Tuesday, May 20, 2014

BLOG TOUR: Discover America by Julie Olson


More than a book. It's an online experience!
Follow the patriotic journey of a little red balloon as it makes its way from the West Coast to the East Coast of the United States.
Through delightful illustrations and the words of "America the Beautiful," one of America's most beloved anthems, children will discover the beauty and diversity of their country. At DiscoverAmericaBook.com they can launch their own balloon while learning fun facts about all fifty states.
Julie Olson was born in the East, grew up in the Midwest, and now lives in the West. She developed a deep love for all parts of America as she lived in and traveled through various places. Since graduating with a BFA degree in illustration from Brigham Young University, she strives through her work to uplift and encourage others to be better.
You can learn more about Julie and her other creations by visiting JulieOlsonillustrator.com.
Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) taught English at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Her most famous poem, “America the Beautiful,” was inspired by the view from Pike’s Peak, near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Published in 1893, it became the lyrics to the well-known anthem shortly thereafter.
Olson does a really nice job illustrating this classic song that is one of my favorites. I especially enjoyed the balloon motif which connects all the children in all the illustrations to each other.  The map at the end which shows all the different locations which the illustrator included was greatly appreciated by me, I like knowing where things are.  This book provides a sweet and beautiful way to introduce children to many different places and people that exist in the United States of America.  It's also a powerful reminder of the many sacrifices that have been made to help our country survive. I also appreciated the inclusion of a Muslim woman and the Amish, as well as boys and girls of all shapes, sizes, and colors.  A book that celebrates the best that America has to offer.

Here are some of the illustrations from the book!




Monday, May 12, 2014

BLOG TOUR: What is Hidden by Lauren Skidmore


In a land of masquerades and mystery, Evie is a mask maker in Venesia, where masks represent rank and identity. When a cryptic bandit strips away Evie’s mask and destroys her home, she goes into hiding at the palace to find both a new identity—and revenge. Fantasy lovers will be caught up by the mystique, romance, and magic of "What Is Hidden."


Lauren Skidmore grew up in Kansas, with stints in Ohio and New York, and currently lives in Utah. She attended Brigham Young University where she earned a BA in English Teaching with an emphasis in Teaching English as a Second Language and Japanese. She then spent a year in Japan teaching and travelling. She hasn’t made it to Europe yet, but it’s on the list and has been to 30 states in the U.S. so far. When she’s not exploring new places, you can probably find her on the internet with fifteen windows open and looking at just one more thing before actually getting something done.


In addition to really enjoying this book, I absolutely love the cover.  I think it's one of the prettiest covers I've ever seen.  I wanted to read it as soon as I saw it.  And the book did not disappoint.  The idea of a land where everyone always wears a mask I found rather fascinating. This certainly forces one to look past the mask to the person beneath, but on the other hand, it also disguises people a great deal. Plus those masks have to get sweaty and uncomfortable after awhile.  The story though is an entertaining look at the dangers of secrets told through the eyes of a young mask-maker named Evie.

Evie and Aiden are best friends, despite being from different classes, Evie being an artisan and Aiden being a noble. But everything changes the day the bandit known as Chameleon attacks Evie and her father in her home.  Evie is left injured and homeless, but the loss of her father cuts the deepest. Evie is determined to get revenge on the Chameleon and she takes up residence in the palace to gain information.  She also wants to make her own way in life without relying on Aiden, despite his willingness to help her. But everything changes in shocking ways when secrets are revealed to the shock of both Aiden and Evie.  I guessed Aiden's secret fairly early on, but it was still interesting to watch events unfold.  I think what I enjoyed most about the story was the relationship between Aiden and Evie and how it grows over time as they face some difficult challenges and surprises.

