade to Mama.
There’s no doubt that creating Mama’s birthday cake all by himself is a memorable event for Max and his family. It is the delicious achievement of the day. Perhaps the story of Max making the cake will become a treasured family story. One that Max might tell Trudy when she’s a little older. To inspire her to think creatively, to solve her own problems, and to toddle her way towards independence.
Like young readers, Max’s challenges are in his very own house. In his very own kitchen. His mission that day is to make a surprise birthday cake for his mother.
I have always enjoyed everyday stories. Small stories like Rosemary Wells’s Edward The Unready or Shirley Hughes’s Alfie Gets in First. Stories that capture the challenges and triumphs of childhood. I suspect other adults do too.
Life is not only about the big prizes – winning a gold medal or graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Those milestones may broadcast to the world that we are special. But our day-to-day lives are filled with times when we know we are special. When we surprise ourselves by pushing past what we only had hoped we might be able to do, like tie our own shoes, or learn to read. Or make a Passover birthday cake.
Small stories gives us pause. Pause to remember our everyday victories.

Max Makes a Cake is a cute story about a child taking the initiative when circumstances prevent his father from helping him make a birthday cake for his mother. When Max's father has to take care of the baby while his mother paints, Max tries to wait patiently, but when he gets tired of waiting he decides to go ahead and make something himself. I liked Max's initiative, but I also appreciated the fact that Max doesn't try to use the oven or other appliances by himself, instead he improvises beautifully. The illustrations are pleasing and fun to look at and the Jewish traditions are integrated nicely into the story. 

Next stop on tour: March 14, 2014 From Tots to Teens    review
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