There were several plot points that weren't completely cleared up by the end of the story that make me hope that a sequel will be forthcoming.  I would love to read more about Aiden and Evie.  There's is the kind of relationship that especially enjoy reading about.  There are some similarities to the Cinderella story, but enough differences to make the story fresh. I have no reservations at recommending this to readers who enjoy clean YA fantasy.  And isn't that cover pretty? ;)

Friday, May 9, 2014

BLOG TOUR: Uncovering Cobbogoth by Hannah L. Clark


Norah Lukens needs to uncover the truth about the fabled lost city of Cobbogoth. After her archaeologist uncle’s murder, Norah is asked to translate his old research journal for evidence and discovers that his murder was a cover-up for something far more sinister. 

When she turns to neighbor and only friend James Riley for help, she realizes that not only is their bitter-sweet past haunting her every step, but James is keeping dangerous secrets. Can Norah discover what they are before its too late to share her own.


Hannah L. Clark lives with her husband and their son in the Rocky Mountains. She has always known she would be a storyteller. In 2006 she graduated from Utah Valley University with a bachelor’s degree in English, and immediately began writing Uncovering Cobbogoth.  

Hannah loves running, mythology, laughing, soulful bluegrass music, and growing things. Like her heroine, Norah, she is slightly inclined to believe that trees have souls. 

To learn more about Hannah and the Cobbogoth series, visit www.cobbogoth.com.

Rebekah G. Shakespear lives with her husband and two sons in Texas. She received a double degree in Graphic-Web and Print Design from Henry Ford Community College in Michigan. 

Bekah loves being a mom, photography, illustrating, refinishing furniture, organizing and being related to the author, for whom she has held a long abiding love and admiration for since before Hannah was even born.  


Uncovering Cobbogoth is a book I had a really hard time putting down.  The book drew me in from the beginning where Norah wakes up on a bus unable to remember why she is covered with scratches and has twigs and leaves in her hair. After her uncle's murder, she's drawn into the investigation and starts learning things that force her to face the possibility that her uncle's fascination with the mythical Cobbogoth has more to do with her than she could have imagined.  I loved reading about her relationship with James.  This is the kind of romance that I like, sweet and intense.  But a shattering series of revelations at the end hit me hard but also made me eager to read more about them in the future. 

While there were a few awkwardly written sentences in the book, the intense plot and great characters cancels that out in my mind.  For those who enjoy, intense but clean, paranormal romance, I can highly recommend this one.


Nor? ” James rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the heel of his hand. One look at me, however, and he was wide awake. “What is it? Is it Gram?”
“No. No, not that,” I croaked, guilt rushing through me for causing him more worry.
The panic left his eyes, and he squinted at me.
I shuffled self-consciously. I knew I looked terrible. I’d been up crying half the night after my argument with Uncle Jack about James breaking my heart. Finally, I snuck out my window, climbed down my cherry tree, and headed to the fire station to see James.
“Hey, Riley! Cut the lights, man!”
James glanced back into the dark, communal bedroom where the rest of the night shift firefighters slept.
“Come here.” He took my hand, closed the bedroom door and, in stockinged feet, led me down the hall. A moment later, we were sitting side by side on the stairs. James still held my hand, and I hoped he’d never let go. I watched as he reached into his shirt pocket, fishing around until he found a piece of peppermint gum.
He offered me half. I shook my head, so he stuffed the whole thing in his mouth. Then he turned those kind, piercing eyes on me.
Growing warm under his gaze, I cleared my throat. “I-I’m so sorry to wake you up,” I started. “I hoped you’d still be awake. It’s just . . .”
James mindlessly ran his thumb in circles over my knuckles. I lost my train of thought. Blinking, I took a deep breath and plunged on. “My uncle . . . he wants me to stop spending time with you. I mean, I can still help with Gram and everything, he just doesn’t want us hanging out any other time.” I sucked in another unsteady breath. “But I—I can’t let that happen, James. You’re my only friend.”
James was quiet for what seemed like forever. I prayed he wouldn’t just shrug his broad shoulders and shuffle back to bed.
To my relief, he reached up, rumpling his chocolate curls with his free hand. “Did he give you a reason why?” he asked, avoiding my eyes. I shook my head. “I think he’s afraid you’ll end up hurting me—that you’ll break my heart. You know how protective he is.”
He was silent again, this time longer.
Stupid, Norah! Why had I come here? Why did I think James would even care about this—that it would upset him at all?
Finally, James let out his breath. And the next moment, he was pressing the back of my hand to his lips.
I swallowed my shock. I’d never imagined that his lips could be so warm and soft. The contact sent a shock straight to my heart.
“What do you think?” James mumbled a moment later, still contemplating my hand. “Do you think I could hurt you?”
I wanted to burst into tears all over again. “I don’t think, James, I know. But it would be worth it.”
James chuckled this time, resting his forehead against my temple. “Now that’s a compliment.”
I smiled. Having him so close—smelling the fresh peppermint on his breath—was a fierce mixture of agony and ecstasy. They were feelings I’d never imagined I could feel.
“I’d never hurt you, Nor,” James whispered at last, and his breath tickled my neck. “Not really.”

Thursday, May 8, 2014

BLOG TOUR: The Unicorn Thief by R.R. Russell


Danger lurks in the mist.

Twig and Ben are unicorn riders--guardians whose job it is to keep the last free unicorn herd safe. But a new danger is threatening the beautiful, mysterious creatures of Lonehorn Island. A thief from Terracornus has snuck onto the misty island and stolen Ben's loyal unicorn, Indy. There's only one path for Ben and Twig--straight into the secret, shadowy heart of the island and through the passage to Terracornus.

But their rescue mission is unexpectedly complicated by a secret Ben has been hiding. A secret about the Queen of Terracornus who has enslaved all the unicorns of Ben's homeland. A secret that could save them all--or start a war.


R.R. Russell lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. She grew up traveling the world as an army brat and now travels the country as a coach with a non-profit judo club. She loves to read and draw, and like Twig, once spent a lot of time sketching unicorns. Visit her at rrrussellauthor.com.


Another exciting adventure involving unicorns and the boy and girl who are trying to save them, The Unicorn Thief brings the reader right into the lives of Twig and Ben. One of the things that I like the best is how well Russell develops the setting.  For me if the setting doesn't work, the book often doesn't work as well.  The atmosphere that Russell creates is fabulous and intriguing. I also really like how thoroughly the history and biology of the unicorns is developed, it made the book that much more believable.

While Twig plays an important role in this story, it's more about Ben facing his past and his future, as well as the present.  Ben is forced to deal with things that he would much rather not.  The plot has enough twists and turns to satisfy most readers, with enough questions left unanswered to leave room for more sequels.  Recommended for readers who enjoy unicorns and plenty of adventure.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Big Birthday Bash by Frank Cammuso


Young witch Salem Hyde is stubborn, impulsive, and loves flying. Her cat companion, Whammy, is nervous, careful, and loves staying on the ground. Somehow, though, they’re best friends. In this second book in the series, Salem is invited to a birthday party, and she wants to make sure everything goes perfectly. But from the invitations to the presents, party games, and spells gone awry, nothing happens exactly the way it should, and she’ll need Whammy’s help to sort it all out.


Salem Hyde is a delightful new graphic novel character. I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions as I read this book.  Salem is a young girl with magical abilities that she tends to use at the worst possible moments and in the worst ways, although her intentions are generally good.  Lucky for her, Whammy, her cat instructor is around to help her, at least when he isn't being carried away by birds. Salem has been invited to her best friends birthday party and needs to choose a gift, but when she runs into her nemesis at the store things begin to go wrong and her efforts to make things better don't go the way she plans.  A fun new graphic novel series that kids are sure to go bonkers over.  The simple but expressive graphics suit the humor to a tee. 

Be sure to check out the first book, Spelling Trouble, as well!

17290255Salem Hyde just isn’t like other kids. For one thing, she’s stubborn, independent, and impulsive. For another, she’s a witch. Salem acts first and thinks later—which means most of her thinking involves coming up with excuses!

Good thing she’s been assigned an animal companion, Lord Percival J. Whamsford III. This over-anxious cat doesn’t like Salem calling him “Whammy,” and Salem doesn’t like listening to his long-winded explanations as to why she shouldn’t do something . . . like enter the class spelling bee.

Salem knows she can beat all her classmates at spells, no problem. Too late, she realizes the competition is about spelling words, not magic. And there’s nothing like a misspelled spell to cause all kinds of havoc!  

Monday, May 5, 2014

NONFICTION MONDAY: Red Madness by Gail Jarrow


One hundred years ago, a mysterious and alarming illness spread across America’s South, striking tens of thousands of victims. No one knew what caused it or how to treat it. People were left weak, disfigured, insane, and in some cases, dead. Award-winning science and history writer Gail Jarrow tracks this disease, commonly known as pellagra, and highlights how doctors, scientists, and public health officials finally defeated it. Illustrated with 100 archival photographs, Red Madness includes stories about real-life pellagra victims and accounts of scientific investigations. It concludes with a glossary, timeline, further resources, author’s note, bibliography, and index.


I found the book to be quite fascinating.  I'd heard of pellagra before but I didn't know any of the details.  I had no idea that those who developed it had such severe symptoms leading for some to eventual death. And the solution was relatively simple and yet it took so long to find it.  And when it was found it took even longer to convince some doctors that the solution was correct. Sigh. Human beings can be so stubborn sometimes! 

The author does a nice job of tracking the disease from its first recorded appearance in the U.S. to the changes made that pretty much eliminated the disease (at least in the U.S.).  She makes the story more personal by sharing the experiences of individuals and the various results ranging from death to a yearly affliction.  Some of the cures sounded worse than the disease, I mean, arsenic? strychnine? Thank goodness we've learned a lot since then.

I have to say though that the photographs the author included in the book are particularly powerful.  The nasty rash that the clearest symptom of the disease shines through clearly even in black and white photographs.  

A great read for those who enjoy real life mysteries and people who solve them.

MMGM: Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin


A powerful novel about friendship and family that calls to mind Bridge to Terabithia

Twelve-year-old John Fischer Jr., or "Little John" as he’s always been known, is spending his summer helping his father with his tree removal business, clearing brush for Mr. King, the wealthy owner of a chain of Texas dollar stores, when he hears a beautiful song that transfixes him. He follows the melody and finds, not a bird, but a young girl sitting in the branches of a tall sycamore tree.

There’s something magical about this girl, Gayle, especially her soaring singing voice, and Little John’s friendship with Gayle quickly becomes the one bright spot in his life, for his home is dominated by sorrow over his sister’s death and his parents’ ever-tightening financial difficulties.

But then Mr. King draws Little John into an impossible choice—forced to choose between his family’s survival and a betrayal of Gayle that puts her future in jeopardy.

Inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story, Nightingale's Nest is an unforgettable novel about a boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders and a girl with the gift of healing in her voice.


Nikki Loftin is the author of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, which Publishers Weekly called "mesmerizing," and Kirkus called "irresistible," and Nightingale's Nest, which received a starred review from Kirkus. She lives with her Scottish photographer husband just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, goats, and small, loud boys.

Nikki is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin graduate writing program (MA, '98). She has been a popcorn seller, waitress, bookstore employee, Music and Gifted/Talented teacher, and a Director of Family Ministries.

Nikki teaches Zumba dance/aerobics in a mostly vain attempt to combat the ever-threatening Writer's Butt. When under extreme stress, or on submission with a novel, she bakes obsessively as a coping technique. Her favorite food/obsession is ice cream, preferably Blue Bell Moo-llenium Crunch. On very good days, she prefers writing even to ice cream.

Nikki is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary Agency.


Nightingale's Nest is one of those books that knocks you off your feet and leaves you wondering what on earth happened. I found myself cheering for Little John from the first page as he and his family struggle with poverty.  When Little John befriends the lonely and abused Gayle I smiled, when John messes up and ends up getting Gayle hurt, I flinched. And I flinched more when he messes up again trying to fix the first mess. Little John and Gayle are both very sympathetic characters with plenty of heartache between them. The characters truly are the power behind this very thoughtful and heart-wrenching novel.

But the setting also provides important conflict in the story.  If Gayle hadn't been staying next door to Mr. King's house where Little John and his father were working, a lot of what happens in the story, wouldn't happen.  And the tree that Gayle makes her own also plays a key role in the story and in the dynamics of Little John's and Gayle's relationship.

The plot is remarkable intense considering the story is so character-driven.  I had a really hard time putting the book down because I was so invested in seeing what would happen to Little John and Gayle.  While the ending is rather bittersweet, it was a fitting end to the story. Like real life not everything turns out the way one might want, but things turn out as well as they can under the circumstances.

I would recommend this novel highly to those readers ready for the emotionally intense nature of the story. Both Little John and Gayle have to face some really tough things and not all young readers will be ready for that, but those who are will undoubtedly get a lot from the story.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

BLOG TOUR w/GIVEAWAY: Odin's Promise by Sandy Brehl


Odin’s Promise is historical fiction for middle-grade readers, a novel depicting the first year of German occupation of Norway as seen through the eyes of a young girl.

Eleven-year-old Mari grew up tucked safely under the wings of her parents, grandma, and her older siblings. When Hitler’s troops invaded Norway under the guise of “occupying a friendly country,” she is forced to grow beyond her “little girl” nickname and comfortable patterns to deal with harsh new realities.

At her side for support and protection is Odin, her faithful elkhound.

After she witnesses a terrifying event on the mountainside, truths are revealed: the involvement of her family and friends in the resistance; the value of humor in surviving hard times; the hidden radio in her grandma’s cottage.

Odin, not one for quiet resistance, makes an enemy of soldiers who patrol the area.

The year will bring many challenges, as Mari confronts danger, develops her inner strength and voice, and finds she is able to endure hardship and heartache.

Books have been a central part of Sandy's life since bedtime read-alouds with siblings. Reading and writing with and for her students during her long teaching career led to some publications in magazines and journals. 
When Sandy retired from teaching and joined SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) she gained a critique group and took part in professional workshops and conferences. The development of her writing craft and extensive research led to the publication of Odin's Promise.

She writes picture book text, poetry, early reader paneled text, and professional articles on developing reading with quality literature.

Sandy hosts a blog about the use of picture books for all ages at http://unpackingpicturebookpower.blogspot.com/.


I found Odin's Promise to be a beautifully told story of courage and perseverance in the face of immense challenges. Mari's very appealing as a main character, an eleven-year-old girl whose 1940 Norwegian village has been taken over by the Nazis. She struggles to adjust to the often frightening changes in her world. But through it all her beautiful Norwegian elkhound, Odin remains by her side. But after Odin makes enemies of some of the soldiers, Mari really starts to worry about how she and her family will survive.

I'll admit that one of the first things I did after I started reading the book was look up Norwegian elkhounds on the internet. I wanted to know what they looked like. As you can see from the picture above (from the American Kennel Club website), they are beautiful dogs.  Odin, it turns out is mostly black with white only on the tips of his paws and the tip of his tail. I confess I fell in love with Mari and Odin's relationship from the first page.

Not only is this a sweet story about the relationship between a girl and her dog, but also the strength of the human spirit in finding ways to keep one's hope up in the face of sometimes heart-breaking circumstances. For those who enjoy historical fiction, I can heartily recommend this one!


Thanks to the author, I have one copy to give away!
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